George Allen of Hesperia Art, a few blocks from Rittenhouse Square, approached the museum with a rare opportunity: the chance to purchase 24 gold pieces that he said were from ancient Troy.
Allen had no evidence to back up his claim that the gold was of Trojan origin, other than what the museum's curators could see with their own eyes. The earrings and other baubles were in the same style as the famous objects found by Schliemann.
The pieces were so similar that initially the curators thought they might be from the Schliemann collection - which was still missing, its loss mourned by art historians worldwide.
In addition, the objects for sale bore tantalizing similarities to golden artifacts from another ancient stronghold: the royal Mesopotamian city of Ur, in what is now Iraq. Scholars already had theorized the existence of a trade network between the two civilizations. The new items, though they lacked a paper trail, seemed to support that theory.
"The purchase of this collection is urgently recommended," Penn curator Rodney Young wrote in a March 1966 memo to the museum's board.
Young also acknowledged that the items had an unsavory aspect, probably having been "looted by peasants and dealers."
Museum officials decided to buy the pieces, for $10,000. But evidently they had misgivings.
Four years later, in 1970, the museum announced it would no longer acquire undocumented objects, arguing that such acquisitions encouraged the "wholesale destruction of archaeological sites."
- Tom Avril, Tracing ancient roots of Penn Museum's gold, PHILADELPHIA ENQ., January 31, 2010.