The 24 pieces of “Troy gold” jewelry that the Penn Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology lent to the Turkish government in a landmark agreement announced Sept. 4 may have a more complicated history than meets the eye.
Archaeology professor Brian Rose, a curator in the museum’s Mediterranean section, believes the artifacts arrived at Penn after they had been previously stolen.
“I’m virtually certain they were looted,” said Rose, who has spent time studying the jewelry. “The question is from which region were they looted.”
Penn had originally purchased the jewelry legally in 1966 from an antiquities dealer in Philadelphia without knowing all the details surrounding the artifacts’ history.
“We bought it because it looked very like the gold that was excavated at Troy,” Penn Museum Director Julian Siggers said.
According to Siggers, the objects led to a period of “introspection” at the museum in the late 1960s. In 1970, the museum announced the Pennsylvania Declaration, which Siggers explained put into practice the museum’s policy of declining to purchase anything it did not know the origins of.
A few months later, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization followed suit to announce a similar standard of its own, except on a global scale.
Rose and Ernst Pernicka, a professor at the University of Tübingen in Germany, performed an analysis of the jewelry in 2009 to determine their authenticity.
It was during this analysis that Pernicka found a tiny grain of dirt, allowing him to dig a bit deeper and learn more about the origins of the jewelry.
“We analyzed a little of the soil and found it to be consistent with the soil from the Trojan plain,” Pernicka said.
Pernicka added, however, that the sampling was also consistent with soil found in parts of Greece.
It was the likelihood that the jewelry may have come from Troy — an ancient city located in what is now northwestern Turkey — that initially prompted the Turkish government to take note and begin negotiating with Penn about an exchange.
“They started talking to us about that,” Siggers said. “They want to actually open up a museum in Troy. So that’s how we came up with an amazing deal with the Turks.”
Through the agreement, Penn will loan the jewelry to the Turkish government permanently, and in return, the Turkish government will provide Penn with artifacts for a large exhibit on King Midas set to open in 2016.
Not everybody, however, has been thrilled to learn of the agreement. Pernicka expressed concerns about what this may mean for other museums.
“This will create problems for other museums because the Turkish authorities will see this as a way to regain their culture heritage,” he said, explaining that this may be part of a trend of Turkish officials becoming overly “aggressive” in trying to obtain artifacts they believe are rightfully theirs.
Turkish people, on the other hand, view this simply as a return of an artifact to their home country.
“It’s not just Turkey that has had other artifacts taken away either legally or illegally, and they’ve been found in various galleries or shops that were trying to sell them,” said Birtan Collier, a board member of the Turkish American Friendship Society of U.S.
“Sometimes there’s been success in getting them back to the country of origin,” she said. “This is a definite success story [for Turkey]. I’m sure the people in Turkey are very happy about getting some Troy items back.”
Siggers agreed, adding that the exchange was a win-win for both Penn and Turkey.
“It was a very collegial talk,” Siggers said. “I’m very happy with the outcome. I think Penn should be pretty proud of this, of the way we’ve worked with the Turks.”