Karun Treasure is the name given to a collection of 363 valuable Lydian artifacts dating from the 7th century BC and originating from Uşak Province in western Turkey, which were the subject of a legal battle between Turkey and New York Metropolitan Museum of Art between 1987–1993 and which were returned to Turkey in 1993 after the Museum admitted it had known the objects were stolen when they had purchased them. The collection is alternatively known as the Lydian Hoard. The items are exhibited in the Uşak Museum of Archaeology.
The collection made sensational news once again in May 2006 when a key piece, a golden hippocamp, on display in Uşak Museum along with the rest of the collection, was discovered to have been switched with a fake, probably between March and August 2005,
Yet another term used for the collection is "Croesus Treasure". Although the artifacts are closely contemporary to Croesus, whether they should be directly associated with the legendary Lydian king or not remains debatable. Croesus' wealth had repercussions on a number of Asian cultures in a vein similar to his fame in the western cultures, and is referred to either as Qarun (Arabic) or Karun (Turkish), with the mythical proportions of his fortune also echoed in various ways, parallel to the English language expression "as rich as Croesus". This explains why the term "Karun Treasure" took hold, and in any case, the king Croesus' Treasure consisted of more than 363 pieces and the tomb chamber tumulus where most artifacts were discovered (they originate from close but different sites) was that of a woman.
Discovery and smuggling
The main and the most precious part of the treasure comes from a tomb chamber of a Lydian princess reached through illegal excavations carried out by three fortune-seekers from Uşak's depending Güre village, at the proximity of which the tomb was located, at the locality called Toptepe. After having dug for days and unable to break through the marble masonry of the chamber door, they had dynamited the roof of the tomb in the night of 6 June 1966, to be the first to see the breathtaking sight of the buried Lydian noblewoman and her treasures after 2600 years. The treasure looted from this particular tomb was enriched by further finds by the same men in other tumuli of the locality during 1966-1967, and the collection was smuggled outside Turkey in separate dispatches through İzmir and Amsterdam, to be bought by the Metropolitan Museum of Art between 1967–1968, at an invoiced cost of 1,2 million US Dollars for 200 of the pieces within the collection.
The efforts made by successive Turkish governments to retrieve the collection were incited since the very beginning and followed until conclusion by the journalist Özgen Acar. Acar had chanced upon some pieces of the collection for the first time in 1984 in a Met Museum catalogue and had informed Turkey's Ministry of Culture of their clear provenance, while he also wrote several articles and pursued the bureaucratic channels within Turkey with insistence throughout the affair. He acted as a voluntary envoy of the Ministry within the frame of the judicial case launched in New York City in 1987 and brought to conclusion in 1993, at the same time as he was named consultant in the larger framework of the Turkey's participation in the work carried out by UNIDROIT regarding the protection of historic, cultural and religious heritage. Acar's name is also synonymous in Turkey for the retrieval of another set of smuggled archaeological goods, termed "Elmalı Treasure" in reference to their site of origin, the town of Elmalı in southwestern Turkey, and involving this time Lydian coins and extremely rare decadrachms dating from the period of the Delian League, with the Boston Museum of Fine Arts as his opposite party.
Uşak Museum case
The clear need for a museum worthy of the treasure was being voiced ever since the artifacts had returned to Turkey. With the seizure by the authorities of ten other illegally excavated artifacts in 1998, further archaeological discoveries and the known presence of eight gold pieces that had appeared in 2000 during an exhibition in a Paris private gallery for which attempts for retrieval were yet to be made, a handsome collection of base consisting of a total of 375 pieces was already accumulated. But the small museum in Uşak where the collection was placed, more focused on storage of Ushak carpets and operating under conditions of budgetary and staff restraints, did not fully meet the requirements for the preservation of Karun Treasure. Doubts about the site's suitability were reinforced by the filing of currently unresolved legal action against museum staff regarding the 2007 theft. The museum's former director remains the only person to be still kept in custody among the ten initially accused in the frame of the case around the hippocamp's replacement with a fake.
Curse of the treasure
Some in Uşak and beyond associate the treasure with a curse. None of the villagers who took part in the 1960s digs, and who were kept under arrest for a brief period at the time, lived the rest of their days in happy notes.
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- "Croesus riches replaced by fakes". British Broadcasting Corporation. Retrieved 2006-05-29.
- Qarun and reference to his wealth mentioned in the Koran ([28:76] to [28:82]). In Persian mythology, to which the other citations could be connected, the Qârun Treasure is a treasure said to be in perpetual motion under the ground. The phrase harta karun (literally Croesus' Wealth) also worked into the Malay language as the word for treasure and is synonymous with the term buried treasure. Ganj-e-Qarun (Croesus Treasure) was also an Iranian movie made in 1965 by Siamak Yasami and widely regarded as one of the classics of Iranian cinema. The movie recounts the story of a very wealthy man who attempts suicide and then finds happiness in the simplicity of a pauper's home.
- Nezih Başgelen. "The rich kings of the thousand hills, Lydians". Turkish Ceramic Federation. Retrieved 2005-07-01.[dead link]
- "Uşak-New York" (in Turkish). TAY Project. Retrieved 2001-04-01.
- Michel Bessières. "We have to change the buyer's attitude". UNESCO Courrier. Archived from the original on 2001-07-23. Retrieved 2001-04-01.
- Thomas Adcock. "The Art Theft Experts". New York Law Journal. Retrieved 2006-02-24.
- "Elmalı treasure". Museum Security.
- Özgen Acar. "Croesus: The poverty of treasure". Cumhuriyet. Retrieved 2003-07-21.
- The number of experts working in Turkish museums halved from 1,500 to 750 in the last ten years. 14 July 2006 "Croesus: Ten people charged in Croesus theft case". Turkish Daily News. Retrieved 2003-07-21.