About the Author
Neil Brodie is Director of Cultural Heritage Resource, Stanford University Archaeology Center
The so-called Lydian Treasure was looted early in 1966 from several Iron Age (6th century BC) burial mounds in the Uşak and Manisa regions of western Turkey, the area of ancient Lydia. It consists of 363 objects, including gold and silver vessels and jewelry, a pair of marble sphinxes, and some pieces of wall painting.
Photo: Turkish Ministry of Culture
The material was acquired in three batches by the Metropolitan Museum of Art over the period 1966-1970 for $1.5 million from the dealers John Klejman of New York and George Zacos of Switzerland. The museum did not mount a display until June 1984, when 40 pieces were exhibited with their findspot obscured by the deliberately misleading title of the East Greek treasure.
Looted tomb at Anktepe Wall painting from Anktepe tomb
Photos: Turkish Ministry of Culture
By the time of the 1984 exhibition, the Turkish authorities had ascertained that the material had probably been taken illegally from Turkey, and in 1986 demanded its return. The Metropolitan refused to comply, and in 1987 Turkey filed a lawsuit for return against the Metropolitan. The Metropolitan applied for the court to reject the Turkish claim on grounds that the appropriate (three-year) limitation period had expired, but in 1990, its application was dismissed. The court ruled that the Turkish claim had been made within the appropriate time period, and the pretrial discovery process went ahead. During this process, each party was able to examine documents held by the opposing party, and to take testimony from appropriate witnesses. Lawyers and archaeologists acting on behalf of Turkey discovered that some of the pieces of wall painting in the Metropolitan’s possession could be matched to what remained of paintings in looted tombs, and it was clear from minutes of the acquisition committee that the Metropolitan knew at the time of acquisition that the material had been looted – a junior curator had been to Turkey and visited the looted site, and had managed to identify the matching parts of the pair of sphinxes. When faced with this potentially incriminating and embarrassing evidence, rather than face the publicity of a court battle, in September 1993 the Metropolitan finally agreed to return the treasure to Turkey, and the law suit was dropped.
Gold hippocampus brooch
Photo: Turkish Ministry of Culture
After two years on display in Ankara’s Museum of Anatolian Civilizations, the material was returned to the Uşak museum, but in 2006 the Turkish minister responsible for culture announced that some of the objects had been stolen and replaced with forged pieces. One notable replacement and theft was of the gold brooch in the form of a hippocampus. The Uşak museum director Kazim Akbiyikoglu was arrested on suspicion of theft, and in February 2009 he was convicted along with nine accomplices.
Kaye, Lawrence, M. and Carla T. Main. 1995. “The saga of the Lydian hoard antiquities: from Uşak to new York and back and some related observations on the law of cultural repatriation.” In Kathryn W. Tubb (ed.), Antiquities, Trade or Betrayed. Legal, Ethical and Conservation Issues. London: Archetype, 150-162.
Őzgen, Ilknur, and Jean Őztűrk. 1996. Heritage Recovered: The Lydian Treasure. Istanbul: Ministry of Culture, Republic of Turkey.
Rose, Mark and Őzgen Acar. 1995. “Turkey’s war on the illicit antiquities trade,” Archaeology 48, 45-55.