The Dorak Affair: A Movie

James Mellaart, the excavator of Çatalhöyük, is a Dutchman of Scots descent. His surname is a version of Maclarty, a sub-branch of the MacDonalds of the Isles; the family fled Scotland in the 17th century. Mellaart was educated in Holland during World War Two but, in 1944, having turned eighteen and therefore become eligible for call up by the Nazis, he went to the Swiss Consul for help. The Consul found him a job in Leiden, mending pots in the Egyptology department. His tertiary studies took place in London after the war; then, in 1951, he won a scholarship to the British Institute in Ankara.

Mellaart spent his Turkish summers hiking Anatolia looking for ancient mounds, hoping to prove that the fabled Sea People had been based on the shores of Asia Minor. His first significant discovery was the Neolithic site near Hacilar, which he found by tracing local gossip to a coffee house where he met a chauffer by the name of Şevket Çetinkaya who took him to his house and showed him two strangely decorated pots. Şevket later became a millionaire by trading in Turkish antiquities.

In the summer of 1958, Mellaart was on a train going to the ancient Mediterranean port of Izmir to complete a survey of potential sites there, when, in an empty compartment, he was joined by an attractive young woman. On her wrist was a solid gold bracelet of ancient design - the kind of thing that had thus far only been found at Troy. Mellaart asked to have a closer look at it, the two fell into conversation and the young woman, whose name was Anna Papastrati, invited him to her home to see more ancient artefacts.

They crossed the harbour by ferry at night, then Mellaart spent three or four days at her house, not going out once, making detailed sketches of a range of objects there: goddess statues decorated with gold and silver ornaments, jewelled bracelets, ceremonial axe heads and sceptres in marble, lapis lazuli, obsidian, amber and gold, a woven rug upon which a king had lain, a dozen or so swords and daggers: the contents of two royal tombs found on a hill near Dorak, on the shores of Lake Apolyont, south of the Sea of Marmara and excavated between 1919 and 1922 during the Turko-Greek war.

One find dated the hoard: fragments of a sheet of gold which had once covered a wooden throne. The hieroglyphs upon it identified the throne as a gift from the Pharaoh Sahure, who ruled between 2487 and 2475 BC. This seemed to prove that the Yortan culture, a neighbour of Troy, to which the tombs belonged, had been in contact with the Egypt of the Third Millennium.

Mellaart later wrote a sixty thousand word account of his find and published a summary, with his drawings augmented by another hand, in the Illustrated London News of 29 November, 1959. After a strange hiatus of a couple of years, all hell broke loose among the Turks, who have never forgiven Schliemann for his rape of Troy. Schliemann, a seminal contributor to the genealogy of the swastika as the Nazi symbol, carried away vast amounts of loot in the late 19th century.

When the artefacts Mellaart had drawn could not be found – they have not been seen again from that day to this – he was accused of having aided in their removal out of the country. Further progress of his excavations at Çatalhöyük, discovered soon after the Izmir incident, was impeded in various ways, as were the digs of many other archaeologists working in Turkey in the early to mid 1960s.

Mellaart has always denied any wrong doing and it seems possible, on the basis of the investigation by the two Sunday Times journalists ten years later, that he was in fact used: the hoard probably mixed genuine and fake artefacts, as well as items from different times and places. Anna Papastrati was a honey trap; Mellaart’s role, which he fulfilled to perfection, was to authenticate the treasure for some wealthy, anonymous, overseas buyer who, we must assume, has it still.

Anna Papastrati has never been seen again either; the only family of that name in Izmir were Greek tobacco dealers who lived in the commercial district during the Greek occupation in the early 1920s – at the same time that the items were allegedly recovered from the graves. Nor has the house where she entertained Mellaart been found. Number 217 Kazim Dirik Street is unlocatable because in the ensuing years both the street name and the street numbering have been changed not once, but several times.

There is, however, a letter from Anna Papastrati to Mellaart. It is typewritten, dated 18.10.1958, and reads in full: Dear James, Here is the letter you want so much. As the owner, I authorise you to publish your drawings of the Dorak objects, which you drew in our house. You always were more interested in these old things than in me! Well, there it is. Good luck and goodbye. Love ...

Reading this, it is impossible to disbelieve in the existence of Anna Papastrati, whoever she was; further, it is difficult not to wish to recreate her somehow: in a movie, perhaps, as the young Gina Lollobrigida, with Mellaart played by Peter O’Toole.

1 comment:

mark young said...

What a Turkish delight!