News Column

Zeugma: Ancient city in Turkey bridging east and west

July 21, 2014

Officials trying to gain return of looted artifacts now on display in the U.S.


The Zeugma excavation site in the southern Turkish city of Gaziantep should be preserved against looting and smuggling, and is in dire need of financial support, as well, according to a professor of archeology.

The site has been looted already.

One of the most important mosaics, "the Gypsy Girl," has 12 of its fragments exhibited as decoration at Bowling Green State University in Ohio, the United States. They were bought from an art gallery in Manhattan, New York in 1965, according to the Turkish Aktuel Archeology Magazine.

Meaning "crossing" or "gateway" in Ancient Greek, Zeugma was one of the gateways to Mesopotamia, placed on the river Euphrates, and its history can be traced back to antiquity.

As a result of Alexander the Great's policy of mixing Greek people with indigeneous populations, Zeugma had a symbolic value – it was an allegory of cultural amalgamation.

At the site today, a visitor can see Roman villas side-by-side on a hillside across a breathtaking view of the Euphrates. Each villa has historically significance mosaics and frescos in their courtyards, guest rooms and reception areas.

The magazine has started a campaign that has brought attention back to the smuggling of artifacts in Turkey once again. To return the fragments to Turkey, the campaign, which is available on the website,, needs 18,000 signatures. But only 8,000 have been collected so far.

"I am expecting everyone to participate in this campaign," said Kutalmis Gorkay, an archaology professor at Ankara University, and the head of the excavation team since 2005. "Our request is the return of those pieces to Turkey."

Gorkay said that Zeugma, like other historical sites in Turkey, is in dire need of funding from national and especially international organizations and individuals, in order to bring to light its cultural history.

"The Turkish Ministry of Culture and Tourism is doing everything in its power for Zeugma," Gorkay said. "But it still needs support. It is not only Zeugma. There are historical sites in every part of Turkey. Those places also need help from local administrations."

He said the Municipality of Gaziantep and Mayor Fatma Sahin had made tremendous efforts to help Zeugma.

Gorkay said that Zeugma excavation site needs to be an outdoor museum.

"The outdoor museum with the rooftop cover, completed in 2010, is a construction for the visitors to see the artifacts in their original context," he said.

"Once we constructed it, we made the site valuable for tourism and cultural heritage," he said. "There are so many historical sites in Turkey that it can become a museum as a whole."

Zeugma is still facing smuggling and looting of historical artifacts," he said. Authorities have developed different techniques, he said, to deter such theft.

The Zeugma site is so vulnerable to looting that Gorkay had also developed an interesting technique to prevent smuggling. "We cover the mosaics with steel plates that are two tons in weight, which can only be lifted by cranes," he said.

"The excavations this year will commence on Monday and last for three months," he said. "We will work on the Roman residence, which we call the Muses House, and also on the sacred temple at Belkis Hill, as well as on city center, which is a Hellenistic agora."

Related story:  Cultural awareness key to preserving Turkish artifacts


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Source: Anadolu Agency (Turkey)

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