The New York Times reports on Turkey’s renewed demands that artifacts in museums around the world be given to them.

After years of pleading in vain for the return of Anatolia’s cultural treasures from Western museums, Turkey has started playing hardball. And it is starting to see some results.
This month, Germany reluctantly agreed to return a Hittite statue taken to Berlin by German archaeologists a century ago. “It was agreed that the statue will be handed over to Turkey as a voluntary gesture of friendship,” the German government said after weeks of negotiations between the countries’ foreign ministries.
Days later, Ankara announced it was stepping up a campaign to obtain a breakthrough in a similarly longstanding dispute with the Louvre in Paris over an Ottoman tile panel that went to France in 1895.
Although the Turkish cases for restitution of the sphinx and the tiles have always been more compelling than those for other treasures, like the Pergamon Altar, that were exported with permission of the Ottoman authorities, Ankara’s requests for their restitution went unanswered for years.
Then, Turkey changed tack. Culture Minister Ertugrul Gunay announced earlier this year that he would kick German archaeologists out of the excavations at Hattusa, where they have been working for over a century, if the matter was not resolved. “I am determined not to renew the excavation license for Hattusa if the sphinx is not returned,” Mr. Gunay said in February.
In a first that rocked the archaeological world in Asia Minor, the digging licenses of two longstanding excavations conducted by German and French teams were revoked earlier this year.
The leader of the canceled German dig at Aizanoi, Ralf von den Hoff, said in an e-mail that his excavation had fallen victim to the ministry’s “extortionate demands” over the Hattusa sphinx.
But Germany says the return of the sphinx is a one-of-a-kind deal. “Both sides agreed that the sphinx is a singular case that is not comparable to other cases,” the German government said.
Turkey disagrees. “This is a revolution,” Mr. Gunay said last week about the agreement with the Germans. “This is a great development for the restitution of all our antique artifacts from abroad,” adding, “We will fight in the same way for the restitution of the other artifacts.”
Mr. Gunay said he foresaw a long struggle ahead, of a century or more, but added that he believed that “in the end Europe will return all of the cultural treasures that it has collected from all over the world.”

All governments take note.  Turkey’s goal is nothing less than that “all of the cultural treasures” be “returned.” 

The article has much more.  Is there any irony in the fact that in order to get some old artifacts returned Turkey would cancel excavations which would fill their museums with new discoveries?

HT: Jack Sasson


The Australian Institute of Archaeology produces a newsletter, the current edition of which is online (also in pdf). You may also subscribe by email request. Some items are specific to Australian readers, but other articles are of broader interest. For example, one item notes Israel Finkelstein’s revision of his Low Chronology to be closer to the mainstream position.

During his presentation [at SBL 2010], Israel Finkelstein revised his dating, and stated that he was now dating the transition from Iron Age I to IIA to about 950 BC. This was momentous. Based on their experiences in the Philistine areas and sites such as Lachish, Ussishkin and Finkelstein have been dating the start of Iron Age II to 920–900 BC and they, and many others, have used this dating to argue that David and Solomon did not exist. Archaeologists working elsewhere in the southern Levant have found the comparatively short period of Iron Age II problematic because it was difficult to compress their Iron Age II levels into it. While they mounted archaeological arguments to support an earlier start to Iron Age II they were normally accused of being ‘biblically biased’.
Now that Finkelstein is digging at Megiddo, where there is a significant depth of Iron Age II material, he realises that the period was longer and that an earlier date for the start of Iron Age II is necessary. There are numerous books written by Finkelstein arguing that there was no United Monarchy because Iron Age II began long after the time it was supposed to have existed. Unfortunately these books will continue to have influence for decades to come, although the core argument is no longer accepted. The change does not mean that the United Monarchy did exist; it simply removes one of the hypothesised impediments. It was interesting that in the presentations the only person to regularly refer to biblical texts was Finkelstein: for him, disproving the Old Testament appears to be a hobby-horse. Much of the scholarly world has been fixated on Finkelstein conveying his hypotheses as facts. It will be interesting to see if it now takes a less dogmatic stance.

The full text of the newsletter is here (also in pdf format). More information about the Australian Institute of Archaeology and how to become a member may be found here.

HT: James Lancaster