The Posthumous Disgrace of the Dark Master of Archaeological Hoaxes
Today, we are reminded that the world of archaeology is no different from oil, banking, chess clubs and churches. Wherever a group of people are to be found, while the greater part are honest folk making a day’s wage, among their numbers are unscrupulous and self-serving liars.
A British Archaeologist Fabricated Finds
Professor James Mellaart died in 2012 leaving an archaeological legacy, and was famed for the discovery of Çatalhöyük, a massive 9,000-year-old settlement in Turkey. Now, scientists have bust Mellaart for having “faked several of the ancient murals and may have run a ‘forger's workshop’ of sorts,” stated geoarchaeologist Eberhard Zangger, president of the Luwian Studies Foundation in a Luwian Studies Press Release .
James Mellaart excavating a mural in Çatalhöyük. ( CC BY-SA 3.0 )
In a story that reads like the final plot in a sinister thriller, Zangger investigated Mellaart's London apartment in February this year and found "prototypes," of some of the supposedly ancient murals and inscriptions that Mellaart presented as authentic archaeological finds. Zangger also found “pieces of schist engraved with initial sketches of murals” that Mellaart claimed to have discovered at Çatalhöyük, indicating they were all forgeries. What’s more, Zangger also found out that Mellaart had “forged documents” that recorded some of the inscriptions discovered at Beyköy, a small village in Turkey.
- The 9,500-year-old honeycomb city of Çatalhöyük
- Men and women held equal status in ancient city of Catalhoyuk
- 3,200-Year-Old Stone Inscription Narrates the Tales of Sea People and a Trojan Prince
British archaeologist James Mellaart in the middle smoking a cigarette. (CC BY-SA 3.0)
In this instance, Mellaart wrote to Zangger 1995 about inscriptions he had supposedly discovered at Beyköy which were written in a language called Luwian, which Mellaart admitted he couldn’t read. Zangger, along with Fred Woudhuizen, took the bait in good faith and published a paper on one of these inscriptions in December 2017, in the journal Proceedings of the Dutch Archaeological and Historical Society. Then, in February, he found documents in Mellaart's apartment showing he was actually “skilled” in the ancient language, and the entire discovery was a hoax.
The Long Con
The most resounding question in this revelation is how on earth can one archaeologist pull the wool over the eyes of thousands, for so many decades? Did not one archaeologist ‘double check’ his discoveries at least once, in over half a decade? Well this was where Mellaart’s duplicity excelled according to Zangger:
"He used the same approach for over 50 years," Zangger describes in the press release . "He would first acquire a tremendously broad and deep knowledge [about the area he was interested in]. Then, he would try to use this knowledge to develop a coherent historic panorama.” Zangger continued, “ "Mellaart would fabricate drawings of artifacts and translations of alleged documents to reinforce his theories.”
The alleged cuneiform documents of the Beyköy Text created by Mellaart. (Image: © Luwian Studies )
Where most professional scientists gather evidence, and from it, form conclusions, it would appear Mellaart did exactly the opposite. This not only goes firmly against the grain of the scientific method, it effectively tears holes in it and his “discoveries” can be called cancerous data. Other documents discovered in his apartment indicated that Mellaart tried to “persuade others to publish his forgeries before he died,” Zangger said, which would directly “harm other people's careers.” It is virtually impossible to disentangle, what Zangger said was a “Harry Potter' kind of world.”
Large scale archaeological hoaxes happen every few decades. Most famously, in 1960s Peru Javier Cabrera Darquea collected and popularized over 20,000 “Ica stones,” bearing depictions of dinosaurs being hunted by humans, using what looked like advanced technologies and weaponry. Creationists still claim the Ica stones prove that humans lived in proximity with dinosaurs and ancient alien theorists believe the stones are from a lost, advanced civilization from another galaxy. Notwithstanding, the hoaxer himself, after being busted in a 90s BBC documentary, admitted to creating the carvings and having “produced a patina by baking the stone in cow dung.”
- Library in Stone: The Ica Stones of Professor Cabrera – Part I
- New Piltdown Hoax Analysis Points to Work of 'Lone Forger'
- The Nampa Figurine: 2-million-year-old Relic or Just a Hoax?
In the Encyclopedia of Dubious Archaeology: From Atlantis To The Walam Olum , archaeologist Ken Feder described the Ica Stones as “not the most sophisticated of the archaeological hoaxes discussed in this book, but they certainly rank up there as the most preposterous.”
The hoax Ica Stones were produced by Javier Cabrera Darquea. (CC BY-SA 3.0 )
One False Move…
Professor Mellaart’s hoaxes were way more sophisticated than Professor Cabrera’s Ica stones in Peru, but his career was equally controversial. The Live Science article reported that in 1964 he was accused of “inadvertently aiding smugglers trying to sell stolen artifacts and was barred from excavating in Turkey.” This appears to have triggered his decent into a pseudo archaeological imaginarium, "He still had half a century to live. During this time he appears to have increasingly entered an imaginary world… Mellaart was evidently a genius in some ways… but he misused his talents, thereby causing tremendous damage to the field.”
In October, an Ancient Origins article reported of Woudhuizen and Zangger’s rediscovery and translation of the Beyköy inscription. Sadly, as this was a reproduction by Mellaart’s hand of a reproduction of a stone inscription that no longer exists, any credibility for its authenticity is currently in tatters. The doubts that existed then seem to have now been played out. Sad though this situation is, at least the Luwian scholar’s efforts seem to have revealed the truth of the matter.
There must be a moment in a professor’s career, possibly when the claws of life grip, when bills, student fees, car repayments and holiday loans take effect. Professor Javier Cabrera in Peru carved “one” dinosaur on a single stone and sold it to some sucker, after which he must have thought “hang on a second, screw science, if I do this 1000 times I will be rich, then I can return to science.” The only problem is, it would appear, that the road towards the dark side of the force, is one way.
Top image: Mellaart claimed to have found these e ngraved schists at Çatalhöyük. These sketches were also found in Mellaart's apartment. Source: © Luwian Studies
By Ashley Cowie