The famous "Gypsy Girl" mosaic is finally complete after its missing pieces were retrieved from the United States decades after they were smuggled abroad.
The mosaics were put on display on Saturday in a temporary public exhibit in Gaziantep, the southern Turkish province where it was discovered in the ancient city of Zeugma.
After the exhibition, they will be restored to their original place among the larger mosaic.
Culture and Tourism Minister Mehmet Nuri Ersoy, Gaziantep Governor Davut Gül, Metropolitan Mayor Fatma Şahin and officials from the U.S. Embassy in Ankara attended to the ceremony for the launch of newly-exhibited items.
"Twelve unique pieces of mosaics belonging to the composition in which the "Gypsy Girl" was portrayed reunite with us in their homeland. I believe this reunification will boost the interest to the Zeugma Mosaics Museum, which broke its own visitor record by 251,000 people in the first 11 months," Ersoy said.
The minister called on the world to show sensitivity to protect and display historical artifacts and transfer them to next generations where they belong. He thanked Zeugma Excavation Team leader Professor Kutalmış Görkay and his team for their efforts.
Ersoy also thanked Ohio's Bowling Green State University administrators and others who were instrumental in the return of the artifacts.
U.S. Embassy Charge d'Affaires Jeffrey Hovenier said: "We are delighted to welcome home part of Turkey's glorious heritage."
Pointing out to the need of a coordinated and international effort to protect cultural heritage, Hovenier said the U.S. and its government is proud to cooperate with the Turkish government and many others in the world to protect the cultural heritage throughout the world.
Şahin said that the retrieved artifacts include the "Belkıs Girl" mosaic, which was named after the Belkıs village located near the ruins of Zeugma and known as the sister of the "Gypsy Girl."
"The Gypsy Girl mosaic is the largest floor mosaic of this museum. When they were smuggled abroad, our Gypsy Girl fell down and left behind," Şahin said, saying that after year of efforts, the Gypsy Girl reunites with her family.
The 12 stolen pieces of the mosaic, one of the most famous artifacts unearthed in Zeugma, arrived in Turkey aboard a Turkish Airlines flight late November.
Bowling Green State University in Ohio had agreed to return the pieces decades after they ended up in the university's possession after unknown smugglers took the pieces out of Turkey. The pieces were on display at the Wolfe Center for the Arts at the university, where they were displayed under a glass panel on the floor at the entrance of the center.
The pieces were handed over to Turkish officials early November at a formal ceremony, a year after Gaziantep municipality and Ministry of Culture and Tourism started negotiating their return with university officials.
The mosaic pieces were smuggled in the 1960s, a time when smuggling from excavations was not tightly monitored. The pieces were purchased by Bowling Green University in 1965.
The excavation in Zeugma was launched in late 1990s to save historic artifacts from the ancient city slated to locate in the reservoir of the Birecik Dam on Euphrates River.
The other remaining parts of the Gypsy Girl mosaic - named such as the figure resembles a young gypsy girl, although debate on her (or his) exact identity is not settled yet - were discovered in 1998 in Zeugma which is located in present-day Gaziantep's Nizip district.
Zeugma is home to Roman houses, believed to belong to nobles, dating back to the 2nd and 3rd B.C. Most were adorned with beautiful mosaics currently on display at the mosaic museum.
Turkish archaeologists say that the upper and central part of the mosaic, the only parts not smuggled, were under a broken column found in the ruins, apparently undetected by smugglers. The mosaic was on the floor of a dining room of a Roman villa and captivated many visitors for its bright depiction of the wide-eyed "Gypsy Girl" with disheveled hair and earrings. Since its discovery, it became a symbol of Gaziantep, a city bordering Syria which is also known as for its traditional baklava dessert and rich cuisine.
Stephanie Langin-Hooper, an art historian at Southern Methodist University, is credited for discovering the link between the pieces on display at the Ohio University and ancient city of Zeugma. Her research in 2012 helped Turkey reclaim its ownership of the pieces, which were sold to Bowling Green University for $35,000.
Since 2003, the Ministry of Culture and Tourism has obtained 4,311 artifacts that were illegally exported from Turkey and is currently tracking down another 55 pieces in 17 countries.
Many artifacts uncovered in Turkey are displayed in various famous museums throughout the world even though they were illegally smuggled out of the country. Legal procedures to retrieve these artifacts take a long time. Most recently, Turkey retrieved a statue of Heracles from Switzerland.