From left: Halet Çambel; Ilknur Özgen, M.A. ’76, Ph.D. ’82; Machteld J. Mellink;
Asli Özyar, Ph.D. ’91; and Stella Miller-Collett, Ph.D. ’71.


Machteld J. Mellink and the timeline of Anatolian archaeology

On the first day of Bryn Mawr’s alumnae/i conference held in Istanbul, Machteld J. Mellink was found “typically trying to reconstruct the floor plan of this somewhat labyrinthine building,” Lyke Thorpe ’54 recounted. The building and main conference site was the magnificent Four Seasons Hotel, recently renovated from a prison.

Professor Emerita of Classical and Near Eastern Archaeology and Leslie Clark Professor Emerita of Classics, Mellink was honored with a symposium on topics in Anatolian archaeology, held in the library of Istanbul’s Archaeological Museums.

The Archaeological Institute of America has cited Mellink as “ ‘Dean’ of American excavators in Turkey, preeminent scholar of Anatolian cultures, tireless defender of ‘the Record of the Past’ and of ethics in archaeology.”

The symposium celebrated her considerable contributions—through fieldwork and publications of Tarsus and Elmali-Karatas excavations, but also through her annual Newsletter, “Archaeology in Asia Minor/Anatolia,” which she produced for the American Journal of Archaeology between 1955-1994, reporting and commenting on the year’s discoveries in Turkey from all historical periods.

Three phases of the MM era.

“At 80, Machteld’s energetic pace outstrips the rest of us just as surely as it did when I first experienced its full vigor, at my first excavation experience at Elmali/Karatas, 30 years ago,” said Marie Henriette Gates ’70 during her introductory remarks. Associate professor of archaeology and art history at Bilkent University in Ankara, Gates adopted the Newsletter in 1994.

“Archaeology, in simplest terms, places ancient civilizations into chronological systems, and then recreates their cultural contexts,” Gates said. “I will do the same with the reason for today’s celebration, and explain the structure of this symposium within its Machteld Mellink framework.”

Three speakers each presented an overview of the “eras” of Mellink’s association with Anatolian archaeology over the past 50 years or more:

a) MM era, early phase: Halet Çambel, professor emerita of prehistory at Istanbul University and head of the excavations and restoration of Karatepe-Aslantas, told stories of Mellink’s early days in Turkey—dancing in Tarsus on her days off, taking notes by flashlight for her annual Newletter. She highlighted Mellink’s investigation of the idea of a native Anatolian culture and her continuing interest in Troy. She asserted that Troy must be understood by studying the coastal areas of Anatolia, by investigating its relationship to Tarsus and by querying Anatolia’s possible function as a land bridge between Europe and the Near East.

b) MM era, middle phase: Mehmet Özdogan, professor of prehistory at Istanbul University, explained that excavations from many sites illustrate that Anatolia can now be considered not simply a bridge or conduit between early civilization in the Near East and in Europe, but at different times a barrier, or a formation zone, without linear development.

c) MM era, recent phase: Asli Özyar, Ph.D. ’91, the last of Mellink’s Ph.D. advisees and now assistant professor at Bogazici University, defined 10 key areas of Anatolian archaeology for future investigation. Her questions included: When do humans first reach Anatolia? What compels the development of complexity in the process of urbanization in the southeast? We have cuneiform tablets from the Old Assyrian trading period. Where are the tablets of the Anatolians in their own language? Where do the Hittites come from? The Phrygians? We have a duty to publish the objects in museums, Özyar said, and we must also pursue the race between archaeology and energy, lest we lose important sites like Carchemish to electric dams.

In a concluding lecture, Tahsin Özgüç, Professor Emeritus of Anatolian and Near Eastern Archaeology at Ankara University, gave an overview of the excavations he heads at Kültepe-Kanes, the 19th-18th century B.C. administrative center of the Assyrians in Anatolia. This site is remarkable for the large number of archives found written in the Akkadian dialect, recording donkey caravans coming from Assyria and copper trade with the Anatolian hinterland, and for the mixture of artisans working there.

Among the informal tributes paid to Mellink was an anecdote told by Brian Rose, Haverford ’78, associate professor at the University of Cincinnati and director of the post-Bronze Age excavations at Troy:

“When I was a freshman at Haverford in 1974, one of the first classes I took was Aegean archaeology with Machteld Mellink. One of the first things she did was to show me an inscription and ask what it was. I didn’t know—I was 18 and just out of the woods of Ohio. ‘This is Ugaritic, can’t you see?’ she said, and I thought I was the only person at Bryn Mawr who didn’t know Ugaritic. I never did learn it—but I did learn a great many other languages, very quickly, because Machteld set a high standard of excellence that she expected us to follow—the kind of standard I try to set for my own students and that we try to set at Troy.”

Attorney Larry Kaye testified to Mellink’s role in helping the Republic of Turkey recover in 1987 the Lydian treasure that had been “whisked out of the country before any archaeologists could study or record it. It was practically universally thought that it would be impossible to regain, but all of those people were not aware of Machteld. ... 360 pieces were identified and returned, where they now can be seen in the Usak Museum. ... When we thought we wouldn’t be able to do it, Machteld’s energy got us through.”

Stella Miller-Collett, Ph.D. ’71, Rhys Carpenter Professor and chairman of the classical and Near Eastern archaeology department, presented Nancy J. Vickers with the first copy of Mellink’s new book on the painted tomb at Kizilbel near Elmali. The volume makes available many years of work on the architecture, paintings and conservation of this important find of rarely preserved wall paintings from the late sixth century B.C.

In her closing acknowledgements, Mellink reminded the audience of B ryn Mawr’s pivotal role in Anatolian archaeology, as it was the first U.S. college to organize a dig in Turkey, a direction that was suggested by Mary Hamilton Swindler ’12. This rich history began in 1934 with Hetty Goldman’s trial dig at Tarsus, a site chosen in part for its potential for dealing with the question of the identity of the Ahhiyawa, a subject that is still hotly debated.

Lyke Thorpe had the last word: “Professor Mellink ended by talking for 15-20 minutes from the top of her head, which was astonishing. I then realized what a great teacher she had been, and my regret is now that I didn’t go into her area—Anatolia rather than ancient Egypt.”

This article includes material from a report written by Mary C. Sturgeon, Ph.D. ’71, professor of classical art history and chair of the art department at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

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