Major Archaeological Discovery Ruins of Troy

About the major archaeological discovery of the supposed ruins of Troy by Schliemann, history of the dig for buried treasure and the outcome.

Discovery: RUINS OF TROY

Year: 1871

Location: 20 mi. west of Canakkale, Turkey, and about 4 mi. from the mouth of the Dardanelles

Discoverer: Heinrich Schliemann

Findings: In 1871, casting about for a new purpose in life after a far-flung business career that had made him a multimillionaire, Schliemann began the first of four archaeological adventures at Hissarlik in Turkey. Firmly convinced that the lofty tell, or mound, concealed the ruins of the magnificent city written of by Homer in The Iliad, he began the massive digging that was to continue until his death in 1890. He located not one but nine "Troys," layered, successive habitations, the remnants of cultures going back as far as the Early Bronze Age of 2500 B.C.

Plunging ahead with a single-minded obsession--to verify the epic of Homer--Schliemann utilized 80 to 100 workers to bore into Hissarlik with shored-up trenches as deep as 28 ft. His findings, published regularly with businesslike precision, intrigued the world. On June 14, 1873--the day before he'd decided to quit for the season--Schliemann made his incredible discovery: 8,700 pieces consisting of golden cups, rings, bracelets, and vases, which he romantically dubbed Priam's Treasure, after the king of Troy. One exquisite diadem alone was found to have 16,000 gold bits in its design. It was jewelry worthy, Schliemann claimed, of having been owned by the fabled Helen of Troy herself.

In actuality, as Schliemann admitted reluctantly just before he died, neither Helen nor Priam had ever seen the treasures. In his amateurish haste, the enthusiastic German had ruthlessly shoveled straight through Priam's Troy into an earlier habitation, one that had existed more than 1,000 years before the accepted date--around 1250 B.C.--for the Trojan War. He had found fabulous riches, but in the wrong city. Too late, he learned that "his" Troy had been scattered under the rubbish heaps of the deeper dig, fragmented beyond recovery.

In 29 years, Schliemann located nine caches of treasure. The bulk, deposited with the Berlin Ethnological Museum in return for honors awarded by Chancellor Bismarck, vanished during the final days of W.W. II. Temporarily hidden in underground concrete bunkers, the wealth either fell into Russian hands or was melted down by looters for disposal on the black market.

Naively, Schliemann placed his discoveries of western Asia Minor's culture within his beloved Homeric framework, inventing a historic background where necessary. One puzzlement, a Trojan spindle-whorl design he labeled a suastika, he was at a loss to explain, except to declare it as evidence of an "Aryan" race, using the academic sense of the word. The crooked-cross symbol was seized upon by Adolf Hitler's Third Reich and used proudly to identify Nazi party members.

Retaining his effective, albeit destructive, methods, Schliemann moved on in later years to excavate the royal tombs in Mycenae and the long-buried city of Tiryns, supposedly the birthplace of the Greek hero Hercules. He might also have received world recognition for unearthing the palace at Knossos except for a petty dispute. Schliemann learned that the olive trees on the property numbered only 888, instead of the 2,500 the owner claimed. Stung by the deception, he canceled his plans for excavation.

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