Treasure hunters plunder Byzantine cemetery in İstanbul

Treasure hunters plunder Byzantine cemetery in İstanbul

(Photo: Courtesy of Akşam daily

January 30, 2012, Monday/ 15:45:00

Treasure hunters have plundered two historic Byzantine sites in İstanbul, made possible by the lack of preventative measures reportedly taken by officials to protect the sites.

Two historic sites, the caves of İnceğiz and the İnceğiz necropolis of Maltepe, which were declared first-degree archeological sites in 1994 by the İstanbul Board of Protection of Cultural and Natural Assets, have since been plundered by treasure hunters. The Ministry of Culture and Tourism has so far been ineffective in protecting these historic sites from grave robbers.

According to the Akşam daily, the Çatalca Culture and Tourism Association is in possession of photos showing holes in the ground around the İnceğiz necropolis as a result of illegal excavations, as well as photographs of treasure hunters caught red-handed, excavating grave sites. They have sent these photographs to the district governor of Çatalca.

Çatalca Culture and Tourism Association Chairman Rasim Yücel said: “After official excavations of the necropolis ended in 1995, many treasure hunters flocked to this site, hugely damaging historic Byzantine artifacts. Treasure hunters broke stone sarcophagi and stole historical artifacts from the tombs. These treasure hunters have destroyed history. If pre-emptive state excavations don't start immediately, Byzantine history will be lost forever.” Yücel also called Culture and Tourism Minister Ertugrul Günay to take immediate action to protect these historic sites.

District Governor of Çatalca Nevzat Taşdan said they have taken some measures to protect the historic sites and appointed security guards to watch them. Taşdan added: “We have received several tips and photos showing the illegal excavations, so gendarmes continuously patrol the area. However, because the sites are so large, the gendarmes are unable to check the entire area. We want to preserve our history, but our capabilities are limited.”

This neglect to protect the outstanding historic sites has drawn reactions from art historians.

An art historian from İstanbul's Mimar Sinan Fine Arts University, Professor Gülgün Köroğlu, said the area of İnceğiz includes historic monasteries and cemeteries from the Byzantine era. “This area, which has a long history, is known to have been home to many Byzantine monks and have a religious background. Stricter security precautions should be taken to protect such important historic sites,” Köroğlu noted.

Another art historian, Professor Semavi Eyice said that treasure hunting is like a widespread disease, common in all segments of society. She also said she has witnessed many unusual incidents of grave robbing in Turkey and added that treasure hunting is out of control.

In the official archaeological excavations, which started in 1992 and ended in 1995, 40 tombs were opened. About 500 earthenware pots, figurines of Aphrodite and many other artifacts such as plates, pots, historic coins and some glass pieces were found in the state excavations. These artifacts are on display at the İstanbul Archaeology Museum.

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