James Mellaart FBA (14 November 1925 – 29 July 2012) was a British archaeologist and author who is noted for his discovery of the Neolithic settlement of Çatalhöyük in Turkey. He was expelled from Turkey when he was suspected of involvement with the antiquities black market. He was also involved in a string of controversies, including the so-called Mother goddess controversy in Anatolia, which eventually led to his being banned from excavations in Turkey in the 1960s.
James Mellaart was born in 1925 in London. He lectured at the University of Istanbul and was an assistant director of the British Institute of Archaeology in Ankara (BIAA). In 1951 Mellaart began to direct excavations on the sites in Turkey with the assistance of his Turkish-born wife Arlette, who was the secretary of BIAA. He helped to identify the "champagne-glass" pottery of western Anatolia in the Late Bronze Age, which in 1954 led to the discovery of Beycesultan. After that expedition's completion in 1959, he helped to publish its results. In 1964 he began to lecture in Anatolian archaeology in Ankara.
In 1965 Mellaart gave a report of a new rich find from Dorak to Seton Lloyd of the British Institute. Mellaart said that he had seen the treasures in 1958 in the Izmir home of a young woman whom he met on a train. She sat in front of him in the train car, wearing a gold bracelet which drew his attention. She told him that she had more at home, so he came over and saw the collection. She did not allow him to take photographs, but did let him make drawings of them. He gave the story to The Illustrated London News, and then Turkish authorities demanded to know why they had not been informed. He said that the young woman, named Anna Papastrati, asked him to keep it secret. He asked the Institution to sponsor publications of the story, but they refused with no real evidence. When looking for Ms. Papastrati's home, it turned out that the street address did not exist in Izmir, and her name was not found. The only document that can be traced to her is a typed letter that after examination appears to have been done by Mellaart's wife Arlette. In consequence, Turkish officials expelled Mellaart for suspected antiquities smuggling. He was later allowed to return but later banned completely.
When Mellaart excavated the Çatalhöyük site in 1961, his team found more than 150 rooms and buildings, some decorated with murals, plaster reliefs, and sculptures. The site has since been seen as important as it has helped in the study of the social and cultural dynamics of one of the earliest and largest permanently occupied farming settlements in the Near East.
According to one of Mellaart's theories, Çatalhöyük was a prominent place of mother goddess worship. However, many other archaeologists did not agree with him, and the dispute created a controversy. Mellaart was even accused of making up at least some of the mythological stories he presented as genuine. The furor caused the Turkish government to close up the site. The site was unattended for the next 30 years until excavations were begun anew in the 1990s.
The city as a whole covers roughly 32.5 acres (130,000 m²), and housed 5,000–8,000 people, whereas the norm for the time was around one tenth of this size. The site stirred great excitement when Mellaart announced it and has since caused much head scratching. In fact, more recent work has turned up comparable features at other early Neolithic sites in the Near East, and this has benefited many people in their understanding of the site so that many of its one-time mysteries are no longer real issues.
As of 2005, Mellaart had retired from teaching and lived in North London with his wife and grandson. He died July 29, 2012.
- It could also be, it was speculated, that Mellaart was reluctant to tell his wife that he spent a week at the woman's home.
- Mazur, Suzan (4 October 2005). "Dorak Diggers Weigh In On Anna & Royal Treasure". Scoop. Retrieved 9 July 2012.
- "Anatolian Chronology in the Early and Middle Bronze Age" ; Anatolian Studies VII, 1957
- "Early Cultures of the South Anatolian Plateau. The Late Chalcolithic and Early Bronze Ages in the Konya Plain"; Anatolian Studies XIII, 1963
- Çatalhöyük, A Neolithic Town in Anatolia, London, 1967
- Excavatians at Hacilar, vol. I-II
- Balter, Michael. The Goddess and the Bull: Çatalhöyük: An Archaeological Journey to the Dawn of Civilization. New York: Free Press, 2004 (hardcover, ISBN 0-7432-4360-9); Walnut Creek, CA: Left Coast Press, 2006 (paperback, ISBN 1-59874-069-5).
- Pearson, Kenneth; Connor, Patricia. The Dorak Affair. London: Michael Joseph. 1967; New York: Atheneum, 1968.
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- Mazur, Susan. "The Dorak Affair's Final Chapter", at Scoop.co.nz, October 10, 2005.
- The Blog of Matt Salusbury, "The Dorak Affair, an archaeological mystery," a February 8, 2010 post