Mazur: Altenberg 16, AAAS The Dorak Affair

The AAAS/ Science magazine’s recent two-page article on the Altenberg 16 symposium re-reports, somewhat incorrectly, on the evolution story I’ve been tracking for months. This isn’t the first time I’ve addressed the work of one of their writers.


By Suzan Mazur


The Dorak Affair’s Final Chapter
Dorak Diggers Weigh In on Anna & Royal Treasure
Getting to the Bottom of the Dorak Affair

Link follows to the carefully crafted statement of Altenberg 16 spokesperson Massimo Pigliucci. If you’re wondering what happened to self-organization — don’t panic! — read between the lines. altenberg_2008_what_happened

The AAAS/Science magazine’s recent two-page article on the Altenberg 16 symposium re-reports, somewhat incorrectly, on the evolution story I’ve been tracking for months. This isn’t the first time I’ve addressed the work of one of their writers.

In 2005 in my cracking of the Dorak Affair on these pages — one of the biggest science hoaxes of the last century — archaeologist David Stronach admitted that his former British Institute of Archaeology-Ankara colleague James Mellaart made up the Dorak treasure (stories linked above) and that an “enterprise” had been created around Mellaart’s fantasy beginning in the 1960s.

Mellaart is credited with discovering the ancient city of Catalhoyuk 50 years ago, although it’s co-discoverers were archaeologists David French and Alan Hall. Despite Stronach’s statements to me confirming that Dorak was a hoax, and my reporting other compelling evidence, Michael Balter – book biographer of Catalhoyuk and Science’s Paris correspondent, then one of Science‘s “chief archaeology and human evolution writers” –defended Mellaart’s hoax.

Balter had access to “all the BIAA files related to Dorak”, met with Mellaart at his home and saw his monograph on Dorak, yet concluded, “it is hard to imagine that Mellaart simply made this all up”.

Here’s Balter’s email to me:

Dear Suzan,

I read your article with great interest, although I am not sure where it was originally published as I saw it on the Web (Scoop Independent News.)

It was kind of you to mention my book, although I could not help noticing that it was usually in the context of pointing out that I had “failed” to uncover various aspects of the Dorak Affair. In fact, it was never my intention to “solve” the case, but rather to show how it affected the history of the excavations at Catalhoyuk. In other words, I was not writing The Dorak Affair all over again, and I can’t help but note that your article, despite a lot of interesting material, does not advance the investigation much further than Pearson and Connor’s 1967 book! The one thing I did have that Pearson and Connor did not was all the BIAA documents related to Dorak, which are heavily referenced in my chapter notes; these bear most on the relationship between Dorak and the shutting down of Catalhoyuk, which was indirect and not direct as you know.

I did, however, offer an obvious third possibility, which is that the Dorak treasure did exist in whole or in part but that Anna did not. When I saw the unpublished monograph in the Mellaart home, Mellaart told me that I was the first person to do so since Pearson and Connor nearly 40 years earlier. The monograph includes incredibly detailed descriptions of dozens of objects, and it is hard to imagine that Mellaart simply made this all up. Although I did not draw hard conclusions in the book itself, when interviewed I always say that this is the theory I favor.

Mellaart will be 80 years old this November, and there is no reason to think he will ever change his story. Unless the treasure shows up one day, the mystery is likely to remain unsolved.

all best,

The AAAS Science report on Altenberg is another case of defending a dying “enterprise”. Binghamton University zoologist and philosopher Stan Salthe has noted in my online E-book on the evolution industry that the neo-Darwinians are risking “rigor mortis” and he has subsequently said that it’s about the protecting of foundation grants, a point I also raise in the introduction to the book.

Here are the problems with the AAAS/Science article:

Issue 1: Science‘s Altenberg report began erroneously with a statement attributed to me about geneticist and philosopher Massimo Pigliucci being the “headliner” of the symposium.

Pigliucci told me months ago — and I’ve written — that we’ve found all the human genes we’re going to find, that there’s a focus on self-organization as a result. And much of my reporting over the last several months in relation to the Altenberg 16 has, in fact, been on Stuart Newman’s hypothesis that all 35 modern animal phyla self-organized without a genetic recipe and without natural selection a half billion years ago at the time of the Cambrian explosion, using a pattern language (stabilization followed).

Why would I ever say Pigliucci was the “headliner”?

Few would argue that of the Altenberg 16, it’s been Stuart Newman’s hypothesis that’s been getting the spotlight the past several months. But there is no mention of Newman in the Pennisi article until page 2, where Newman is introduced as “another invitee to the conference” [emphasis added].

Putting Newman on page 2 of the Science piece smacks of a continuation of the tactics of the neo-Darwinists to keep theory of form in the wings, to marginalize it as has been done since the 1930s and 1940s when the evolution “industry” was born and genetics made king.

Issue 2: The event was organized to discuss an “Extended Evolutionary Synthesis”, a remix of the so-called theory of evolution based on natural selection. Pennisi cites Pigliucci saying “Mazur’s attention. . .frankly caused me embarrassment.”

Pennisi does not say, as I’ve reported, that Pigliucci told me about the event twice, urged me to contact Konrad Lorenz Institute — host of the conference — to see if press was being invited, that KLI was open to the idea and sent me the Altenberg invite (co-written by Pigliucci). And that the invite described the meeting as a “major event” that “could very well turn into a major stepping stone for the entire field of evolutionary biology”.

I published the invite in March, so the public could share in the event being organized by these publicly funded scientists.

Pigliucci’s embarrassment is a result of his own “flamboyance” – further in evidence at his
“paradigm shift” talk at the Secular Humanist gathering in May in New York.

Issue 3: Despite wide coverage of my exposé of the evolution industry, Pennisi also failed to move the story forward about the protecting of foundation grants and other excesses. She essentially covered a story on Altenberg 16 I’d already covered, although she did acknowledge the name Altenberg 16 first appeared in my March story carried by Scoop. Scoop is a news agency, not a news publication.

Issue 4: It’s unclear whether Pennisi was at Altenberg, although her email to me indicated that she was away and her editor said she would not return until July 16. If she did attend the conference, it would mean there was another reversed decision regarding media inclusion, that is, an invitation was extended to “certain” media. .

Issue 5: Having made my objections to the AAAS/Science Altenberg story known to both the Science writer and news editor, Science has now emailed me saying they’re agreeable to switching the name Pigliucci for Newman as the “headliner” of the symposium (in my view). And that is it! The correction would be made in the next hard copy issue of the magazine. Nothing could be changed online. Any other matter would have to be addressed as a letter to the editor.

I’ve not reponded.

Issue 6: While my E-book opens with a foreward by Mary Leakey about evolution — and the media stardom and National Geographic Society funding which followed her discovery of Zinjanthropus — which we discussed during our conversation at Olduvai Gorge, Tanzania in 1980, the Science report makes the point from the beginning that I “occasionally” cover science. There is no mention of my expose on the evolution industry or any of my other science reporting through the years.

I detected the Science news editor’s British accent. Perhaps another reason not to look too closely at the “factory” — as Harvard evolutionary biologist Richard Lewontin put it — that English naturalist Charles Darwin built?



Suzan Mazur’s interest in evolution began with a flight from Nairobi into Olduvai Gorge to interview the late paleoanthropologist Mary Leakey. Because of ideological struggles, the Kenyan-Tanzanian border was closed, and Leakey was the only reason authorities in Dar es Salaam agreed to give landing clearance. The meeting followed discovery by Leakey and her team of the 3.6 million-year-old hominid footprints at Laetoli. Suzan Mazur’s reports have since appeared in the Financial Times, The Economist, Forbes, Newsday, Philadelphia Inquirer, Archaeology, Connoisseur, Omni and others, as well as on PBS, CBC and MBC. She has been a guest on McLaughlin, Charlie Rose and various Fox Television News programs.

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