Penn Museum Strengthens Partnership with Turkey, Agrees to Indefinite Term Loan of "Troy Gold"

Penn Museum Strengthens Partnership with Turkey
Museum Agrees to Indefinite Term Loan of “Troy Gold” Jewelry

SEPTEMBER 4, 2012— 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.

History of the Purchase

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).

New Research Brought to the Collection

When the “Troy Gold” assemblage was carefully examined again in 2009 by Ernst Pernicka, a professor at the University of Tübingen in southern Germany and director of the Troy Excavations, and Hermann Born, archaeologist at the Museum für Vor und Frühgeschichte in Berlin, a particle of soil was found lodged inside one of the gold pendants. The use of a technique called neutron activation analysis revealed that the particle’s composition was consistent with the soil in the Trojan plain.  

Toward the end of 2011, the Turkish Ministry of Culture and Tourism contacted the Penn Museum regarding the potential transfer of the gold to Turkey, and a series of discussions subsequently took place between the University of Pennsylvania and the Turkish Ministry of Culture and Tourism. A joint decision was reached wherein the gold would travel to Turkey on indefinite loan. The expectation is that the gold will eventually be displayed in a new museum that is planned for the archaeological site of Troy. 

Brian Rose, the James B. Pritchard Professor of Archaeology at the University of Pennsylvania and the Curator-in-Charge of the Penn Museum’s Mediterranean Section, co-directs the excavations at the famous site of Troy in northwest Turkey and has been charged with oversight of the “Troy Gold” for many years. “Determining the fate of cultural property whose only certain provenance is the art market is never an easy task,” he says, “and we continue to adhere to the principles of the ‘Pennsylvania Declaration’ that the Penn Museum formulated 42 years ago.

“Ensuring a future for the past is a responsibility shared by every museum in the world, and the Penn Museum will continue to be proactive in charting a course toward that goal.”

Penn Museum (the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology), celebrating its 125th anniversary in 2012, is dedicated to the study and understanding of human history and diversity. Founded in 1887, the Museum has sent more than 400 archaeological and anthropological expeditions to all the inhabited continents of the world. With an active exhibition schedule and educational programming for children and adults, the Museum offers the public an opportunity to share in the ongoing discovery of humankind's collective heritage.

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.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

Photographs of the jewelry can be viewed on the Penn Museum Collections Database.

Links to material mentioned in the press release:

The Pennsylvania Declaration of 1970 as published in Expedition in 1980.

The 1970 UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property

George Bass. "Troy and Ur: Gold Links Between Two Ancient Capitals" Expedition 8, no. 4 (1966): 26-39. 

George Bass. "A Hoard of Trojan and Sumerian JewelryAmerican Journal of Archaeology 74 (1970): 335-341.

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