A 2,500-year-old solid gold brooch -- now on its way to a new national museum in Turkey -- has a back story so rich with mystery and intrigue it makes Indiana Jones’ adventures seem bland.
As recounted by the Guardian, the winged seahorse was originally part of Turkish King Croesus’ buried treasure -- a collection of artifacts known as the Lydian Hoard (in Turkey as the Karun Treasure). It was looted from burial mounds in western Turkey in 1965 before being sold off; it eventually ended up on exhibit at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art in the 1980s.
In 1993, the brooch found a new home in the Usak museum in western Turkey. Then in 2006 an anonymous tip came that the brooch on display at the museum was a fake.
It turns out that the director of the museum, Kazim Akbiyikoglu, had sold the real brooch and other museum artifacts to pay off his gambling debts. He was arrested and eventually sentenced to 13 years in jail.
Was it justice for the museum director? Akbiyikoglu blamed his misfortune on the brooch itself, which is reputed to cast an ancient curse on whoever touches it. As legend has it, the seven men who dug up the treasure in the 1960s all met violent deaths or other misfortunes.
The real brooch that Akbiyikoglu sold off ended up in Germany. The details of its recent recovery have not yet been revealed but the Turkish culture minister, Ertugrul Günay, has said that German officials will be returning it perhaps before year’s end.
“I am very happy to hear that the piece will finally return home,” said a culture and tourism official, Serif Aritürk, who felt the brooch was too high-profile to fly under the radar. "No collector would have dared to acquire such a well-known artifact. It was clear that the thieves would not find a buyer easily.”
Added journalist and archaeology expert Ömer Erbil: “For the past three years, the ministry of culture has exerted great pressure to retrieve stolen artifacts from Turkey. Museums and collectors are increasingly hesitant to buy them. It is partly due to the ministry’s efforts that we were able to find the brooch relatively fast.”
The Archaeological Museum in Usak, the brooch’s former home, is now pressed for space. A new museum is being built and is expected to open in December 2013. Four hundred and fifty pieces from King Croesus’ treasure will be on display there -- including the seahorse brooch. Let’s hope the curse has been broken.