Penn Museum Agrees to Indefinite Term Loan of Troy Gold Jewelry to Turkey

Penn Museum (the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology) announces a landmark agreement with the Turkish Ministry of Culture and Tourism for an indefinite term loan to the Republic of Turkey of a collection of 24 gold jewelry pieces, dating to circa 2400 BCE.

The agreement reached between Penn and Turkey includes identification of the “Troy Gold” as being on indefinite loan from the Penn Museum; a commitment by the Turkish Ministry of Culture and Tourism of strong support for the University’s excavations at Gordion, in central Turkey; the loan of a group of remarkable artifacts excavated in a series of royal tombs at Gordion and in Lydia for a future major exhibition at the Penn Museum; and a pledge for increased cultural collaboration between Penn and Turkey.

State-of-the-art metallurgical analysis conducted at the Penn Museum corroborated the hypothesis that the rare jewelry had been found in the northeast Aegean, likely at or near the site of Troy, prompting a re-evaluation of its purchase history and provenance. “We have a strong, long-standing partnership with Turkey, in which cultural exchange and cultural understanding are of paramount importance,” said Dr. Julian Siggers, the Williams Director of the Penn Museum. “In light of this history and our recent scientific testing, this agreement is right and appropriate. What’s more, it will lead to great opportunities — for Penn, for Philadelphia, and for the wider archaeological community — to experience more of Turkey’s rich cultural history and heritage in the future.”

The gold artifacts are delicate and distinctive: two precise techniques, filigree and granulation, were used in the production of the jewelry, which would have been worn by aristocratic women living 4,400 years ago. Some of the decorative motifs and technical features of the pieces are echoed in the jewelry from the Greek island of Lemnos and from the Mesopotamian Royal Tombs of Ur, both of which date to the same general time of the Penn Museum gold, circa 2400 BCE. The latter site, located in modern-day Iraq, was excavated in the 1920s and early 1930s by a joint Penn Museum/British Museum team and is the subject of a current exhibition on display at the Penn Museum. The same workshops may have supplied both Troy and Ur—more than 1,200 miles apart—with their precious metalwork, evidence of an extraordinary early trade network scholars are just beginning to understand.

In 1966, the Penn Museum purchased 24 pieces of gold jewelry of Early Bronze Age date (second half of the third millennium BCE) from a Philadelphia art dealership that has since ceased to exist. Rodney Young, then Curator-in-Charge of the Penn Museum’s Mediterranean Section, asked Assistant Curator George Bass to study the assemblage. Bass, who later founded the Institute of Nautical Archaeology, published the jewelry immediately—first in a popular magazine (the Penn Museum’s Expedition), then in a scientific journal (the American Journal of Archaeology or AJA).

In these articles, Bass highlighted the difficulty of pinpointing the original find spot or provenance of the jewelry. Greek and Near Eastern jewelry of the mid-to-late third millennium BCE exhibits an “international style” tied to the long-distance trade networks that crossed Asia and the Aegean, thereby making it difficult to link jewelry without a known find spot to a specific site. Bass noted the objects’ strong similarities to the Early Bronze Age jewelry of Troy in northwest Turkey, Poliochni on Lemnos (Greece), and Ur (southern Iraq).

The purchase of the “Troy Gold” (as it soon came to be called) prompted a series of discussions at the Penn Museum that ultimately led to the formulation of “The Pennsylvania Declaration,” which was intended to prohibit future acquisitions of antiquities that had no find spot and were believed to have been looted. This Declaration was highly influential in the global museum community and was followed later that year by the UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property, which was implemented by the U.S. in 1983. As George Bass noted at the end of his 1970 article, “more and more hoards [of this kind] will lose their historical value unless illegal excavation and antiquities smuggling can be stopped. The curators, board of managers, and director of the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology have just voted unanimously to purchase no antiquities in the future unless their place of origin and legality of export is certain” (AJA 1970, p. 341).

Penn Museum is located on the University of Pennsylvania’s campus at 3260 South Street, Philadelphia, PA 19104. Penn Museum can be found on the web at www.penn.museum. For general information call 215.898.4000.

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