The Getty Museum Returns a Bronze Head to Turkey

The Getty Museum Decided to Return a Life-Sized Bronze Head of a Young Man to Turkey, After Learning About Illegal Excavations.

Apr 27, 2024By Angela Davic, News, Discoveries, In-depth Reporting, and Analysis
The Getty Museum
The museum. Via Wikipedia.


The Getty Museum decided to return a life-sized bronze head of a young man to Turkey. This decision comes as the organization learns about illegal excavations. Since its acquisition in 1971, the skull’s home is at the Getty Villa Museum’s antiquities collection. However, the museum claimed it obtained fresh data from the New York City Manhattan District Attorney’s Office.


The Getty Museum’s Policy Allows Returns

The Getty Museum
Photo courtesy of the j. Paul Getty Museum.


These data indicated the evidence of illegal excavations. The California Museum did not specify what fresh information came to light concerning the dig. Also, officials in New York have yet to respond to a demand for information. To enable giving it to Turkish authorities, the head remains hidden from public view.


“In light of new information recently provided by Matthew Bogdanos and the Antiquities Trafficking Unit of the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office indicating the illegal excavation of this bronze head, we agreed that the object needed to be returned to Türkiye”, museum director Timothy Potts said in a statement. When asked about the specifics of its inquiry, the district attorney’s office did not immediately reply.


agrippina younger portrait The Getty Museum
Portrait head of Agrippina the Younger, ca. 50 CE, via museum’s Collection.


According to the Getty Museum, in cases where credible evidence suggests that an object was either stolen or unlawfully excavated, it will head back to the nation of origin or modern discovery. In 2022, the museum returned a cache of artworks to Italy. This happened after discovering they had connections to infamous antiquities dealer Gianfranco Becchina.

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Maintaining Positive Relations With Turkey

livia portrait
Portrait bust of Livia, ca. 1-25 CE, via the museum’s collection.


The eyes seemed once inset with an unknown substance that did not remain preserved. Also, researchers have yet to identify the figure’s body. The figure’s subject is still evasive. According to the museum, it originated in a “highly idealized” manner and did not establish connections to any known person or member of an imperial family. Although, an inscribed alpha (“A”) is visible on the interior of the neck at the bottom rear edge.


Some experts linked the bronze head to the archeological site of Bubon in the Burdur district of southwestern Turkey. Illegal excavations took place in Bubon in the late 1960s. According to Potts, the museum hopes to maintain positive relations with its Turkish Ministry of Culture counterparts in the field of archaeology by sending the head back to Turkey.


alcamenes herm hermes roman marble
Herm of Hermes Roman copy from the Hermes Propyleia, by Alcamenes, 50-100 CE, via Getty Museum.


In total, the Manhattan District Attorney’s antiquities trafficking unit has recovered more than 4,500 antiquities stolen from 30 countries with a value of over $410 million since it was launched in 2017. Last week, American and Chinese officials gathered for a ceremony at China’s consulate in New York City for the repatriation of 38 antiquities, including wooden sculptures, ivory carvings, and fragments of murals.

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By Angela DavicNews, Discoveries, In-depth Reporting, and AnalysisAngela is a journalism student at the Faculty of Political Science in Belgrade and received a scholarship for continued education in Prague. She completed her internship at the daily newspaper DANAS and worked as an executive editor at Talas.