The E-Sylum:  Volume 8, Number 39, September 11, 2005, Article 27


Arthur Shippee and Dick Johnson forwarded a story about a coin
recently found in Turkey. Dick writes: "Sorry, I'm a skeptic!
But an Indiana art professor's claim she "found" a Byzantine coin
on a trip to Turkey leads me to question "Who's salting the site?"

She found a low-value fifteenth-century coin near the base of a
column (after 400 years?). Her excitement is reason enough for
some Turkish tourist official to see this happens on a regular basis.

Here's her gushing report: Full Story

"It turns out the 500-year-old Ottoman Empire coin that Earlham
College art history professor Julia May found during her May term
course in Turkey this year isn't worth very much. Even when it was
minted during the reign of Emperor Beyazid II (1481-1512), the
small copper disk was roughly the equivalent of its modern day
U.S. counterpart: a penny. But to May, the experience of finding
the coin was priceless.

"It's definitely one of the highlights of my career as an art historian,"
says May, who discovered the coin during a visit to the ancient
Roman ruins of Pergamum (or Pergamon), near the current Turkish
city of Bergama. Perched on a hillside, the site is best known for its
dramatically pitched outdoor theater constructed in the 3rd century
B.C.E. with seating for up to 10,000 people.

"I had climbed up to the top, to the acropolis, and was just walking
around by myself among these huge, solid pieces of marble," recounts
May. "I just happened to look down and see this teeny black disk,
which looked a little too perfect, too circular, and not rock. So, I
picked it up and thought pretty much right away that maybe I'd found
a coin. It was very exciting."

Arthur writes: "Part of the interest in this story may be the "what
do I do with a find?" aspect, and the greater question of who
owns antiquities.

Also, this coin was minted about the time Columbus discovered
America and just before Martin Luther, when the Ottomans were
a superpower, and still growing, still with Suleiman the Magnificent,
1520-1566, and his advances to look forward to." The following
are additional quotes from the article:

"I'm a museum curator," May says. "I understand these things are
part of the archaeological record of a place, and I understand the
interest of the people of Turkey in preserving their culture and
history. You just can't walk off with something."

"May was able to make contact with Dr. Adnan Tarioglu, director
of the local Bergama Museum, who rushed to the scene to examine
the discovery.

At first glance, says May, Tarioglu indicated the coin might be a
Roman "numi" (professional lingo for numismatic, or relating to
coins) dating as far back as the 4th century C.E. The disk was
badly encrusted, however, and the museum director said it would
have to be cleaned before a final determination could be made.
He also expressed his gratitude to May for turning in the artifact."

I asked Arthur Shippee his thoughts on Dick's theory, and he
writes: "I see what you mean. In this case, the evidence, such
as it is, mitigates against it.

While obviously they wouldn't use valuable coins (too many would
walk away), still they wouldn't use a coin so encrusted as to be not
readily identifiable. The described reactions of the guide & director
sound too natural. And I don't think they'd want to tempt folks to
steal from the site. Also, wouldn't they use a Roman coin? -- there
must be enough cheap ones--rather than an Ottoman one?

But the evidence is all from one unsuspicious source, so the issue
is hardly settled. I would lean against it, but I wouldn't bet a penny
either way."

  Wayne Homren, Editor

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