Tuesday, March 13, 2018

A disquieting case of scholarly forgery?

POSTHUMOUSLY DETECTED: Famed Archaeologist 'Discovered' His Own Fakes at 9,000-Year-Old Settlement (Owen Jarus, Live Science).
A famed archaeologist well-known for discovering the sprawling 9,000-year-old settlement in Turkey called Çatalhöyük seems to have faked several of his ancient findings and may have run a "forger's workshop" of sorts, one researcher says.

James Mellaart, who died in 2012, created some of the "ancient" murals at Çatalhöyük that he supposedly discovered; he also forged documents recording inscriptions that were found at Beyköy, a village in Turkey, said geoarchaeologist Eberhard Zangger, president of the Luwian Studies Foundation. Zangger examined Mellaart's apartment in London between Feb. 24 and 27, finding "prototypes," as Zangger calls them, of murals and inscriptions that Mellaart had claimed were real.

If all this is true and is verified, it looks as though the field of Luwian studies had a very close call.
The 1995 letter to Zangger shows both the depth of Mellaart's historical knowledge and imagination. It provides a detailed description of what the Beyköy texts say, naming numerous ancient places, people and events. Mellaart created an elaborate backstory for the texts, getting around his false claim that he couldn't read Luwian by saying that the texts had been partially deciphered by other researchers who were all dead by 1995. "Fred Woudhuizen and I identified about 260 people and place names. It is much like a Harry Potter kind of world. The names are consistent and apparently make sense. Mellaart was evidently a genius in some ways. But he misused his talents, thereby causing tremendous damage to the field," Zangger said.
If I understand the article correctly, some of the iconographic material that Mellaart published over the decades may have been forged too.

This story, of course, is not about ancient Judaism. But it is an important cautionary tale. There is always the danger of unscrupulous scholars who go rogue and produce forgeries that are very difficult to detect. It sounds like this is one such case. The worst damage was averted this time. But how many cases have gone undetected?

Some relevant past posts are here, here, here, here, here, and here. The messy matter of the Israel Forgery Trial, which didn't really settle matters one way or the other, deserves a mention of its own. See here and here and follow the many links. And finally, there is the infamous case of the Gospel of Jesus' Wife. See here (cf. here) and many links.

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