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Elmali Archaeological Collection

 Collection — Box: 1
Identifier: BMC-Elmali

Scope and Contents

The Elmalı Archaeological Collection contains bureaucratic, archeological, and photographic materials from the Elmalı excavations, which were conducted in southwestern Turkey between 1963 and 1975 by Bryn Mawr professor Machteld J. Mellink. The documents in the collection stretch beyond 1975 because research, conservation, and publication work continued for decades after. The Elmalı excavation was a major project undertaken by Mellink with help from Bryn Mawr students, and marks an important institutional relationship between the department of archeology and Elmalı, Turkey.

There are eleven series in the collection. They are: the 1: Reports, 2: Financial Documents, 3: Correspondence, 4: Excavation Files, 5: Elmalı Excavation Notebooks, 6: Elmalı Catalogue Books, 7: Elmalı Catalogue Cards, 8: Elmalı Account Books, 9: Photography Lists, 10: Elmalı Excavation Photographic Material, and 11: Oversize Plans.

The first two series contain primarily bureaucratic material including permits, annual reports, symposia, law documents, and financial documents. The next series, “Correspondence,” contains letters to and from Machteld J. Mellink with a large number of correspondents, generally scholarly exchanges concerning Elmalı, but also some personal communications. Series 4 and 5, the excavation files and notebooks, contains miscellaneous documents related to the excavations (notebooks, drawings, photographs, reports, lists, measurements, etc.). Series 6 and 7, the Catalogue Books and Catalogue Cards, contains sixteen catalogue books that record each object found in the excavation, as well as two boxes of catalogue cards documenting both the objects found at the excavation, and skeletal information assembled by J. Lawrence Angel. Series 8 contains handwritten account books from the years 1963 to 1976, and 1991 to 2000. Series 9 and 10 contain photographic material from the excavations, including contact sheets, notebooks, prints, and films. The final series contains plans, sections, maps, tracings and drawings of the various excavation sites.

This collection contains the comprehensive records for an extended archeological project, run primarily by Bryn Mawr students and professors. It provides a large amount of raw data, as well as detailed information about the behind-the-scenes aspects of the excavation.


  • Creation: 1963 - 2009


Conditions Governing Access

This collection is open for research use.

Biographical / Historical

The Elmali Archaeological Collection consists of documents from excavations conducted by Professor Machteld Johanna Mellink of Bryn Mawr College from 1963 to 1975. The documents are from a number of sites in the Elmali Plain in northern Lycia (the Teke peninsula, southwest Turkey). The excavations were sponsored by Bryn Mawr College and supported by the college’s Hetty Goldman Fund. Additional funding was provided by the Ford Foundation’s program for training graduate students in field archaeology (1968 – 1972), and the work also received support from a generous anonymous donor (1968 – 1974). The project, throughout its many years, also received the assistance, guidance, help, and hospitality of the Turkish Department of Antiquities and Museums. The Bryn Mawr College excavation team had their headquarters in the town of Elmali, from which they processed the results of their work of many years. The purpose of the excavation was to investigate the prehistory of Lycia. The plain of Elmali, a fertile upland plain about 60 kilometers from the coast, was chosen because it offered ample sites with archaeological promise. After careful consideration, Machteld Mellink selected the relatively modest Karataş mound near the market town of Elmali because it had no overlay from later periods, that is, it had the advantage of being a purely Early Bronze Age site. Although the excavation work at Elmali effectively ended in 1975, research, conservation, and publication work on the varied sites continued for many decades. The breadth and longevity of this project is reflected in the documents in the collection.

The Early Bronze Age and Chalcolithic Excavations: Karataş, Bağbaşi, and Boztepe

In the sixties Mellink embarked on her own field project in the plain of Elmali in Lycia, which was then, in terms of prehistory, terra incognita. In contrast to many others who would have begun work at the largest site in the plain, she picked the shallow mound of a small village for her investigations. This choice allowed her to gain insights into the entire extent of the site. (Özyar, 413)

The Karataş mound is located about 2 kilometers west of the village of Semayük (later renamed Bozüyük), which is about 8 kilometers east-northeast of the larger town of Elmali. The site featured a small, central mound about 3 – 4 meters high and about 100 meters in diameter. The excavation began with the Karataş mound and quickly proceeded to the agricultural fields that surrounded it. The mound revealed a large walled complex from the Early Bronze Age (third millennium B.C.E.). Excavation in the surrounding fields uncovered an Early Bronze Age habitation with a nearby, separate cemetery with burials generally in large pithoi (jars). In other words, they found an impressive complex on the central mound, and a small village with a cemetery. Continued excavation exposed even more cemeteries that had been in use over many centuries. As mentioned in Machteld Mellink’s biographical memoir:

The cemeteries of the excavated village, which contained hundreds of jar burials, added a new chapter to Western Anatolian burial customs and the beginnings of social stratification. Among the incised pictographs on some of the burial jars, which pre-date any known early writing in Turkey or Greece, she identified one sign as a regional type of wooden grain storage structure related in appearance to a similar sign impressed on the Phaistos Disk from Crete. (Özyar, 413)

Trenches were also opened in an area about 600 meters west of the central mound, which was known as Bağbaşi. This nearby site revealed strong remains from the Late Chalcolithic period and Early Bronze age. Another excavated site, Boztepe, was located on a rise to the north of Bağbaşi, also revealing Late Chalcolithic remains. The finds indicated occupation of the area from Neolithic times. The excavations at Karataş provided information about life on the northern Lycian plain beginning in the late Neolithic period and continuing through the Early Bronze Age. The complex Early Bronze Age structure on the central mound—a large house with courtyards, embankments, and an outer enclosing palisade with small dwelling units—suggested the residence of a prominent person in the community. The village and its cemetery that surrounded the mound had free-standing houses in the megaron style that yielded household objects, e.g. storage jars, domestic wares, grinding stones, and spindle whorls. Although the relationship between the occupants of the mound and the village remains unknown, it was possible to determine that the Karataş economy was a “mixed system of agriculture and animal husbandry,” growing cereal crops with domesticated cattle, sheep, goats and pigs. (Warner p. 179) The excavations at Karataş and the other nearby sites revealed evidence for development in the Lycian plain from the Chalcolithic through the Early Bronze Age. The evidence for this period, however, was not the only discovery from the Elmali excavations. The presence of Machteld Mellink and the excavation team in the area resulted in the fortuitous discovery and conservation of two painted chamber tombs of the sixth and fifth centuries B.C.E.

The Painted Chamber Tombs of Kizilbel and Karaburun

In addition to the planned investigations, in 1969 reports of recent looting of tombs in the vicinity with serious damage forced Mellink to act swiftly and decisively. Within weeks she began the rescue excavation of two painted tomb chambers in tumuli, Kizilbel and Karaburun, near Elmali. Until her last year in the field she oversaw the restoration and conservation work led by Italian experts and continued by Turkish colleagues, including the construction of a protective structure to preserve the paintings and prolong their life expectancy. (Özyar 413–14)

Kizilbel In 1969 the Bryn Mawr College team at Elmali was introduced to a painted chamber tomb at the nearby site of Kizilbel (southwest of Karataş), by the Kaymakam of Elmali, M. Nuri Erdem. The tomb had been plundered in antiquity and then re-plundered and badly damaged in the spring of 1969; the recent plundering of the tomb had exposed it to the elements and the condition of the tomb, especially of the paintings, was deteriorating. The team began the rescue work under the auspices of the Antalya Museum and with the encouragement of the Director General of Antiquities and Museums, the late Hikmet Gürçay. The first rescue campaign was conducted from October 19 to November 15, 1969; it resulted in a preliminary cleaning of the paintings and a diagnosis that the damage to the paintings and the tomb could be contained. In 1970 the excavation and investigation began on the tomb and the tumulus that partially covered it. The ancient robbers had cleared the tomb of its grave goods, so the excavations around and within the tomb uncovered very little—some pottery fragments, fragments of a skeleton, a stone alabastron and additional fragments of other alabastra, and miscellaneous metal and bone fragments. Careful examination of the tomb, however, provided evidence of the missing items that it once held; metal vessels that had been placed on the table and hung on the walls left impressions on the surfaces. The conservator, Franca Callori di Vignale, began the cleaning and conservation of the paintings in 1970; in addition, the joints between the wall blocks were sealed and gaps in the walls were closed. In the following years further conservation work was conducted, and in 1974 a protective building was completed that enclosed the ancient tomb. Protected from further damage, it was then open for study and its climate was monitored. In the following years the stone kline (couch) and table, previously broken into numerous fragments, were reassembled, new photographs were taken of the painted walls, watercolor copies of the wall paintings and line drawings were produced, and the skeletal remains analyzed. The tomb is built of stone, a single room chamber with a gable roof and a stone slab floor. It is most remarkable, however, for the wall paintings that the project was able to preserve from further deterioration and destruction, and to document the imagery on the walls and floor. The study revealed a tomb built and decorated in the archaic period, possibly the 6th century B.C. More important perhaps, the project preserved one of the earliest known painted chamber tombs in western Anatolia that represented a branch of archaic painting for which other evidence is rare. Although approximately two-thirds of the original designs are lost, the preserved paintings show a lively variety of themes in the imagery: a hunting scene, a warrior departure scene, images of a sea voyage, and a securely mythological scene with Gorgons, Medusa, Chrysaor and Pegasus. Machteld J. Mellink published a detailed and illustrated volume on the Kizilbel tomb in 1998.

Karaburun In 1970 rumors reached Prof. Mellink and the excavation team about illicit digging on the Karaburun ridge between the villages of Semayük and Bayindir. Now that their work at Kizilbel had revealed a painted chamber tomb they suspected that there might be others, and feared that illicit digging could endanger yet more painted chamber tombs. They proceeded to the Karaburun ridge and found that the two tumuli— Karaburun I, East and Karaburun II, West—showed evidence of illicit activity. So, the second rescue operation began with the cleaning and investigation of the area. The excavation revealed that tumulus I, a man-made stone and earth hill about 2.50 meters high, covered a solitary limestone sarcophagus with a gabled lid. The second tumulus, however, revealed that the rescue efforts were indeed fortuitous. The excavation of tumulus II at Karaburun revealed a stone chamber tomb. They began the excavation by uncovering the double-sloped roof and some of the walls, removing enough of the tumulus to give them access to the interior of the tomb. They found that the chamber tomb had an elaborately painted interior; the walls, kline and floors had been decorated. They also found the interior in disorder. The tomb gifts had been removed by earlier robbers of Roman times, the floor slabs ripped up, the stone kline and masonry damaged. The ancient destruction had also opened the tomb to the atmosphere and deterioration had resulted. Despite the destruction they could see that the tomb had been painted with scenes in a style distinctly different from the Kizibel tomb; the imagery was on a larger scale, with more colors, and in a Graeco-Persian style, possibly of the early 5th century B.C. It depicted a procession, a battle scene, and an impressive main scene of a male at a banquet—the owner of the tomb reclining on his couch. He was especially striking from the moment that the tomb was entered (“a truly commanding figure”). The condition of the paintings, however, was precarious and preservation efforts began immediately. In the following year, 1971, excavations were conducted at two additional tumuli, Karaburun III and IV, in the same general area. Tumulus III revealed a disturbed cremation burial in a krater-like vessel from the Iron Age. Tumulus IV revealed the robbed-out remains of a cremation burial, but with a few grave gifts left behind, including three well-used bronze fibulae in a Phrygian-like style. The painted chamber tomb (Karaburun II) continued to be the important focus of excavation, study, and conservation for many years. In 1974 the excavation team uncovered a stone platform running parallel to the tomb façade and about 16 meters southwest of the chamber tomb. This platform or base had cuttings in the upper surface for a superstructure, but the original decorative elements that topped it were largely lost, except for some fragments of two stone lions sculptured in the round. It would have been a visible monument set before the covered chamber tomb. The Bryn Mawr campaign of 1976 was devoted to the construction of a protective building for the Karaburun II tomb complex, which includes a protective structure similar to the Kizilbel building, a building that shelters the base, and a tunnel that connects the two structures. The publication of the Karaburun II painted chamber tomb is forthcoming from Prof. Emerita Stella Miller-Collett.

Selected Bibliography

Angel, J. Lawrence, “Appendix: Human Remains at Karataş,” American Journal of Archaeology 72 (1968) 260-63, pl. 86.

Angel, J. Lawrence, “Appendix: Skeletal Human Remains at Karataş,” American Journal of Archaeology 74 (1970) 253-59, pl. 62.

Angel, J. Lawrence, “Appendix: Skeletal Fragments of Classical Lycians,” American Journal of Archaeology 77 (1973) 303-07, pl. 47-48.

Angel, J. Lawrence and S. C. Bisel, “Health and Stress in an Early Bronze Age Population,” in: Ancient Anatolia. Aspects of Change and Cultural Development. Essays in Honor of Machtled J. Mellink, J. V. Canby, E. Porada, B. S. Ridgway, T. Stech (eds.), Madison: University of Wisconsin Press (1986) 12 – 30.

Eslick, Christine, Elmali-KarataşI. The Neolithic and Chalcolithic Periods: Bağbaşi and Other Sites. Bryn Mawr College, Archaeological Monographs (1992).

Eslick, Christine, Elmali-Karataş V. The Early Bronze Age Pottery of Karataş: Habitation Deposits. Bryn Mawr College, Archaeological Monographs (2009).

Mellink, Machteld J., “Archaeology in Asia Minor,” American Journal of Archaeology 81 (1977) 301.

Mellink, Machteld J. (with chapters by Robert A. Bridges and Franca Callori di Vignale), Kizilbel: An Archaic Painted Tomb Chamber in Northern Lycia. Philadelphia: The University Museum, University of Pennsylvania, for Bryn Mawr College Archaeological Monographs (1998).

Mellink, Machteld J., “Excavations at Karataş-Semayük in Lycia, 1963,” American Journal of Archaeology 68 (1964) 269-78, pls. 77-82.

Mellink, Machteld J., “Excavations at Karataş-Semayük in Lycia, 1964,” American Journal of Archaeology 69 (1965) 241-51, pls. 59-66.

Mellink, Machteld J., “Excavations at Karataş-Semayük in Lycia, 1965,” American Journal of Archaeology 70 (1966) 245-57, pls. 55-62.

Mellink, Machteld J., “Excavations at Karataş-Semayük in Lycia, 1966,” American Journal of Archaeology 71 (1967) 251-67, pls. 75-84.

Mellink, Machteld J., “Excavations at Karataş-Semayük in Lycia, 1967,” American Journal of Archaeology 72 (1968) 243-59, pls. 77-85.

Mellink, Machteld J., “Excavations at Karataş-Semayük in Lycia, 1968,” American Journal of Archaeology 73 (1968) 319-31, pls. 71-78.

Mellink, Machteld J., “Excavations at Karataş-Semayük and Elmali, Lycia, 1969,” American Journal of Archaeology 74 (1970) 245-53, pls. 55-61.

Mellink, Machteld J., “Excavations at Karataş-Semayük and Elmali, Lycia, 1970,” American Journal of Archaeology 75 (1971) 245-55, pls. 49-56.

Mellink, Machteld J., “Excavations at Karataş-Semayük and Elmali, Lycia, 1971,” American Journal of Archaeology 76 (1972) 257-69, pls. 55-60.

Mellink, Machteld J., “Excavations at Karataş-Semayük and Elmali, Lycia, 1972,” American Journal of Archaeology 77 (1973) 293-303, pls. 41-46.

Mellink, Machteld J., “Excavations at Karataş-Semayük and Elmali, Lycia, 1973,” American Journal of Archaeology 78 (1974) 351-59, pls. 65-70.

Mellink, Machteld J., “Excavations at Karataş-Semayük and Elmali, Lycia, 1974,” American Journal of Archaeology 79 (1975) 349-55, pls. 58-61.

Mellink, Machteld J., “Excavations at Karataş-Semayük and Elmali, Lycia, 1975,” American Journal of Archaeology 80 (1976) 378-84, pls. 41-46.

Mellink, Machteld J., “Elmali: Recording of Wall Paintings,” VIII. Kazi Sonuçlari Toplantisi I (1986) 345-48.

Mellink, Machteld J., “The Painted Tomb at Karaburun (Elmali): Problems of Conservation and Iconography,” X. Kazi Sonuçlari Toplantisi II (1988) pp. 271-75.

Özyar, Asli, “Machteld Johanna Mellink, 26 October 1917 – 24 February 2006,” Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society 152 (2008) 410–17.

Warner, Jayne L., Elmali-Karataş II: The Early Bronze Age Village of Karataş. Bryn Mawr College, Archaeological Monographs (1994).


79 boxes

Language of Materials



The Elmali Archaeological Collection includes documents from a number of excavations conducted in the Elmali Plain of Lycia (Turkey): Karataş, Bağbaşi, Boztepe, Kizilbel, and Karaburun. The excavations were sponsored by Bryn Mawr College and directed by Machteld J. Mellink; the sites were excavated from 1963 to 1975. The excavations at Karataş, Bağbaşi, and Boztepe uncovered evidence of occupation at the sites from the Chalcolithic period through the Early Bronze Age, giving us a picture of domestic life during this time. At the sites of Kizilbel and Karaburun the team uncovered and conserved two painted chamber tombs in different artistic styles that are cited for their historical importance.


1: Reports - Box 1

2: Financial Documents - Box 2 to 4

3: Correspondence - Box 4 to 5

4: Excavation Files - Box 5 to 9

5: Elmalı Excavation Notebooks - Box 10 to 11

6: Elmalı Catalogue Books - Box 12 to 14

7: Elmalı Catalogue Cards - Box 15 to 18

8: Elmalı Account Books - Box 19

9: Photography Lists - Box 20 to 22

10: Elmalı Excavation Photographic Material - Box 23 to 79

11: Oversize Plans

Related Materials

See also Machteld J. Mellink (1939-2006) Papers. Machteld J. Mellink was the lead archeologist on the Elmali excavation.

Elliot Krasnopoler, based on previous Finding Aid by Joan Riley
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
  • A detailed inventory spreadsheet, compiled by Joan Reilly, can be obtained by emailing Bryn Mawr Special Collections at

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