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Disappearing Treasure or Non-Existent?

How can a fabulous, ancient golden treasure just disappear? More to the point, did it ever exist? A respected Archaeologist said it did, but no trace has ever been found. Was it a hoax? And if so, perpetrated by whom? A true mystery if there ever was one.

The Discovery On A Train

On a train bound from Istanbul, Turkey to the small coastal town of Izmir, Archaeologist James Mellaart, took notice of a bracelet worn by a young girl sitting across from him. As the trip progressed, and he managed to study it more thoroughly, he realized that the bracelet was thousands of years old and made of solid gold. “How could such a thing be?” he wondered.

British archaeologist James Melaart at the Neolithic site of en:Çatalhöyük, Turkey

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The Conversation Begins

At last Mellaart began to talk with the girl and inquired about her jewelry. She told him the bracelet came from a collection at her home, and agreed he could come and examine the pieces. He could barely contain his excitement, because this would be an extremely important archaeological discovery. As they traveled to her home, he was so eager to see the collection, he paid little attention to his surroundings on the ferry and the cab while getting there. There, the collection was lifted, piece by piece, from a hiding place in a chest of drawers and displayed for him to see.

Comparable to Tutankhamen’s Treasure

To Mellaart’s astonishment, it was a find comparable to the discovery of Tutankhamen’s tomb. He asked to photograph it, but the request was refused. However, the girl said he could stay and make sketches. For days, he diligently worked, copying intricate designs, taking rubbings of hieroglyphics and noting down every detail. The girl, who said she was Greek, told him the collection had been found during WWI during the occupation by hostile forces. She said it came from a secret excavation near a small lakeside village called Dorak.

The First Mistake

Late one night Mellaart finished his work and left. It was the last time he saw the girl or the treasure. Later on, he realized how little he knew of the girl. He only knew that she spoke English with an American accent and had given her name as Anna Papastrati and the address of her house as 217 Kazim Direk Street. He did not check on this information, but took it as truth from the girl. That was a mistake that was to come back to haunt him.

The Second Mistake

When Mellaart reported to his chief at the British Institute of Archaeology, he committed another mistake. He lied about when he had made the discovery, telling that it was six years earlier and he had waited for permission to publish his findings. There’s speculation about why he lied. After all, the man was a respected member of the Archaeology elite, renowned for his work and integrity. Some say that he didn’t want his wife of only four years to know he had spent many days and nights at the home of another woman. Whatever his reason, it was another error on his part that would tarnish his reputation.

The Third Mistake

Mellaart’s published findings came out in Illustrated London News in November 1959. He had written to the Turkish Department of Antiquities to let them know of the planned publication, but the letter was lost in transit. Upon viewing the article, and enraged at this supposed deceit, Turkish authorities began to investigate the origin and the whereabouts of the disappearing treasure. They could find no one by the name of Anna Papastrati. To further confuse the issue, the street name he gave did not exist. Thinking that a precious part of their history had been spirited away, investigators demanded Mellaart to tell them where the treasure was located. He said he did not know, that he only knew of what he had seen, where he had seen it, and the pictures he made. But of this he was certain, it WAS authentic.

Without Evidence, Under Possible Scandal

Without further evidence to back up the story of this fabulous treasure, Mellaart was seen to be unreliable, and suspected of being involved in smuggling antiquities. Two and a half years after the publication of his findings, the Turkish newspaper Milliyet conducted a smear campaign against him, claiming that the date of the Dorak excavation was a lie, that it had been made early in the 1950s. This charge was later proven to be false, but the damage had been done to Mellaart’s reputation. As the campaign of discredit continued, he was ejected from the country and banned from further work on another Turkish archaeology site, where he had made many important discoveries.

Questions Remain After All These Years

Were there secret, influential enemies working against his integrity? Melaart needed no lies to further his career, he already had a worldwide reputation as an archaeologist. And what about the girl, Anna? Who was she, and was it really coincidence that she was not only on the same train as Mellaart, but also in the same car, sitting directly across from him? Any archaeologist would have been drawn to the bracelet she was wearing. Was it all a ploy to give the jewelry the stamp of authenticity to pieces that were then quietly shipped to secret collectors all over the world? Is this disappearing treasure locked away somewhere, forever behind the doors of some of the wealthiest, most unscrupulous art dealers in the world?

James Mellaart retired from teaching in 2005 and passed away in 2012. The mystery of the disappearing treasure has never been solved. To this day, it has never been seen again, nor determined to exist.