Some of the artifacts recovered from smugglers in Turkey.

Operation Zeus Stops Smuggling Ring from Stealing Over 26,000 Artifacts from Turkey

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With over 26,000 relics seized from smugglers, Turkish authorities have made he largest haul of recovered artifacts in the country’s history. The precious pieces were created by the Anatolian, Greek, and Egyptian civilizations, and many are considered extremely valuable.

According to Daily Sabah , security forces seized 26,456 smuggled artifacts – making this the largest operation against smuggling. Highlights of the collection include: a bust of Alexander the Great made while he was in India, a 3,000-year-old Mycenaean sword said to have been wielded by Achilles, a Hellenistic queen’s crown covered in golden leaves, a statue of a Hittite goddess, numerous ancient coins, fossils, Phoenician-style teardrop vials, ancient Egyptian statues, and early Islamic pieces.

Istanbul police said , “The retrieved artifacts are... more valuable than the artifacts in the inventory of an average size museum.”

Bust of a young Alexander the Great from the Hellenistic era, British Museum

Bust of a young Alexander the Great from the Hellenistic era, British Museum. ( CC BY SA 2.0 )

Reuters reports the investigation, “Operation Zeus”, went on for just three months. It tracked a smuggling ring which authorities believe planned to sell the valuable artifacts to museums and collectors abroad for millions of dollars.

An illegally excavated object someone tried to sell on eBay.

An illegally excavated object someone tried to sell on eBay. ( Egypt’s Heritage Task Force )

Six suspects were captured during a raid on December 12. They were identified when they tried to sell off some of the artifacts in Turkey’s Duzce province. Those six people tipped police off to seven more individuals.

Daily Sabah reports authorities are not certain how the smugglers managed to obtain the artifacts. However, the retrieved objects are on their way the Istanbul Museum of Archaeology.

Some of the artifacts recovered from smugglers in Turkey.

Some of the artifacts recovered from smugglers in Turkey. ( haber7)

Although it is the largest so far, this isn’t the only case of Turkish security forces working to recover stolen pieces. Another example of an important event took place in September 2017, when a Roman sarcophagus depicting the 12 labors of Hercules was returned. The artifact was found in Switzerland, but it was illegally removed from the ancient city of Perge some 50 years ago. The sarcophagus is now a part of the Antalya Museum’s collection.

This undated photo provided by the Ministere public genevois shows a 2nd-century BC coffin in sculpted marble depicting the 12 labors of Hercules

This undated photo provided by the Ministere public genevois shows a 2nd-century BC coffin in sculpted marble depicting the 12 labors of Hercules. ( Ministere public genevois/Daily Herald )

As Daily Sabah points out, Turkish authorities are also interested in protecting ancient artifacts from Syria – which have been heavily smuggled from the war-torn country. Turkish border security and customs officials have been trained to help prevent smuggling and a list of missing Syrian artifacts has been created so experts, border officials, and private collectors can better identify stolen pieces.

Unfortunately, the smuggling of ancient artifacts is a major issue worldwide. As Ancient Origins writer Liz Leafloor previously wrote “Looters have been skulking around and digging up family treasures as long as rich sites filled with valuable artifacts have existed, but now gangs have become sophisticated and organized…”

Theodoros Karasavvas provided an example of a smuggling story with something of a happy ending in 2016. A mummy hand which had been smuggled out of Egypt and ended up being used as a prop for Hollywood movies was one of five ancient Egyptian artifacts repatriated by US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

The mummified hand that has now been returned to Egypt.

The mummified hand that has now been returned to Egypt. ( John Denmark / U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement )

Top Image: Some of the artifacts recovered from smugglers in Turkey. Source: YeniŞafak

By Alicia McDermott

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