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Agreement reached on the Sphinx of Hattusha


Today saw the conclusion in Berlin of German-Turkish expert discussions on the Hittite sphinx. It has been agreed that the more than three-thousand year old sculpture which has survived only in part and which has been kept in the Pergamon Museum on the Museum Island in Berlin since 1934, is to be handed to Turkey as a gesture of German-Turkish friendship. The transfer of the statue to Turkey is due to be undertaken before 28 November. The date is important in that it will mark the 25th anniversary of the official recognition of Hattusha, where the object was found, as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The hand over is the start of a planned series of measures aimed at intensifying the partnership between the two countries concerning their museums and archaeological activities.

Both sides were agreed that the sculpture is a unique object and is unlike others of its kind. There have always been differences in the legal appraisal of the issue of ownership on both German and Turkish sides, because neither of the parties were able to provide documents in clear support of their legal position. In an official statement, Hermann Parzinger, President of the Prussian Cultural Foundation (SPK) said: 'The SPK has decided to make this voluntary gesture as a special sign of the close ties shared by both countries. I am heartened that this agreement now paves the way for a period of heightened, long-term collaboration in the area of culture and science. Both sides are due to benefit from it enormously.'

The sphinx originates from a gate complex of the Hittite capital Hattusha (now Boğazköy) and dates back to the 2nd millennium BCE (14th/13th c.). The fragments were unearthed in 1907 during Turkish excavations in which German archaeologists took part. The artefacts were therefore were not affected by the division of finds that applied to German excavations at the time. In 1915/1917 fragments of this sphinx were sent to the Museum of the Ancient Near East in Berlin to be restored and scientifically assessed, along with a further 10,000 Hittite clay tablets.

The two sphinxes situated at the gate complex were found in a badly damaged state. Due to the effects of fire they had shattered into many pieces. The sculptural fragments were then reassembled in the 1920s in Berlin, although some larger sections were irretrievably lost and had to be replaced by plaster. The best preserved sphinx was returned to Istanbul in 1924, together with the first batch of clay tablets to have been examined, cleaned and restored. These items are now found in the Archaeological Museum in Istanbul. The second sphinx, which had not survived quite as well, was put on display in the Pergamon Museum together with a copy of its Istanbul counterpart. It had remained unclear until today, whether the retainment of this second figure had actually been agreed to by the Turkish side. The first time a demand for the return of this second sphinx was made was in 1938. In 1987, two years before the fall of the Wall, the remaining 7,000 clay tablets, which had remained in Berlin as a consequence of the Second World War, were handed over to Turkey by the former East German government. After the reunification, Turkey stepped up its efforts to have the other sphinx left in Berlin returned.