Treasures Found (and Looted) in Lycia

The Elmali Treasure

Ozgen Acar, the famous Turkish investigative reporter who has spent over 30 years trailing art smugglers, was instrumental in getting this treasure "The Treasure of the Century" returned to Turkey.  His findings have brought prestigious foreign museums to court and treasures back home.  Mr. Acar's story is below, an excerpt from his article here, from the Turkish Times, January 1, 2002 and also recounts his foilings of other buyers of smugglers' loot.  Legal action went on for 10 years before the treasure was returned to Turkey...

In 1984, in Antalya, a television repairman and two other people found a hoard of 2000 ancient silver coins with a metal detector made by a local TV repairman. The hoard contained every kind of coin from the countries in the Attica-Delos League. This was a kind of NATO of its day and had been formed in the 5th century BC to oppose Persian attacks. Before taking part in the battle, everyone buried their money, whether their own or official money belonging to the Alliance. The commander of the Alliance forces must have been killed in the battle against the Persians on the Elmali plateau. Since his officers or soldiers had no idea where the money was buried, nobody had been able to find it until modern times.

There is something special about this hoard of coins. To celebrate the defeat of the Persians in Greece, the Athenians produced commemorative 10-drachma coins called "decadrahmi", which were as big as medallions. There were only 7 previously known examples. The last one was sold at an auction in Switzerland in 1974 for a record 275 thousand dollars.

The Elmali Hoard contained 14 of them. For this reason it was called "The Decadrahmi Hoard" or "The Hoard of the Century." The owner of the most famous numismatic company in the world sold one of them in Los Angeles to a TV producer for $ 600,000 dollars, easily breaking the old record. This new record still stands. William Koch of Boston bought 1,800 of the coins for $ 3.5 million dollars. Koch is one the richest 200 people in the USA. The treasure is thought to be currently worth at least $ 25 million dollars. The Turkish Government knew that the treasure had been smuggled out of the country, but after it was taken across the border they didn't have the slightest knowledge of its whereabouts. The treasure disappeared.

After investigations in both Turkey and the USA over a period of two years, I was sure that the treasure was in Koch's possession. I published my evidence and the statements of witnesses in 1988. Based on the evidence, the Turkish Government started legal proceedings in Boston. The judge gave an important interim judgment in Turkey's favor. As was the situation in the legal wrangle with the Metropolitan and the Treasure of King Croessos, Koch, realizing that he would lose the case, suggested a compromise to Turkey. A major part of the treasure was returned. When I met Koch for the first time at the signing of the agreement at the Turkish Embassy in Washington, he expressed his liking for me in the following terms: "If it weren't for you, I wouldn't be in this position today. You've caused me nothing but trouble."

After this happened, Elmali Plateau was invaded by the treasure-hunters armed with metal detectors. One villager told me, "It was like the plateau had been invaded by an army of fireflies. In reality, they were an army of hundreds of treasure hunters, roaming around with cigarettes in their mouths." One of them found the graves of a local Phrygian Princess and some priests and started digging there. The village watchman saw what was going on and informed the museum. Following rescue excavations undertaken by the museum, the items you now see they were found.

They are currently on exhibit in the Antalya Museum. Otherwise, they would probably have been found in some auction catalogue.

Turkish Ministry of Culture and Tourism's page on the treasure.


Kumluca Treasure

A very important Byzantine find was discovered at today's Kumluca, near the Lycian site of Limyra.  Known as the Sion, Kumluca or Korydalla (the site's Lycian name) Treasure, a large collection of mid-6th century AD ecclesiastical silver objects, many very elaborate with excellent workmanship.  Because some of the objects bear inscriptions naming Holy Sion, it is believed that they came from the Holy Sion church at Korydalla (near Kumluca), perhaps looted or buried for safety during the Arab invasions of the 7th century.  Unfortunately, most of the pieces were looted in the 1960's and smuggled out of the country.  Some of the treasure is in  in Washington, D.C. and Turkey is negotiating for its return.  Some pieces can be see in the Antalya Museum.

More photos of the treasure in the Dumbarton Oaks Museum