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Treasure hunting is not as cool as it is portrayed in the "Indiana Jones" series, nor does it serve to a higher purpose. In Turkey, which rests on the ancient lands of Anatolia, treasure hunters are not only misguided but they also destroy cultural heritage
If you take a look at Turkish reports you will see headlines such as, "Three arrested for selling unlawfully excavated ancient artifacts in Istanbul." Despite Turkey's strict laws against the unauthorized excavation of ancient relics, including heavy fines and even imprisonment, illegal excavations continue as "definecilik" or "treasure hunting" persists in the black market.
Anatolia has been home to many ancient civilizations, including the Helens, ancient Romans, Byzantines, Seljuks and the Ottomans, accounting for the countless landmarks and historic artifacts visible across nearly every inch of the country. Reminiscent of an open-air museum, Anatolia is home to more historic beauties than meets the eye: Much of which lies buried underneath the vast plains of the historic region.
Treasure hunters are adventurous and daydreaming people who want to make easy money. On many occasions, treasure hunting has turned into almost mental illness. These illegal hunters may spend all of their money to buy treasure maps and equipment in hopes to find riches belonging to the previous civilizations. These hunters will even embark on trips for months at a time, traveling across Turkey's countryside and even digging large hollows or even trespassing into old, abandoned homes.
As a result, these treasure hunters lose money and time and cause irreversible damage to Turkey's landscape and even people's private properties.
Treasure hunters in Turkey generally get together at coffee houses called "defineciler kahvehanesi" or in the vicinity of hobby shops that sell special metal detectors used for treasure hunting. Nowadays, they can also convene and gather up, via the internet, more easily than before. Hunters share various techniques and traces of treasure among them in Facebook groups as well.
Hunters generally search for treasure in archaeological sides, unprotected historical buildings and abandoned old houses that belongs to Armenian and Greek migrants who are believed to have buried all their belongings, money and gold in the ground before leaving their homes. Therefore, treasure hunters primarily search for valuable metals, paying no mind to the historic or cultural aspects of the artifacts.
Hunters damage mounds and tumulus mostly. A tumulus is a mound of earth and stone raised over a grave or cemetery plot built for kings of nobles. There are many tumuli in Turkey and, for treasure hunters such structures have tremendous significance because ancient civilizations buried some of their belongings with these kings and nobles.
The tombs and materials of the dead are therefore highly significant as they shed light on the social and political history of the respective civilization. Thus, these tombs are primary targets among treasure hunters looking for valuable metals like gold or silver.
Recently, a new generation of thieves and the availability of cheap metal detectors have accounted for a rise in crime rates for this type of crime. While some hunters only dig for treasure, some use dynamite in order to blow up tumuli in search of valuable metals, showing complete disregard for history and the heritage of ancient humanity.
Professor Sacit Pekak of the Department of Art History at Hacettepe Unviersity spoke to Daily Sabah on the issue.
"Throughout my archaeology career, I have