Sunday, 19 August 2012

The Neolithic of the Near East - James Mellaart




I've spent the last week catching up on the past month's news and a name in the obituary columns struck a cord.  James Mellaart  died in London on 29th July at the age of 86. While I was at university, he was the recognized expert on neolithic Anatolia and his text book was compulsory reading for all archaeology undergraduates. This was the man who discovered and excavated Çatal Höyük in the 60s; a site that altered the perception of the neolithic age.  I was soon sorting through a very dusty pile of books in our store room and managed to find my original copy of "The Neolithic of the Near East". That I still have it after 35 years and many moves is a triumph of hoarding that probably needs to be addressed.  
In my student days, Mellaart was a respected archaeologist, but now he appears more renowned for scandals and mysteries.  His biography is blighted by the Doruk affair. After a chance meeting on a train to Izmir with an ancient gold bracelet-wearing Anna Papastrati,  Mellaart claims to have discovered and sketched a magnificently rich collection of antiquities which he named the "Royal Treasures of Doruk".  Neither the treasures or Papastrati were ever seen again and and this incident and the seepage of finds from Çatal Höyük onto the open market, lead to Mellaart's banishment from Turkey. I don't remember reading anything about this in the late 1970s, but without the internet, we were reliant on the University library for all our research. This involved actually spending time in the building which wasn't nearly as attractive a prospect as time spent in the pub or local curry house.  I'm redressing this lack of research now by scouring the internet for articles on Mellaart's life.  If you are at all interested in archaeological mysteries, I suggest you do the same. 




15 comments:

  1. I'll be following up the links. Thank you.

    I first came across mention of Catal Hoyuk when visiting the museum in Ankara...where artifacts there really spoke to me across the ages...and it has fascinated me ever since.

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    1. James Mellaart was assistant director of the British School in Ankara while excavating the site. I haven't been to the museum for many years but feel a visit is due.

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  2. I do love a scandal to liven up the dusty world of academia. I wonder what happened to the treasure? Probably in the private collection of an Arab potentate or Yankee billionaire, I dare say.

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    1. Did the treasure ever exist? Was Mellaart duped in a honey trap to validate a treasure which was sold off. We will now never know.

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  3. A fascinating mystery to keep one busy thinking about for awhile. I googled (as I'm sure you did) 'Royal Treasures of Doruk' and came up with your blog! So it'll probably be a bit difficult to find clues without some tough digging. Your story also made me think about how lazy we've become. Imagine going to a library! In fact, what IS a library? Good luck and keep us posted.

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    1. http://www.marlamallett.com/ch.htm
      http://www.marlamallett.com/chupdate.htm
      http://alternativearchaeology.jigsy.com/catal-huyuk
      http://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/HL0508/S00224.htm

      Senior Dogs - These links probably will have to be copy and pasted to work - but they give a good introduction to the subject. Mellaart was embroiled in further controversy in the 80s when he produced drawings that hadn't been included in the original site report.

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  4. . . this has been one of those 'next year' things for too many years. Your post set me to e-explore what was available on line and J and I have now moved this to 'next'! So, thank you for the kick up the arse!

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    1. It's a great subject to explore. The archaeology is fantastic and the controversy adds a bit of mystery.

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  5. This sounds like a very interesting and mysterious mystery for one to think about.....I will explore the internet for this. I love anything to do with archaeology and antiquities...... that's all I do when I visit Turkey is visit ruins and museums....my husband said I think you married me just to visit these places.
    Thanks for this fascinating post ......

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    1. I can't think of a better reason to visit Turkey. There are still loads of sites I haven't visited.

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  6. Hello, and thanks for the link at the end of your posting. I found the article really informative and it led me to wanting to read the book about the discovery of Çatal Hüyük and the neolithic period. I wonder as many must just what the true story is about the cache of treasure that he supposedly saw when the young woman took him to her house. Thanks for introducing me to this intriguing mystery. Peace.

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  7. I met his son once many years ago, I think he still works in Istanbul. I wonder if he knows the real facts.

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