I read in the Turkish press that looting at Soma in Manisa province in western Turkey has reached new levels of intensity ("Soma's ancient treasures in coma, Turkish Daily News 14 June 2008).
Illegal excavations are being carried out on tumuli, necropolises and relics of ancient cities in and around Soma, in the western province of Manisa. Pillagers use bulldozers in their nighttime hunt for treasure on high hills, cutting trees to take construction equipment to the places where they conduct the diggings.It sounds as if this destruction of archaeological sites in this part if Turkey is part of a deliberate targeting of sites.
The Soma district administration office, the gendarmerie and the Manisa State Museum are aware of the smugglers' activity but have taken no action, locals say.
History massacred openly in Soma
Mines in the Sarıkaya neighborhood of Soma have caused serious damage to relics of ancient civilizations. The relics of sculpted wolf and ox heads near a mine belonging to the Turkish Coal Authority are in the worst condition. Smugglers have detonated dynamite in certain areas of the mountains and plundered the prehistoric rock tombs there.
Soma is also home to a mysterious ancient city situated atop a 1,500-meter hill. Though no archaeological study has been carried out on relics of this millennia-old settlement, experts argue a Pergamon-like city might be revealed if a series of scientific excavations are conducted there.
Meanwhile, smugglers have plundered an ancient grave under one of the tumuli, situated on both the right and left sides of the Soma-Savaştepe-Balıkesir way, and have wiped out all the precious artifacts in it. They have also conducted illegal excavations with bulldozers and construction equipment on another tumulus located in a nearby forest. The plunderers hire mine workers to use as cheap labor in conducting the illegal excavations, which is why the diggings are performed quite professionally.
The situation at these two important tumuli not only indicates the level of plundering activity in Soma, but raises other questions. How could smugglers have conducted diggings with construction equipment on these two ancient tumuli without being seen by anyone? Locals are quite cautious about illegal excavations carried out by smugglers and do not file any complaints to authorities.
Reliable sources say some mukhtars, or village leaders, in Soma even help smugglers secretly. Local security forces said they found many detectors strewn around, even though the use of such devices is legal. Ultimately, it seems that neither the district administration nor the Manisa State Museum have made enough of an effort to stop illegal excavations carried out every night on ancient spots in Soma.
Who is buying the objects that are found? And is anybody thinking of acquiring them for their collection?