In the fall of 1958 the British archaeologist James Mellaart discovered Catalhoyuk, the largest and most “urban” Neolithic village ever found. From 1961 to 1963, and then again in 1965, Mellaart conducted extremely productive excavations at the site, uncovering scores of mudbrick houses with burials, relief carvings, paintings, statues, amulets and tools. In 1964 the Turkish government refused to grant Mellaart permission to dig at Catalhoyuk; two years later, in 1966, the Turks again rejected his application for an excavation permit, this time for good.

Why would Turkish officials close down one of the most important and productive excavations in the entire world? Because of the Dorak Affair.

According to Mellaart, in the summer of 1958, just a few months before he found the great mound of Catalhoyuk, he took a train from Ankara, where he worked for the British Institute of Archaeology, to Izmir, on Turkey’s Aegean coast. A young woman walked into his compartment and sat across from him. “She was very attractive, in a tarty way,” Mellaart later told the reporters Kenneth Pearson and Patricia Connor, who related the incident in The Dorak Affair (1967). The woman was wearing a solid gold bracelet, which Mellaart recognized as dating to the Bronze Age; she told him her family had a substantial collection of such objects, and she invited him to her home in Izmir. Mellaart accepted.

It was evening when the train arrived in Izmir, Mellaart recalled. All he could remember was that they took a taxi to a ferry to a taxi to the home of the woman, who told Mellaart that her name was Anna Papastrati and that she lived at 217 Kazim Dirik Street. Anna showed Mellaart a chest of drawers full of objects and old photographs of two tombs she said her family had excavated near the village of Dorak between 1919 and 1922 (when Greek forces occupied northern Turkey after World War I). Mellaart ended up staying several days in Anna’s house, making drawings of the artifacts and copying the notes written in Greek on the photos.

The hoard consisted of dazzling objects of gold, silver, lapis lazuli, amber, marble and obsidian: scepters, bracelets, daggers, swords, ax heads and vessels (including a lovely two-handled gold drinking cup). The collection also included fragments of a sheet of gold that had once covered a throne; an inscription on the sheet in Egyptian hieroglyphics referred to Sahure, the second pharaoh of Egypt’s 5th Dynasty (2450–2325 B.C.). Mellaart surmised that the throne was a gift of the Egyptian pharaoh Sahure to the occupant of the tomb, a ruler of the Yortan culture that bordered Troy in the mid-third millennium B.C.

Although Anna Papastrati promised to send Mellaart pictures of the objects, she never did. But she did send him a letter—dated October 18, 1958—giving him permission to publish the drawings. Mellaart published a brief article on the “finds,” one page of text followed by three pages of his drawings (all shown here), in the Illustrated London News (November 29, 1959).

Once Turkish antiquities officials learned about Mellaart’s article, they immediately began an investigation into the Dorak treasure. But they could find no trace of either the treasure or Anna Papastrati, who seemed to have fallen off the face of the earth. In May 1962, Turkey’s second-largest newspaper, Milliyet, ran an exposé accusing Mellaart of masterminding a smuggling ring that had spirited the Dorak treasure and other antiquities out of Turkey. The Milliyet article set in motion another round of investigations, which, although nothing new was learned, led to Mellaart’s being denied permission to dig in Turkey until “the Dorak affair was cleared up” (to quote a 1964 document issued by the antiquities department).

Unfortunately, it never has been cleared up. So what happened?

None of the objects Mellaart described has turned up in a museum or in any other public collection. If the Dorak treasure exists, it has been held in secret, in a private collection the owner does not dare to reveal for fear that it might be confiscated. It is also possible that the objects were fakes, or that Mellaart made up the whole story to conceal an affair with a young woman (he had not long been married to his wife, Arlette) or for some other reason.

The reporters who conducted the most detailed investigation into Mellaart’s story, Kenneth Pearson and Patricia Connor, concluded that Mellaart was the dupe of antiquities smugglers who wanted to find an archaeologist to authenticate their illegal artifacts. According to this theory, Anna Papastrati was planted on the train to lure Mellaart to a house in Izmir, where he could study the objects and pronounce them genuine. Indeed, his subsequent article in the Illustrated London News would have significantly raised the price of the Dorak pieces on the antiquities market.

Although Mellaart’s 1965 excacvation season at Catalhoyuk was his last, he has continued to visit the site regularly. In the years since the Dorak Affair, he has published excavation reports on his work at Catalhoyuk and Hacilar (a Neolithic site excavated by Mellaart from 1957 to 1960), as well as numerous works on the ancient civilizations of Anatolia and the Near East. Recently retired from the University of London, Mellaart now lives in London with his wife, Arlette. He declined Archaeology Odyssey’s invitation for an interview.