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Extravagance and Illness: The Cursed Karun Treasure of the Lydians

Extravagance and Illness: The Cursed Karun Treasure of the Lydians

A collection of gorgeous artifacts discovered in the Uşak Province in Turkey overwhelmed the world of archaeology, but also caused many troubles. The impressive assemblage of ancient mystical artifacts is also connected with a famous curse.

Lydia was a huge Iron Age kingdom which existed from the 15-14th centuries BC to 545 BC. The Lydians’ language and their culture became strongly related to the Hittites and Luwians. However, most aspects of their culture no longer existed in the 1st century BC. It is difficult to separate many artifacts from other Asia Minor cultures. Therefore, the discoveries of specific hoards related to the people of the Lydian culture are extremely precious. This is especially true if the treasure is comprised of gold and silver and full of artwork.

Some of the beautiful artifacts included in the Lydian/Karun treasure.

Some of the beautiful artifacts included in the Lydian/Karun treasure. ( T.C UŞAK İLİ RESMİ TANITIM SİTESİ )

Finding an Ancient Treasure

Ahmet Bulbul, who lived in the village of Midiki, Uşak province, worked on the site of the Lydian capital. It was spring 1965 when he realized that it was an ancient place which holds incredible secrets. He told his story to Hurriyet Daily:

“I often looked at Toptepe. I could observe where the earth collapses first by looking at the shade created by sun rays or the reflection of rays. The first collapse on the surface is the last spot where people leave the tumulus after burying a dead body. This spot is the beginning of the road to the burial chamber. I observed Toptepe from various angles at various points and found where I could enter the burial chamber. In the end, we managed to reach the burial chamber easily.”

Finally, on June 6, 1966, Bulbul entered the chamber. The exploration of the tomb started with opening the chamber via a nighttime dynamite explosion. Three people from the village set off the explosion - and it seems that the ones who were responsible for the act were local officials.

After entering the burial chamber, Bulbul couldn't breathe, felt faint, and almost choked to death. The locals of his village decided to sell the treasure to Sakir Unver, who sold it to Ali Bayirlar from the province of Izmir. Soon later, a huge battle had started over the treasure.

Jug from Lydian Treasure found near Uşak.

Jug from Lydian Treasure found near Uşak. ( CC BY 3.0 )

A Royal Collection

The researchers recovered 363 ancient artifacts which belonged to the Lydian culture and are dated back to the 7th century BC. The treasure is also called the “Croesus Treasure,” which is associated with the Lydian king from the 6th century BC. However, as the mysterious treasure is older, it seems unlikely that the collection is related to this ruler. Yet it is possible that this name is connected to someone else. Another explanation may lie in the popular Arabic and Turkish proverb “to be as rich as Croesus,” which was also adopted into other languages like English and Polish.

Postage stamps depicting some of the treasure.

Postage stamps depicting some of the treasure. ( T.C UŞAK İLİ RESMİ TANITIM SİTESİ )

The treasure comes from the burial chamber of a princess. The style of the decorated walls and the objects discovered inside the tomb suggests that it comes from the same period as another one, which belongs to a man, that was discovered nearby during works in 1966 – 1967. The famous treasure included pieces made of gold and silver. There were rare Lydian coins, silver vessels, jewelry, marble sphinxes, and other beautiful artifacts.

Uşak Museum, gold jewelry, Lydian/Karun Treasure.

Uşak Museum, gold jewelry, Lydian/Karun Treasure. ( CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 )

A Cursed Treasure

The impressive treasure was divided and 200 pieces of the collection were sold for about 1.5 million dollars to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Turkish officials assert that the transaction was illegal. It arrived with the assistance of art dealers George Zacos from Switzerland and John Klejman from New York.

People in Uşak believe that this treasure is cursed and that it brings nothing but problems and death. Its story played a large part in Acar's life, and it’s still full of mysteries. As time passed, people started to see more and more issues with the treasure. Many local people from the village who were celebrating the brilliant discovery in 1966 were also afraid of the consequences it may bring.

Although the Turkish government tried to return it as soon as possible, Ozgen Acar explained that many aspects of the story were not made public. The huge scandal of selling a national treasure was only possible with the support of several important people in the country. However, several of these people are still unknown. 43 years after its discovery, the director of the Uşak museum Kazim Akbiyikoglu was arrested under suspicions that he had stolen and sold some of the artifacts from the collection.  Nine similar situations have been proven to date.

Uşak Museum, Lydian/Karun Treasure.

Uşak Museum, Lydian/Karun Treasure. ( CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 )

Is the Curse Real?

Currently, the mysterious artifacts are exhibited in the Uşak Museum of Archaeology. During the years of the battle between the Turkish government and the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art (1987-1993), the Americans had to send back all the previously purchased artifacts. However, in May 2006 another problem appeared with the collection. One of the artifacts was identified as a fake. A larger problem is that currently no one knows how many of the artifacts from the original collection were replaced with copies.

The original on the left, and the fake golden brooch in the shape of a winged hippocampus from the Lydian Hoard in Turkey.

The original on the left, and the fake golden brooch in the shape of a winged hippocampus from the Lydian Hoard in Turkey. ( paul-barford.blogspot.com)

What is the curse supposedly connected to the famous treasure about? It's all related to a “gold fever”. Legends say that people get sick from the treasure almost like Thorin Oakenshield from the famous book “The Hobbit” by Tolkien. They apparently cannot stop themselves from trying to get a piece for themselves. It has broken many lives so far - and the story continues.

Top image: Some of the Karun treasure. Source: T.C UŞAK İLİ RESMİ TANITIM SİTESİ

By Natalia Klimczak

References:

Chasing the Lydian Hoard by Sharon Waxman, available at:
http://www.smithsonianmag.com/ist/?next=/history/chasing-the-lydian-hoard-93685665/

Karun, available at:
http://www.karun.com.tr/en/karun/corporate/karun-name

The curse of the Karun treasure by Ozgen Acar, available at:
http://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/the-curse-of-the-karun-treasure-.aspx?pageID=238&nID=104276&NewsCatID=375

Józef Wolski, Historia Powszechna Starożytność, 2000

Comments

Imagine being one of these artifacts, made so long ago, time would pass by So Slow, being entombed, then suddenly brought int light again :) only to realize, time goes by just the same..

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