Skip to main content

"History Massacred": Turkish Style

I am used to reading accounts of mechanical diggers being used to open archaeological sites to provide objects to supply the market. But then there is "Chippindale's Law" ...

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.

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.

No eyewitnesses:

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.
It sounds as if this destruction of archaeological sites in this part if Turkey is part of a deliberate targeting of sites.

Who is buying the objects that are found? And is anybody thinking of acquiring them for their collection?


Popular posts from this blog

Marble bull's head from the temple of Eshmun

Excavations at the temple of Eshmun in Lebanon recovered a marble bull's head. It is now suggested that it was this head, apparently first published in 1967, that was placed on loan to New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art (Tom Mashberg, "Met Museum Turns Over Another Relic With Disputed Past to Prosecutors", New York Times August 1, 2017 ). The head is reported to have been handed over to the Manhattan district attorney after a request was received from the Lebanese authorities.

It is suggested that the head may have been looted from an archaeological storage area at Byblos in the 1980s during the Lebanese civil war. Mashberg has rehearsed the recent collecting history:
The owners of the bull’s head, Lynda and William Beierwaltes of Colorado, say they have clear title to the item and have sued Manhattan prosecutors for its return.  The Beierwaltes bought the head from a dealer in London in 1996 for more than $1 million and then sold it to another collector, Michael …

Sardinian warrior from "old Swiss collection"

One of the Sardinian bronzes of a warrior was seized from an as yet unnamed Manahattan gallery. It appears to be the one that passed through the Royal-Athena Gallery: Art of the Ancient World 23 (2012) no. 71. The collecting history for that warrior suggests that it was acquired in 1990 from a private collection in Geneva.

Other clues suggested that the warrior has resided in a New York private collection.

The identity of the private collection in Geneva will no doubt be telling.

The warrior also features in this news story: Jennifer Peltz, "Looted statues, pottery returned to Italy after probe in NYC", ABC News May 25 2017.

Attic amphora handed back to Italians

The research of Dr Christos Tsirogiannis has led to the return of an Attic red-figured amphora, attributed to the Harrow painter, to Italy (Tom Mashberg, "Stolen Etruscan Vessel to Be Returned to Italy", New York Times March 16, 2017).

The amphora is known to have passed through the hands of Swiss-based dealer Gianfranco Becchina in 1993, and then through a New York gallery around 2000 (although its movements between those dates are as yet undisclosed).

During the ceremony, Cyrus R. Vance, Jr., the District Attorney stated:
“When looters overrun historic sites, mine sacred spaces for prized relics, and peddle stolen property for top dollar, they do so with the implicit endorsement of all those who knowingly trade in stolen antiquities” More research clearly needs to be conducted on how material handled by Becchina passed into the North American market and into the hands of private and public collectors.