Antique collectors funding terrorism

The proceeds would have gone to YPG/PYD

gold

Sumerian gold jewellery

In five separate operations, Istanbul police seized 3,500 year-old Sumerian jewellery, Assyrian and Akkadian seals and Ottoman and Seljuk artifacts. It was understood that the historical artifacts were removed from historical graves in parts of Syria controlled by the PYD, and proceeds from sale of the priceless artifacts would be given to the terrorist organization. Nine people were detained.

Teams from departments responsible for the control of smuggling received information that tombs in regions of Syria under the control of the terror organisation PYD had been opened and the historical artifacts would be brought to Turkey and sold abroad. Following investigations, five separate operations were carried out in two weeks.

Searches were carried out at several addresses, including an antique shop, and artifacts seized included: 153 gold objects belonging to the 3,500 year-old Sumerian culture; religious statuettes from the Byzantine period; and bronze cooking implements from the Seljuk period.

During the two-week operation, nine people were taken into custody, among them an antique dealer. The nine were released after completion of legal formalities.

All the seized artifacts were handed over to the Istanbul Directorate of Museums.

sumerian artefactsContraband Goods police also seized 26,400 historical artifacts last month. In an exercise labeled “Zeus Operation”, dozens of priceless artifacts were seized including a sword belonging to the Mycaenean culture, known as the Sword of Achilles, a bust of Alexander the Great in the style of an Indian god, the royal crown of Helius and a silver medallion of Caesar. Eleven of the thirteen suspects were taken into custody.

The Mycaenean sword had drawn particular international attention. It is understood that the Police had received dozens of thank you phone calls after this operation.

There is no way to prevent artifact smuggling without genuine cooperation between countries, Turkey’s Culture and Tourism Minister Numan Kurtulmuş said on Jan. 29.

“It is impossible to completely prevent historical artifact smuggling without the sincere cooperation of countries, just as it’s not possible to prevent the global dimension of terror without sincere cooperation in fighting terrorism,” Kurtulmuş said at a ceremony in the capital Ankara showcasing historical artifacts recently repatriated to Turkey.

[My translation]

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Original Hagia Sophia tiles in France

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Ruins of the Achaemenid city Persepolis, Iran

My step-daughter has just returned from a visit to Iran. She was there to deliver a paper at a conference, but was able to do a little sight-seeing. One of the “must-sees” for tourists is the UNESCO-listed ruins of Persepolis, ceremonial capital of the Achaemenid Empire (ca. 550–330 BCE). Those guys get an honourable mention in the Biblical Old Testament for permitting exiled Jews to return to their homeland and build a great temple in Jerusalem. Their kindness to the Jews, however, didn’t save them from having their magnificent city looted and burned by the army of the Great Macedonian Alexander as he marauded his way east on his mission to conquer the world.

Apparently present-day Iranians are unhappy that many artefacts from Persepolis later found their way into the collections of museums in Europe and the United States. I did a quick check online, and sure enough:

“A number of bas-reliefs from Persepolis are kept at the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge, England. There is also a collection from Persepolis at the British Museum. The Persepolis bull at the Oriental Institute is one of the university’s most prized treasures, but it is only one of several objects from Persepolis on display at the University of Chicago. New York City’s Metropolitan Museum houses objects from Persepolis, as does the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology of the University of Pennsylvania. The Museum of Fine Arts of Lyon and the Louvre of Paris hold objects from Persepolis as well.” (Wikipedia)

Inevitably our discussion turned to the matter of other historical and archaeological treasures housed in museums far from their original homes. Step-daughter was sure she’d seen the Rosetta Stone, key to translating Egyptian hieroglyphics, in Cairo. I was equally sure I’d seen it in the British Museum – and another online check confirmed that the one in London is the real one. The same institution counts among its most prized possessions, apart from probably more Egyptian mummies than you’ll find in Egypt, the so-called Elgin Marbles – a vast store of marble friezes and sculptures from the Parthenon in Athens, smuggled away in several shiploads by the British Ambassador to the Ottoman Empire in the early years of the 19th century. Greek governments have repeatedly asked for them to be returned – but the Brits are having none of that.

Elsewhere, the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna has a large section devoted to treasures from the classical city of Ephesus in modern Turkey, including a 70-metre frieze commemorating a (rare) Roman victory over the Parthians in 165CE. The Treasures of Priam, King of Troy (also in modern Turkey) were spirited away in the 1870s by the German archaeologist, Heinrich Schliemann. They were exhibited in the Berlin Ethnological Museum until 1945 when they disappeared – turning up later (in 1993) in Moscow, of all places. Well, it’s hard to get self-righteous about having stolen property stolen by someone else, I guess.

Mokomokai12

A popular conversation piece in 19th century drawingrooms

New Zealand’s indigenous Maori have for years been trying to get back tattooed human heads that were popular with European collectors of cultural curiosities in the early days of colonisation. I’ve recently been made aware (thanks Lara!) of a similar campaign by native American peoples to repatriate human remains from universities in Canada.

It seems the government of Turkey is at the forefront of this worldwide struggle to have purloined cultural and archeological objects returned to their homeland. In recent years, they have won several significant court battles resulting in the handing back of disputed sculptures and other artefacts. One such was the Sarcophagus of Heracles, smuggled out of Turkey in the 1960s, seized by port authorities in Switzerland in 2010.

And here’s another interesting one in the news this week:

A panel of tiles in Istanbul’s Hagia Sophia Museum were smuggled to France in the 1890s and replaced with imitations, according to museum director Hayrullah Cengiz. 

“You can see the logo seal ‘made in France, Sevres’ behind the tiles,” he said, speaking to the state-run Anadolu Agency. 

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“Identical” ceramic tile panels on the tomb of Sultan Selim II

According to Cengiz, the Hagia Sophia receives nearly two million local and foreign visitors every year. One of the two panels on the sides of the entrance of the tomb of Sultan Selim II, son of Süleyman the Magnificent, are an imitation of the original tiles, he said. 

“The tomb is a work of Mimar Sinan, the greatest architect in the Ottoman state. These tiles were taken to France for restoration in the 1890s by the Frenchman, Albert Dorigny, who came to the Ottoman Empire as a dentist. But they were not returned. Instead, imitation tiles were made in France and mounted in place of the originals. The original tiles are on the right side. You can see the difference between the two panels. These are a perfect example of 16th century tiles.”

Cengiz said the Culture and Tourism Ministry had made a request to the French Ministry of Culture for the tiles to be returned. “These tiles were being exhibited in the ‘Arts of Islam’ section of the Louvre Museum in France. They have recently been removed, most likely due to complaints,” he added.

“The restoration of five tombs here was finished in 2009. It was revealed that these tiles were imitations during the restoration work, as you can easily see the logo ‘Made in France, Sevres’ written behind them. When you look at the difference between the two tiles on the right and the left, you can see the beauty of the original ones. The colors of the others have faded and lost their gloss because they are imitations, even though they have been there for only 100 years. The original ones, which are 400 years old, look brand new,” he said.

Cengiz also said the two panels are made up of 60 tiles and the fake ones were an exact copy of the original. “It is not too difficult to copy them, but as years pass by, the difference becomes evident. Not only did Dorigny smuggle this panel, he probably stole many other tiles from Istanbul museums where he had done restorations in those years.”

Now that was a cheeky one!

Economic gobbledegook – and why the world is going to hell on a fast train

This is by some guy called Ambrose Evans-Pritchard, writing in the UK’s Daily Telegraph. Well, with a name like that you wouldn’t imagine he’d have missed too many meals in his life. He’s probably right in picking that it’s not a good sign for the future of the world when someone can pay $450 million for a painting, even if Leonardo da Vinci did paint it. Reading between the lines of overblown pretentious verbiage, I reckon he’s saying the world is in for another major financial crash, engineered by the same grotesquely over-paid, grasping, selfish “financiers” that brought us the last one.

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$46 million painting by Cy Twombly

Leonardo da Vinci has special cachet. What is striking about the Christie’s soiree in New York last week was not so much the US$450m ($661m) paid for his rediscovered Salvator Mundi but the prices fetched by everyone else.

Buyers forked out $46m for vermilion spirals from the Bacchus series by Cy Twombly, executed 12 years ago with a paint-drenched brush on a pole. Soothing sands called Saffron by Mark Rothko fetched US$32m.

The week’s haul at Christie’s and Sotheby’s topped US$1.5 billion, with Asian buyers snapping up Monets. Fernand Leger’s abstract Contrastes de Formes fetched US$62m.

It screams late-cycle liquidity, recalling Japan’s impressionist fever in the late Eighties before the Nikkei collapsed and the bottom fell out of the art market.

092216-best-paidBitcoin clinches the argument. It has risen more than 1,200 per cent over the past year to more than US$8000 – five times an ounce of gold – on a “greater fool” presumption.

This is not a criticism of blockchain technology. It will flourish. But you cannot yet buy and sell things in any meaningful way with cryptocurrencies worth US$180b.

Bitcoin will end badly, either when the Chicago Mercantile Exchange launches its futures contracts in two weeks and allows traders to short it, or when the global cycle turns. A runaway asset boom can last a long time when the G4 central banks are holding real interest at minus 1.5 per cent and spending US$2 trillion a year soaking up “safe assets”

And here’sAcademic bulls say the stock of central bank assets is still growing. Market bears counter that the flow is falling, which matters more to them. Hence the recent rout in high-yield credit. Junk bond funds saw the biggest outflows since 2014 last week.

A parallel retreat is under way in East Asia where US$800m of bond sales in steel, solar and palm oil were cancelled. These are minor tremors. What threatens the universe of stretched asset values is the return of US inflation. The boom is built on the premise that the Fed will bathe the global system with ample liquidity.

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2015 figures for the UK

Yet that is precisely what is now in doubt as US unemployment drops to a 17-year low and the dormant Phillips curve reawakens. The New York Fed’s underlying inflation gauge has jumped to a post-Lehman peak of 2.96 per cent.

All it will take from now on is a single piece of hard data to confirm this trend and the markets will reprice interest rate futures abruptly, shaking the whole edifice of global risk appetite.

Staccato rate rises by the Fed would ignite a dollar surge, squeezing an estimated US$10.7t of offshore dollar debt. There is a further US$14t of global dollar debt hidden in derivatives and FX swap contracts, pushing the total to US$25t.

The Wolf of Wall Street

“Watching with wolfish concentration . . . “

I didn’t want to upload the whole pretentious, jargon-loaded article – just give you a taste – but here’s Evans-Pritchard’s conclusion:

“Major players in the City are watching with wolfish concentration. Bank of America says the air is getting thinner for risk assets but tells clients to stay with the “Icarus trade” as long as you can still breathe.

Mark Haefele, investment chief at UBS, says it is too early to bail out but the coming inflection point is “something we think about a lot”.

Art dealer accepts prized coffin’s return to Turkey

Well, here’s an interesting news item. Apparently Swiss law is clear on the matter of stolen antiquities – but publicly encouraging the assassination of a visiting head of state is a grey area.

“Lawyers say a Roman Empire-era coffin depicting the 12 labors of Hercules is set to go home to Turkey, ending a legal battle over a prized artifact that had mysteriously turned up in Geneva’s secretive customs-office warehouse years ago.

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This undated photo shows a 2nd century BCE sarcophagus in sculpted marble depicting the 12 labours of Hercules. Authorities say thecoffin is set to return home to Turkey, ending a legal battle over an artifact that mysteriously turned up in Geneva’s secretive customs office warehouse years ago (Ministere public genevois via AP)

The Inanna Art Services, a private cultural goods importer that had legal possession of the three-ton marble sarcophagus, had tried for months to block the restitution before deciding two weeks ago “to contribute to the return” by abandoning its efforts in Swiss courts, Didier Bottge, a lawyer for the importer, said in a phone interview on Tuesday.

From his clients’ viewpoint, “the case is closed,” said Bottge. Inanna had appealed a decision in September 2015 by the Geneva’s public prosecutor’s office to hand over what it called the “priceless” sarcophagus to Turkey.

The planned handover, expected sometime in the coming months, marks a successful cooperation between Swiss and Turkish authorities at a time of tensions between their two countries.

Swiss authorities are investigating whether any laws were broken when protesters against Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan over the weekend held up a banner bearing the words “Kill Erdogan,” as well as allegations of spying by people linked to Turkey in the Alpine nation.

The decision follows a nearly seven-year legal saga for the sarcophagus after it turned up in the secretive Geneva Free Ports warehouse. Cultural officials have said the coffin, showing scenes of Hercules strangling the Nemean Lion and killing the Hydra, is one of 12 of its kind known in the world.

It’s been traced to the Roman city of Dokimeion, thought to have been in the modern-day province of Antalya in Turkey.”

Read more

Mosque Fire not a Hate Crime – Yeah, sure!

Arson, but not a hate crime.

mosque-torchedWith Europe and America in a state of near-panic over possible New Year attacks – and ready to blame just about every act of violence on Islamic terrorists, the arson attack on an Islamic religious centre in Houston, Texas, was probably just a couple of naughty school boys playing with matches.

Officials Say No Evidence Houston Mosque Fire Was Hate Crime

But the fire remains suspicious

Federal officials say there’s no evidence that a recent fire at a Houston mosque was a hate crime.

Officials at the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives told KHOU 11 News that there’s no evidence that the two-alarm fire is part of a hate crime. Houston Fire Department investigators say the cause of the fire does not appear to be an accident.

Firefighters responded to the fire on Christmas Day. As TIME previously reported, the fire looks suspicious since the fire had multiple points of origin, and arson is a possibility. Other businesses besides the mosque were damaged. No injuries were reported.

Investigators are continuing to work around the clock, KHOU reports.

Source: Time Magazine

Protecting Turkey’s Byzantine Heritage

Last weekend we took a ride on the new Marmaray Metro. We dove deep underground near the market at Kadıköy (ancient Chalcedon), boarded a train and rode one stop to Ayrılık Çeşme at ground level where we transferred to another line, plunging immediately into the earth again. Passing under Üsküdar (formerly Scutari of Florence Nightingale fame) we entered the tube that would take us, in a brief six minutes, below the waters of the Bosporus to Sirkeci, once terminal of the legendary ‘Orient Express’. Our destination, however, was one stop further, Yenikapı (Newgate), in days gone by, site of Roman Constantinople’s main harbour of Theodosius Caesarius.
Sad to say, not much of this history is readily detectable by the casual observer today. There are Eastern Orthodox (and Armenian) churches in Kadıköy, but none survive from the days when Roman bishops held their Ecumenical Council there in 451 CE to codify tenets of the new state religion, Christianity. There is, I understand, a small museum dedicated to that legendary Imperial British Lady of the Lamp, but it is tucked away in one corner of a vast military barracks, and requires official permission to visit. There is certainly a cavernous excavation next to the modern station at Yenikapı where archeologists unearthed thirty-five sunken Roman galleys and other treasures, delaying completion of the Metro line by two or three years – and a purpose-built museum to house and display these relics and artifacts, so all is not hopelessly lost.
The Yenikapı Metro station is an impressive modern structure that will eventually be a major transport hub for Turkey’s largest city, providing connections to four rail lines as well as access to passenger and vehicular ferries crossing the Sea of Marmara and the mouth of the Bosporus to Asian Istanbul and other cities in Anatolia. The station’s interior is tiled with images representing the layers of history uncovered during excavations, dating back to 6,500 BCE.
Exiting the station, we crossed the street and set off towards Divan Yolu, once the Mese, the main shopping thoroughfare of Roman Constantinopolis. We didn’t have any particular destination in mind so we took a zigzag course through back streets to see what turned up. What we chanced upon was a brick edifice of antique design, sporting a minaret but clearly owing its architecture to an earlier period of history. It was built on a kind of raised terrace and accessible by a broad stairway. Beneath the stairs however, was an intriguing entrance that we decided to explore first. Inside was a very large circular space filled with small shops selling leather goods, jackets, bags and such. Of more interest, to me at least, were columns of obvious antiquity, topped by carved capitals.
Bodrum Mosque – Myrelaion Church
To cut a long story short, we visited the so-called Bodrum Mosque on the terrace above and questioned one or two locals, without learning much about the history of our discovery. A little research was necessary and I can now share with you the following.
Jan Kostenec, writing in the Encyclopedia of the Hellenic World identifies the circular building as a rotunda, built in the 5th century and reputedly the second largest in the Roman/Byzantine world after the Pantheon in Rome. Experts apparently argue about its original function. Possibly it was part of a palace for the royal princess Arcadia; or perhaps a market place with a secondary function as a place of execution, similar to the practice in present day Saudi Arabia. Much later the rotunda was converted to a cistern and used as the foundation for a palace built in the 9th century. Subsequently it was reinvented again as a nunnery when its owner Romanos Lekapenos became emperor in 920 BCE. A small church known as Myrelaionattached to the convent survives as the present day Bodrum Mosque whose architecture had first caught our attention. It is said to contain the remains of six members of the Lekapenos dynasty.
Well, it is undoubtedly a bathetic end for a 1,500 year-old Roman rotunda to find itself functioning as a not-very-up-market bazaar for bargain-hunting tourists. And very likely there are Eastern Orthodox Greeks, archeologists and historians of the ancient world who would be disappointed to see a 1,200 year-old Byzantine church serving as a place for Islamic worship. Especially since very few of the congregation would have any awareness of, or interest in the history of the building in which they pray. The Turkish Government and its citizens come in for a good deal of criticism for their careless neglect and even destruction of their archeological inheritance. I read a report published by the TASK Foundation (for the Protection of History, Archeology, Arts and Culture) in 2001 entitled ‘Archeological Destruction in Turkey’. The report was prepared by a group labeled collectively the TAY Project and aimed to document all the archeological settlements in Anatolia and Thrace – a monumental task but indisputably worthy.
The report lists 313 sites all over Turkey representing periods from Paleolithic to Medieval Roman/Byzantine and explains why and how they are under threat. The most common reasons given are uncontrolled housing development and road building, which are said to account for fifty percent of the destruction. Among other causes, one is ‘unconscious usage’, an example of which is the tilling of the old defensive ditch surrounding the walls of ancient Constantinople for market gardens.
Well, those TASK people are right, of course. The land area of modern Turkey has been home to more human civilisations and prehistoric settlements than probably anywhere else on the face of the earth. It is a paradise for archeologists and a priceless treasure house of antiquities holding keys to unlock many mysteries of humanity’s march to post-modernity. Still, the implication that destruction only began after the Ottoman conquest, and worsened under the Turkish Republic is maybe a little unfair.
Statue of the Tetrarchs –
note the prosthetic foot
Much of Imperial Constantinople was, in fact, already in ruins by the time Sultan Mehmet the Conqueror led his troops into the city in 1453. Our rotunda, for example, is believed to have been in a ruined state by the 8th century, before being rebuilt in its new palatial identity. The population of Constantinople had declined from an estimated one million to around fifty thousand by the mid-15th century and nothing remained of the once great Roman/Byzantine Empire beyond the mighty walls. Much of the destruction had in fact been wreaked by fellow Christians of the Fourth Crusade who sacked and pillaged the city in 1204 CE. An example of this is a porphyry sculpture known as the Tetrarchs, currently located in the façade of St Mark’s Basilica in Venice. The statue depicts four Roman emperors who ruled concurrently from 293 to 313 CE and originally adorned the Philadelphion, one of the main squares of Roman Constantinople. Archeologists working around our Bodrum Mosque in the 1960s unearthed part of the missing foot of the fourth emperor. You can see it in the Istanbul Archeology Museum – though the statue in Venice is probably a tad more impressive.
It should be remembered that by the time of the Fourth Crusade, Constantine’s capital was already more than eight hundred years old, at least four centuries older than Manhattan, New York, which itself has lost many of its heritage buildings, and is looking distinctly seedy in parts. It is only quite recently that we have started to become aware of the level of civilisation attained by Native Americans before they were largely wiped out after the arrival of Europeans.
Quite naturally the victorious Ottomans wanted to build symbols of their own power in their new capital, as we can see from the imperial mosques and other monumental structures dotted around older parts of the city. At the same time, however, those early sultans encouraged the return of Christian former citizens as well as the immigration of others such as Jews fleeing the Spanish Inquisition. Many churches continued to perform their original purpose. Undoubtedly some were converted to mosques, but it could be argued that this conversion preserved architecture and interior decoration that might otherwise have been destroyed. The marvellous mosaics and frescoes to be seen in St Sophia and Chorachurches (now museums) were not removed, but plastered over out of Islamic sensitivity to idolatry, and have been subsequently revealed by archeologists in all their glory. These beautiful works of Greco-Roman art date, however, from the 10th century or later, older ones having been removed by Orthodox Christian authorities themselves during the Iconoclastic period brought on by spiritual competition from the dynamic new Muslim religion.
Certainly much of the character of old Constantinople/Istanbul has been lost during the rapid urban development of the Republican period. Again, however, mitigating arguments can be made. At least Turkey’s industrial revolution with its accompanying rural to urban migration and rapid population growth has taken place in an age more inclined to the preservation of antiquities. How much remains of medieval London or Paris, for example? Further, the Republic’s new secular leaders ordered at least those two major Byzantine churches to be converted from mosques to museums, not ideal perhaps from an Orthodox Christian viewpoint, but arguably less offensive.
At the same time, however, as New Yorkers like Pete Hamill[1]will sadly tell you, no city can be preserved in a nostalgic time warp. The population of Istanbul has exploded from two million in 1970 to something like fifteen million today, with all that implies in terms of building construction, demands for water, power and telecommunications, roads, bridges, public transport, industrial development, retail outlets, sports facilities and entertainment centres. Town-planning authorities at national and local government level are caught in a constant tug-of-war between the demands of modern city-dwellers and the wishes of archeologists. 
Istanbul stands on possibly the world’s largest unexcavated archeological site. Clearly, however great your interest in history, you will find it hard to justify demolishing a large chunk of the modern city to gain access to what lies below. Construction of the Marmaray Metro may have buried irretrievably places of archeological importance – but without it much would have remained inaccessible and undiscovered.


[1] American journalist and writer of many books including ‘Downtown – My Manhattan’

Tomb Robbers and Cultural Linguistics

Do different languages confer different personalities? The question was raised in an articleI chanced upon the other day. The magazine was The Economist, and I confess it’s not part of my regular reading fare. Nevertheless, the piece struck a chord with me because I am pretty sure I become a different person in certain subtle ways when I speak Turkish.
It’s not just that there is a whole range of set phrases in Turkish you can trot out in almost every imaginable social situation, though that’s part of it: when someone cooks you a meal, emerges from the shower or hairdresser, is working when you are not; when a friend’s relative has passed away, someone does you a good turn or you want to admire a new baby, there’s a neat little ready-made phrase you can offer. On my annual trips downunder to see family, I often feel tongue-tied in these situations.
But there is more to it than that. Turks, in fact, have a saying: “Bir lisan, bir insan; iki lisan, iki insan” . . . “One language, one person; two languages, two people”. As an example, Turkish has no word for frustration, that “feeling of distress and annoyance resulting from an inability to change or achieve something”[1]. What Turkish does have (and English does not) is a marvellous verb halletmek, meaning to find a solution for a problem, where the solution may not necessarily be one hundred percent ethical or even legal, as in Hallederiz, abi – We’ll sort it out, mate.
You can understand the cultural need for such a word from the existence of another delightful verb oyalamak, meaning to put someone off with trumped-up excuses. This activity is especially found in offices or workplaces where someone in a position of responsibility doesn’t actually want to do something, or accept responsibility for something that you quite reasonably thought he or she should do or accept responsibility for. A foreigner like myself will probably feel some frustration in this situation, whereas a Turk will find a way to halletmek the matter.
Turkey’s Minister of Culture inspecting sarcophagus
(Click for a slideshow)
One of my regular sources of news and information is the Turkish daily Hürriyet. Last weekend a small item announced the opening of an unusual exhibitionin the south Aegean town of Milas: İbretlik Sergi. Well, sergi is Turkish for exhibition, no problem with that – but I had to look up the other word, and I now know it means a lesson learned the hard way, in the school of hard knocks, as our old Grammar School headmaster Henry Cooper used to say. No single word for that in English!
The exhibition apparently features tools employed by a gang police caught in the act of grave robbing. OK, a little ghoulish interest there, perhaps, but hard to see crowds flocking in, you may think – but listen up. The grave in question is believed to be the last resting place of Hekatomnos, King of Caria in the 4th century BCE, and father of the better known Mausolus, whose monumental burial place in nearby Halicarnassus (Bodrum) was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.
The Carians, it seems, are something of a historical mystery. Their civilisation existed in southwest Anatolia long before Greek-speaking peoples arrived in the first millennium BCE. There is some relationship with the Leleges, indigenous inhabitants of Anatolia, and both spoke a now extinct Indo-European language related to Hittite. The Carian kingdom was incorporated into the Persian Empire in 545 BCE but our man Hekatomnos apparently managed to achieve a measure of independence for his people. His capital was Mylasa, but other important cities were Knidos, Myndos and Latmos, all of which sites can be seen by the visitor to modern Turkey. In the mountains above present-day Milas archeologists are working on the site of a temple to Zeus Labraundos, a cult said to have been founded by Hekatomnus. Its symbol is labrys, a double-edged axe symbolising creation and said to be the origin of the word labyrinth.
Anyway, it seems that the Milas tomb raiders had rented a property adjacent to the site and, over a period of time, dug two tunnels six and eight metres long into the crypt. According to reports, the gentlemen involved are locals but clearly they knew what they were looking for, knew exactly where to look, and had some serious financial backing. The equipment they had at their disposal is not what would normally be found in a Turkish villager’s toolkit given that they had to drill through a thick marble wall to enter the burial space.
Turkey’s Minister of Culture, Ertuğrul Günay announced the discovery of the robbery back in 2010, and said at the time it was obvious that artifacts and treasures had already been removed, presumably for sale on the lucrative antiquities black market. Fortunately the gang was apprehended before they had managed to make off with the large elaborately carved sarcophagus, or the coloured frescoes decorating the interior walls. The Archeological Institute of America listed the Milas tomb as one of the top ten discoveries of 2010, so it is a little disappointing, surprising even, that thieves got to it first.
Of course the entire area of Turkey is one vast actual and potential archeological dig, containing continuous layers of civilisation dating back at least ten thousand years, so it is inevitable that some wonderful new site will on occasion be accidentally discovered by a farmer working in his field or a tourist out for a stroll. However, it is evident that this tomb was not such a chance find. In April last year the government of Turkey made an official application to have UNESCO add it to that organisation’s list of important historical sites. In their submission, the writers note that the mausoleum of Hekatomnos was discovered by a German scholar Jacob Spon back in 1675. Admittedly the burial chamber the thieves were working in was ten metres underground, but you would think that, in the intervening 325 years someone might have thought it worthwhile to fossick around a little below the surface.
Well, clearly someone finally did. Ten locals were netted in the police raid back in 2010, and five of them have been subsequently charged with offences under Turkey’s strict laws relating to the theft and smuggling of antiquities. However, Mr Günay is convinced, probably correctly, that those taken into custody were not working alone, and he has vowed to investigate the likelihood that they were in the pay of a person or persons outside the country who were providing scientific and financial backing.
I have heard it offered as an excuse for the retention of priceless ancient treasures in offshore museums that Turkey is unable to look after its history and allows its own people to destroy relics of ancient civilisations. It’ll be an interesting twist if wealthy foreign backers are proved to have been employing local labour to do their acquisitive dirty work for them. I have found Turkish people generally to be honest and tolerant, particularly in their dealings with foreigners. I will be sad if the hard lesson they learn from events like this results in a tougher attitude towards us.


[1] According to my Apple desktop dictionary