Blog Subscription via

December 30, 2013

Postcard from Turkey: The Archaeological Museum at Uşak, The Lydian Hoard and Two Hippocampuses

by Aaron Haines

I rubbed my sleep-deprived eyes and stared across the abandoned parking lot at the rusty minivan that was supposedly my “shuttle” into town. It was six in the morning and the sun was just beginning to peek over the horizon of Uşak, a small city in the center of western Turkey. Most bus companies don’t travel to Uşak and the few that do only offer one or two bus rides from Istanbul each day. I had left Istanbul the previous night at eight and spent the next ten hours on a bus in order to see Uşak’s most famous possession: the Lydian Hoard. I walked up to the minivan, squeezed onto the front bench, and told the driver I needed to go the archaeology museum. The rest of the passengers stared me as if wondering what a young American backpacker was doing so far from any of Turkey’s usual tourist destinations. We soon reached the city center and the driver told me in Turkish that the museum was just down the street.

Photo by A. Haines
The museum did not open for another couple of hours so I took my time observing the building’s exterior. It was a small building situated on an awkward triangular corner plot of land where two streets merged. It was surrounded by a low wrought iron fence that was about three to four feet in height. The building’s small yard was littered with archaeological artifacts from various civilizations and time periods; Byzantine, Hittite, Roman, and others. The placement of these objects was haphazard, but it was clear every square inch of the yard could be surveyed by the small army of security cameras that pointed in every direction. Also, none of the objects were small enough to be lifted by hand and would have required either machinery or several people to move them. There was an abundance of exterior lighting indicating that the museum and archaeological artifacts could be sufficiently monitored at night. The museum was an older building, but fulfilled its intended purpose. The windows were single paned and old, but all well protected by the iron bars covering them. Despite the early hour, I noticed a man standing inside the museum watching me, indicating that a security guard was present at the museum both day and night.

At eight when the museum opened, I stepped inside and was greeted by the security guard. I pulled out my wallet to purchase a ticket, but the guard was already leaving his desk and leading me into the museum’s only gallery. I expected him to then return to his desk while I toured the small collection, but instead he simply followed me around. I got the feeling that not many people came into the museum. The lighting and presentation of the museum’s collection were excellent and there were many text panels explaining the significance of the objects as well as where they had been found in the surrounding countryside.

Photo of Lydian Hoard by A. Haines
I was eager to see the Lydian Hoard and quickly found it in a room in the very back of the gallery. The pieces of the collection were displayed on simple but elegant cloth with good lighting. The hippocampus still occupied its own display case, but the text panel gave no indication that the original had been stolen or that the current piece on display was a copy of the original. I noticed that the previous simple lock had been replaced by a lock, seal, and slip of paper. On this slip of paper were the signatures of four different archaeologists indicating that each had verified that the work was the legitimate original.

Photo of documented lock by A. Haines
The museum guard was still shadowing me so I decided to strike up a conversation with him. He did not speak much English so we conversed in Turkish. He explained to me that a guard was at the museum twenty four hours a day and that there was video surveillance of the entire building and the surrounding yard of antiquities. When I asked him how many patrons visited the museum, he told me that during the summer, they averaged about one hundred every day. This surprised since Uşak is a smaller city and quite far from any major tourist attractions. I asked again about the museum attendance and he repeated that they indeed averaged around one hundred patrons a day during the summer time. He explained that during the winter, attendance drops due to the decrease in tourism. He went on to explain that the city was currently constructing a new museum that is supposed to be completed next year. The new three story building will have much more storage and administration space as well as an upgraded security system.

Copy of  hippocampus in Uşak (A. Haines) 
We returned to the subject of the Lydian Hoard and after I asked a couple of questions about the hippocampus, he stopped and stared at me for a couple of seconds. He then asked if I wanted to know something and leaned in to quietly tell me that the original work had been stolen. I feigned surprise and he motioned for me to walk back over to the display case. He then told me the story about the hippocampus and confided in me that the brooch in the case was actually a fake. Thanks to Sharon Waxman’s 2008 book Loot: The Battle Over the Stolen Treasures of the Ancient World (Times Books), I already knew this, but I doubted that most patrons to the museum did. There was no explanation of it in the text panels or in any of the other materials on display. Most patrons assumed that they were viewing the original.

Imagine my surprise when I arrived in Ankara, the capitol of Turkey, just a couple of days later and saw the same hippocampus on display in the Museum of Anatolian Civilizations. My immediate thought was that I had now seen two copies of the same stolen work.

Recovered hippocampus temporarily
housed in Ankara (Photo by A. Haines)
I approached two security guards chatting nearby and explained to them that I had just seen this same work in Uşak. They replied that I had seen a copy in Uşak and that the object in Ankara was the original brooch. I asked them how this could be since the work had been stolen and they explained that it had been recently recovered. Supposedly it was only on temporary display in Ankara and will be moved to Uşak next year when the new Uşak museum is complete.

Aaron Haines is a senior majoring in art history at Brigham Young University and traveled to Turkey this summer using grant moneys from the BYU Office of Research and Creative Activities to observe the security of four archaeology museums. He visited the archaeology museums in Uşak, Boğazkale, Ankara, and Istanbul each of which houses artifacts that have been recently repatriated by Turkey from other countries. Aaron has a special interest in cultural property law and preservation as it applies to Italy and Turkey and speaks Italian and some Turkish. He recently returned from an internship at the American Embassy in Rome and is currently interning with the U.S. State Department’s Cultural Heritage Center.


This is awesome work. Nice job Aaron. js