Looting and Tumulus Reassessment

Each year CLAS aims to revisit 10–20% of the tumuli located in the survey area. The goals are to record the conditions of the tumuli and to make assessments regarding what, if any, conditions have changed. In addition to recording changes in the condition of tumuli themselves, most usually represented by evidence for ongoing plunder, we record also changes in the use of surrounding fields to assess possible correlations between field use and tumulus conditions. Our results have continued to show that tumulus destruction is an ongoing occurrence. Plowing of surrounding agricultural fields often results in destruction to the edges of tumuli, slowly but surely cutting away their bases and reducing their diameters. The recent and rapid increase in the prevalence of olive orchards in Bin Tepe further jeopardizes these monuments, with several orchards actually planted up the sides of tumuli. We note that current laws we understand to ban olive orchards from cultivation in Bin Tepe, a first class protection zone, should be enforced, and that this class of protection should not be dropped to third class protection, which may legally permit such depredations.


In 2006 we began a new program of monitoring tumuli previously recorded in 2001, during a survey of tumuli in the province of Manisa, and in 2005, during our initial year of survey in central Lydia. The goal was to document any significant change in the condition of tumuli over recent times. At each revisited tumulus we documented three major characteristics: 1) change or no change from previously documented condition; 2) extent of recent looting; and 3) the impact of agricultural and/or other non-looting activities. In addition, we began to gather local knowledge about when specific tumuli were and are still being looted. In some cases local knowledge has provided rare details of actual looting events.

In 2006 we revisted 20 tumuli in the area over several days and during the course of other survey work. In some cases chambers that were accessible due to looting before or in 2005 were no longer accessible due to erosion of tumulus soils or intentional blockage. In other cases recent evidence of plunder was apparent; in others there was no change in condition from previous visits. It is clear that looters are active and tumuli are destroyed by looting as well as agricultural practices. There is an apparent local disregard for protection of the local landscape, with tumuli seen as treasure troves and/or obstacles to agricultural activities. Preliminary assessment suggests looters may work on the least obvious and visible sides of tumuli, most likely to avoid notice.

In addition to the regular course of this monitoring program, one full day was spent at the Hacıveliler A tumulus (T06.01), the looting of which was first documented in 2001. When we found looters’ tools inside the tumulus we called the Jandarma Karakolu in Gölmarmara. Jandarma members came to the tumulus and oversaw the documentation of the looting as well as the confiscation of the looters’ tools, which were deposited at the Manisa Museum on 26 June 2006.

The usefulness of this monitoring approach is to document the rate at which tumuli are looted in the region. Our goal each year will be to document at least a 10% sample of the known 116 tumuli in Bin Tepe as well as those within the current CLAS permit area outside of Bin Tepe that were documented in 2001.


We continued reassessment of at least 10% of tumuli in study area conducted each year to gauge the conditions of tumuli and impacts from the environment (natural erosion, etc.), agriculture, and plunder. The results continue to confirm that plunder is a major problem in this area. This year, more than any other year, we also attempted to involve the Jandarma in Gölmarmara and Ahmetli, visiting their offices twice each. While looting continues to take place and must be dealt with through law enforcement, local education and involvement are equally important. This has never been clearer to us: one tumulus (BT05.098) tomb-chamber opening had been cleared and was being used as a toilet. Thus, our assessment this year only sadly confirms that plunder continues unabated and local education is needed. (See below for site tours with local communities and Jandarma interest in future participation).


Our tumulus reassessment in 2008 was restricted to two days in the field. We revisited 18 tumuli, or 15% of the tumuli in Bin Tepe. Eight, or 44% of those revisited, showed signs of recent looting. At least three of these tumuli had been looted within the last year. One tumulus of special note – previously identified by us as BT05.039, a tumulus in the Teslimbaş neighborhood of the village of Tekelioğlu (Salihli) – was looted as recently as within the past six weeks, and in its tunnels were discovered both a previously undocumented tomb and an assortment of looters’ equipment. Conversations with Jandarma and museum representatives revealed that the same tumulus had been the target of looting activities as recently as April 2008, when a different set of looters’ equipment had been discovered and confiscated.

Upon our visit to this tumulus, we documented fresh looting activities in four areas where no disturbance had been recorded in 2006. In a pit of c. 3 x 2 x 1.5–2 meters on the north side of the tumulus, plastic burlap sacks filled with earth had been used to stabilize the opening; these had apparently been in place already in April 2008. From the bottom of this pit, however, a new tunnel had been dug, and at its end was found the assortment of looters’ equipment (picks, shovels, iron pry pin, buckets, etc.), apparently stashed there for continuing (presumably nighttime) looting activities. This equipment was confiscated by members of the Salihli Jandarma, when they came to the tumulus at our request.

On the south side of the tumulus was a large open pit of c. 4 meter diameter and 2–3 meter depth. On the southwest scarp of this pit, a c. 1.5–2 meter long and c. 1 meter diameter tunnel led to the southeast corner of a small tomb chamber built of roughly worked limestone blocks. Set against the interior east wall of the chamber was a sarcophagus of bathtub type, also made of limestone. In the small space of the chamber next to the sarcophagus, looters had pried a floor slab out of place and had attempted to dig further beneath the floor. Apparently nothing was found.

The chamber and sarcophagus had been looted previously, perhaps repeatedly, and numerous fragments of ceramics and bone, and a few fragments of bronze and iron were recovered both from within the sarcophagus and from the floor of the chamber. These were collected and were later turned over to the Manisa Museum.


Following protocols from previous years, a number of previously studied tumuli were revisited for purposes of recording their condition. Plunder and destruction from agricultural and infrastructure building (water management and roads), continue to damage the cultural heritage of central Lydia, notably the tumuli.

This season’s work concentrated on documentation of tumuli on the northern side of the Gygaean Lake, with limited visits to other monuments. Initially recorded as part of an extensive survey of Lydia in 2001 (Roosevelt 2006), ten tumuli were reassessed. Of these seven show changes in condition deriving from recent looting and/or agricultural activity.

In addition, a number of tumuli in Bin Tepe continue to be shaved: the diameters of the tumuli are shortened considerably each year by field plowing on and around the mounds. In addition, olive and other fruit trees are planted on the slopes of the tumuli. Both of these patterns could be made very clear with more aerial imagery, specifically by comparing a recent QuickBird satellite image with that from 2006 and with earlier aerial photographs.