Negotiating the Return

The Long Road to Repatriating Boğazköy’s Hittite Treasures

  • Gökay Kanmazalp (Autor/in)

Identifier (Artikel)


The Boğazköy restitution case, which unfolded between 1906 and 2011, centered on the restitution of over 10.000 cuneiform tablets and two Hittite sphinxes unearthed from the Boğazköy archaeological site in modern-day Turkey. The case began in 1906 when the artifacts were discovered during excavations led by Hugo Winckler and Theodore Makridi Bey in a joint venture between the Müze-i Hümayun (now Istanbul Archaeology Museums) and the German Oriental Society. Between 1915 and 1917, the artifacts were transported to Berlin for restoration with the intention of repatriating them after cleaning, repair and decoding. Turkey’s initial demand for the return of the sphinx occurred in 1938, but restitution was delayed due to wartime security concerns and the complex geopolitical landscape following the Second World War. In 1974, Turkey renewed its efforts to reclaim the tablets and the sphinx, ultimately appealing to the Intergovernmental Committee for Promoting the Return of Cultural Property in 1987. The tablets were repatriated in 1987, whilst the sphinx was returned in 2011. This case-study delves into the historical facts by examining archival documents from the Republican Archives of the Presidency of the Republic of Turkey and the Central Archive of the Berlin State Museums. It sheds light on the intricate negotiations and changing power dynamics between the respective museum authorities, underscoring the vital role of provenance research in comprehending the intricacies of cultural heritage restitution.

Keywords: Boğazköy Sphinxes; cuneiform tablets; restitution case; cultural property; provenance research


Boğazköy Sphinxes, cuneiform tablets, restitution case, cultural property, provenance research