Turkish police have seized tens of thousands of artifacts dating back to Anatolian, Greek and Egyptian civilizations, in its largest operation to combat smuggling of ancient treasures, in the past week.
In the operation, dubbed “Zeus” and spanning four cities; including Turkey’s largest city and economic hub Istanbul, authorities seized 26,456 smuggled artifacts, arrested 13 suspects, and busted an entire ring of smugglers.
Among the seized artifacts displayed on Thursday in Istanbul were a 3,000-year-old Mycenaean sword attributed to Achilles of Troy, a bust of Alexander the Great made upon the order of the ancient king during his India campaign, and a queen’s crown adorned with golden leaves from the Hellenistic period.
Several fossils, as well as artifacts from Islam’s early history in Anatolia; the cradle of many civilizations, were also seized.
During the major operation, police officers disguised as Arab tourists made contact with the chief of the smugglers who had a shop in Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar, local media reported.
The historic Grand Bazaar; the world’s oldest covered bazaar and a major tourist venue, was a trade hub during the Ottoman Empire with its construction dating back to the middle of the 15th century.
Security forces had been monitoring the smuggling network for three months and launched the first raids on Dec. 12.
Acting on the information extracted from captured suspects, they identified more involved in the smuggling ring.
It was unclear how the gang obtained the artifacts, but security sources said the suspects were planning to smuggle them abroad. The seized artifacts are to be handed over to the Istanbul Museum of Archaeology.