ISTANBUL (AA): Six artifacts comprising of nine pieces plundered from ancient cities in Türkiye and smuggled to the U.S. years ago were brought back to their homeland and delivered to a Turkish museum following an official ceremony on Sunday.
Culture and Tourism Minister Mehmet Nuri Ersoy, U.S. Ambassador to Ankara Jeffry Flake and U.S. Assistant District Attorney for Manhattan Col. Matthew Bogdanos signed the delivery contract at the Antalya Museum in Türkiye’s coastal province.
The statue of Roman Emperor Lucius Verus, Attis and Apollo figurines, a Kusura-type idol, a terracotta plate and a four-piece columnar sarcophagus were brought back to Türkiye thanks to the joint repatriation efforts of Turkish and U.S. authorities. The human-sized bronze statue of the Roman Emperor Lucius Verus and the four-piece columnar sarcophagus from the ancient city of Perge in Antalya were the two most striking items in terms of their size. The statue of Verus, on the other hand, is one of the rare human-sized bronze statues that have survived to the present day.
Speaking at the event, Ersoy said that Türkiye had been following the traces of the artifacts for half a century, which are originally from the Turkish provinces of Balıkesir, Afyonkarahisar and Burdur.
“I am happy to witness and support the completion of at least a part of a half-century-long process,” he shared, thanking Bogdanos, Robert Mancene, a U.S. Homeland Security agent, and investigative analysts Daniel Healey and Apsara Iyer for coordinating the process.
According to Ersoy, Türkiye’s first female archaeologist Jale Inan was the first person who struggled to prove where these artifacts belong, and then she found out that there was another bronze statue in Burdur in the 1970s. When she compared the statue with the examples she studied in the U.S., she realized that the statue originated in the ancient city of Bubon, which is currently referred to as Burdur. Then she started excavations in the area and matched the sculptures in the exhibition with the inscriptions on the statue pedestals she had found in the area.
“Her work was recognized worldwide. Yet all these efforts were not enough to return the artifacts to our country,” Ersoy added.
“International cooperation could not be attained at that time. The statue, which belongs to the A.D. first and second centuries and depicts Emperor Lucius Verus, is an extremely impressive work in terms of its artistic features. We worked meticulously and created hundreds of pages of folders for its repatriation. We were asked to compare the footprints left on the base of the statue with the foot length of the statue. We then confirmed that the foot measurement of the statue and the measurement we took in the area matched. Considering this information, there was no obstacle for the artifact to return to the lands it belongs to,” Ersoy noted.
Also stating that they learned that a columned sarcophagus of Perge origin is also in the Kassel Museum in Germany and that the ministry’s attempts in the 1970s did not yield any results, Ersoy said: “It was not enough to scientifically prove that the artifact belongs to Perge. We were also expected to prove that it was smuggled. Our Anti-Smuggling Department and the Antalya Museum Directorate carried out a joint study to form the basis for our file on the return of the sarcophagus. We applied to locals who might have information on the subject. When these efforts coincided with the findings of the Manhattan team, we passed an important stage in our process. This sarcophagus, which was probably cut into pieces so that it could be transported more easily, is now in the land it belongs to. We will quickly start the necessary work for the restoration of the sarcophagus,” the minister said.
Meanwhile, Flake said that he was glad to be a part of the efforts “to repatriate artifacts that were illegally taken.”
He thanked all the teams that worked on the repatriation process along with their counterparts in Türkiye.
“These artifacts tell a story about what happened, about the culture and heritage of the people … they belong where they originated,” he added.
Flake recalled that a bilateral cultural property agreement between Türkiye and the U.S. was signed last January. “This agreement is designed to protect the looting and illicit trafficking of rare items like these,” he said.