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Photos of the Ice Age lake Dipsiz in Turkey before (Hurriyet Daily News) and after (Daily Sabah) the archaeological excavations.

12,000-Year-Old Lake Destroyed in Treasure Hunt for Roman Gold

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A 12,000-year-old Ice Age lake has dried up after a team of treasure hunters conducted invasive excavations that were authorized but highly controversial. Having obtained permission from the Gümüşhane Governor's Office to carry out an excavation, two men set about searching for a legendary ancient Roman treasure in Turkey near Dumanlı Village in the Taşköprü Plateau.

Demirören News Agency (DHA) reported that the governor and the Gümüşhane Culture and Tourism Directorate had both authorized the controversial excavation in Lake Dipsiz (Bottomless), which the two men drained.

The Obsession with Lost Roman Gold

The two treasure hunters were allegedly trying to locate the lost treasure of the Legio XV Apollinaris (“Apollo's Fifteenth Legion”) - one of the four largest military units of the Roman Empire in Asia Minor - that was recorded as having been stationed in what is now Turkey's northern Gümüşhane province in 134 AD.

In 115 AD, the legion was sent to war with Parthia and they fought in Mesopotamia, after which the unit stayed in its new eastern headquarters at Satala in northeastern Cappadocia, with outposts at Ancyra in modern-day Ankara, from where they repulsed an invasion of Alans in 134 AD.

The remains of the 15th Apollonar legion in Satala (Sadak) on the northeastern border of the Roman Empire, Satala, Kelkit, Gumushane, Turkey. (stocktr /Adobe Stock)

Destroying an Ice Age Lake

The controversial treasure excavations were no clandestine affair as they were conducted under the supervision of the gendarmerie, who forbade anybody from nearing the site during the excavations. And in a statement from the Governor's Office, which acknowledged that they had authorized the excavation made by two individuals to seek a treasure, after four days the treasure hunting came to an end and the statement said, “No cultural asset has been discovered in the area” and the excavation site was re-filled.

The governor's statement did not reveal who the two treasure excavators were, or the nature of the evidence they had presented to obtain their authorization, but recent photos of the lake show that it has now been completely drained and filled with earth, even though the governorate claimed the lake had been “restored to its previous state.”

The Ice Age lake is now empty. (Daily Sabah)

Hunting Lost Roman Treasure

It is known there were four Roman legions stationed in ancient Turkey. In August last year, according to Hurriyet Daily News, a team of 25 archaeologists, including Bernard Van Daele of the Leuven University Archaeology Department, began archaeological excavations at the site of a Roman legionary base in the ancient city of Satala, in the northern province of Gümüşhane’s Kelkit district.

Four great legion castles were built in Anatolia and Satala is located in the northeast in the plain areas. This is where Apollinaris 15th legion protected the northeastern border of the Roman Empire along the Euphrates River. Gümüşhane was an area famous for the mining of silver and gold in ancient times and this is another reason why the 15th legion was positioned here, to protect both the border and the mines.

“What Ignorance”

While the Governor’s Office has not revealed any information as to the nature of the “Roman Treasure” it is likely the two excavators believed that the lake was “not” Ice Age, that it may have been caused by Roman gold mining, and was concealing the entrance to an ancient mine. And as I am sure you can imagine, even though the governor granted permission for this treasure hunt, a tide of angered scientists are speaking out against this cultural outrage.

Coşkun Eruz, head of the Preservation of Natural and Historical Sites Association, told Hurriyet Daily News that legally official permission should be taken from “at least five state institutions” for such an excavation. This system assures no fish, bird, or other animal species would be harmed and that no aspects of the ecosystem would be damaged. And furthermore, Eruz said that even though Gümüşhane was an area where important silver and gold mines existed in ancient times, it is not possible that any ancient treasure would be hidden in the lake: “What ignorance!”

Lake Dipsiz in its former glory. (Hurriyet Daily News)

Who Signed the License?

The big question in the story is who on Earth agreed to allow this treasure hunting project that has resulted in the catastrophic destruction of an ancient lake? According to a report in MBS News, those who make the determinations within “Article 9 of the Treasure Search Regulation” and issue “treasure search licenses” blame all this on the “negligence” shown in the primary investigation initiated by the Governorship and the Ministry of Justice.

But blame as they may, the treasure hunting license was issued with not one single objection, so either a whole governmental department were “in on this”, which is doubtful, or we are left with the conclusion that not one person bothered to even read the excavation application, and their carelessness caused the horrid destruction of the ancient lake.

Top Image: Photos of the Ice Age lake Dipsiz in Turkey before (Hurriyet Daily News) and after (Daily Sabah) the archaeological excavations.

By Ashley Cowie



Terry Edwards's picture

Agreed it appears to be a needlessly destructive act. My objection is petty… merely to the hyperbole of the headline.

Terry Edwards

T1bbst3r's picture

Well, I expect there was at least a large colony of insects, perhaps dragonfly's in there, maybe frogs etc. So it's not ridiculous to assume that the local fauna has suffered. The land doesn't look overgrazed either, which is probably a rarity. Could even have got snakes going in there after the frogs..... In the UK that would be classed as an area of natural beauty.

Terry Edwards's picture

Agreed. It’s pond… barely.

Terry Edwards

It looks like a small crater. Seriously, how do they know this puddle is from the ice age. If no wildlife was harmed or history damaged, what difference does it make? Another case of fake outrage.

That is not a lake, it isn't even a big pond. People make and fix ponds all the time, just fix it. This is not significant.


ashley cowie's picture


Ashley is a Scottish historian, author, and documentary filmmaker presenting original perspectives on historical problems in accessible and exciting ways.

He was raised in Wick, a small fishing village in the county of Caithness on the north east coast of... Read More

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