first mural : coaxing a hoax from anatolia

Forget classical Greece and ancient Egypt. These eras had forerunners of perhaps even greater importance. Among them is the highly sophisticated culture that flourished over nine thousand years ago at Catal Huyuk, on Turkey’s Anatolian plateau. Dating from 6600-5800 B.C. the Catal Huyuk brought to light the earliest murals ever found on man-made walls. This center of art was only discovered in 1958 with the excavations beginning in 1961.

The growth of this settled, and surprisingly modern center with courtyards and narrow lanes was brought about by the then nascent agricultural revolution which apparently provided an opportunity for the Catal Huyuk dwellers to decorate their houses; and the ornamentation varies from panels, recesses, and painted hearths to work in plaster relief. The character of this culture betrays a neatness, attention to detail, and sophistication far beyond what even the most sanguine of researchers would have expected to uncover at so early a period. And its wall paintings constitute its greatest surprise.

Read More: mural paintings at Çatal höyük are the oldest in the world on human built structures. The most spectacular murals found so far at Çatal höyük are those from building F.V.1, which portray a variety of animals and human figures. These murals are on all four inside walls of the building but probably represent more than one composition or scene. The people seem to be interacting with the animals, pulling tongues, pulling tails, jumping on their backs. The animals shown have been identified as bulls, horses, stag deer, bear and wild boar, all of which are large and powerful and potentially dangerous to humans. Some of the acts shown appear to be things a person could never actually do with these animals.---

The paintings were executed on the interior walls of houses or shrines, with a brush, in freehand application of flat wash against white or cream colored plaster, with a relatively wide assortment of colours that include shades or red, pink, mauve, white, buff, black and even pale yellow. Perhaps the most significant aspect of the art is that several different styles are evident, indicating the work of a number of different artists.

The more recent, better preserved paintings are almost exclusively concerned with hunting or hunting ritual scenes, some showing outstanding technical dexterity with the sense of motion remarkably well projected. What is the origin of this art? Nothing really is known of the beginning of the neolithic culture that flourished there only to become extinguished; nor is it known for sure if the culture was any more than local. The obvious conjecture is to connect the Catal Huyuk with the Lascaux caves and the Tassili frescoes in the Sahara and there is some analogous preoccupation with lively scenes in which the human element is dominant. But, its hard to speculate about resemblances between expressions of art that are separated by such vast regions of what is still artistically an unknown zone.

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With or without such formidable comparisons, Catal Huyuk stands as an instance of human emergence, in a very early community, through agriculture into art. Implicit in the beginnings of agriculture is the genesis of Western civilization: the increasing time for the individual to spend in intellectual and artistic pursuits, the point of departure from primitivism toward a complex and sophisticated culture. In brief, the start of modern society.


--- picture is believed by many to be a map of Çatal Höyük, dated at 6,200 BC.

…I was stunned by overwhelming stylistic incongruities between Mellaart’s new “reconstructed” paintings and the obviously genuine wall paintings appearing in photos in the 1960’s Çatal Hüyük excavation reports. [8] Subject matter in the new drawings was completely different too. Deities and their animal entourages were now everywhere. Indeed, an elaborate new Neolithic Mother Goddess cult flourished where none had existed before. Most extraordinary of all were “reconstruction” drawings placed alongside strikingly similar modern kilims: “reconstruction” drawings with kilim motifs, but garbled warp/weft directions! They would have been impossible to weave. Something was definitely wrong. But how could it be so terribly wrong? Again, documentation was missing.


from the west wall of the Hunting Shrine at Level V---

My first reaction was incredulity, but the second was resentment over apparently irregular field work. How could remnants of 8,000-year-old wall paintings, even the smallest fragments, have been destroyed without photos? The Çatal Hüyük paintings were, after all, among the world’s earliest architectural murals. First, we were told that proper film was unavailable in Turkey, later that they had “run out of film.” Why, then, wasn’t archaeological work halted? Instead, crews continued to excavate the important Neolithic mound over four field-work seasons, stripping layer after layer of buildings and paintings. There was, indeed, a photographic record of some paintings (those we see in the excavation reports), but nothing, it seemed, that could verify even small portions of Mellaart’s intricate new goddess/kilim “reconstruction” drawings. Later, in The Goddess from Anatolia, we were told that painted fragments upon which the “reconstructions” were based were too difficult to photograph. [9] The excuses kept changing. Most recently, in February of 1991, Mr. Mellaart stated that “color slides and black and white photographs of the better pieces” had been lost in a 1976 fire at his father-in-law’s house. [10] There had been photos after all?! Read More:

Read More: Catal Huyuk Author: Anatolian Description: detail - Shrine V, North wall, mural painting, red bull chased by hunters -


…In studying those 1960’s excavation reports, I discovered profound contradictions between Mellaart’s original reported findings for some Çatal Hüyük shrines and the version now presented in The Goddess from Anatolia. At first these were startling and perplexing. But as the discrepancies multiplied and became more blatant, my attitude shifted. At one stage the required detective work was minimal indeed: the original excavation reports stated definitively that “no trace of any painting” could be found associated with certain shrines — some of those for which there were now newly “reconstructed” paintings! From then on, expecting discrepancies, I felt we must be confronting a grand but not too subtle hoax. I could almost imagine Mellaart standing by, laughing at the naive ruggies who were so easily duped. The clues were so obvious and so plentiful, if one simply looked. … Irrefutable evidence was essential to support my contention that most of the “reconstructions” were very likely mere fantasy….In trying to explain other serious discrepancies, Mellaart stated that many “reconstructed” paintings were pieced together from fragments of fallen or discarded rubble “hidden below final floor levels.” He noted that sometimes such fragments were not found until “after a winter’s interval.”…

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One Response to first mural : coaxing a hoax from anatolia

  1. James Opie says:

    The remarks above, and other published comments, make it clear that, for whatever reason, James Mellaart engaged in an elaborate hoax. Since then “the Goddess of Anatolia” writings have gone begging for supportive evidence—yet not for true-believers.

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