Çatalhöyük (also Çatal Höyük and Çatal Hüyük, or any of the three
without diacritics; çatal is Turkish for "fork", höyük for "mound")
was a very large Neolithic and Chalcolithic settlement in southern
Anatolia, dating from around 7500 BC for the lowest layers. It is
the largest and best preserved Neolithic site found to date.
Çatalhöyük is located overlooking wheatfields
in the Konya Plain, southeast of the present-day city of Konya
(ancient Iconium) in Turkey, approximately 140 kilometers
from the twin-coned volcano of Hasan Dağ. The eastern settlement
forms a mound which would have risen about 20 metres above
the plain at the time of the latest Neolithic occupation. There is
also a smaller settlement mound to the west and a Byzantine
settlement a few hundred meters to the east. The prehistoric mound
settlements were abandoned before the Bronze Age. A channel of the Çarsamba river once flowed between the two mounds, and the
settlement was built on alluvial clay which may have been favourable
for early agriculture.
First discovered in 1958, the Çatalhöyük site was
brought to worldwide attention by James Mellaart's excavations
between 1961 and 1965, which revealed this section of Anatolia as
a centre of advanced culture in the Neolithic period. Mellaart was
banned from Turkey for his involvement in the Dorak affair in which
he published drawings of supposedly important Bronze Age artifacts
that later went missing (see Pearson and Connor, below).
After this scandal, the site lay idle until
September 12, 1993, when investigations began under the leadership
of Ian Hodder from the University of Cambridge. These investigations
are among the most ambitious excavation projects currently in
progress according to, among others, Colin Renfrew. In addition to
extensive use of archaeological science, psychological and artistic
interpretations of the symbolism of the wall paintings have also
The entire settlement of Çatalhöyük was composed
of domestic buildings; the site has no obvious public buildings.
While some of the larger buildings contain rather ornate wall
murals, the purpose of such rooms remains unclear.
The population of the eastern mound has been
estimated at up to 10,000 people, but population totals likely
varied over the communitys history. An average population of
between 5,000 to 8,000 is a reasonable estimate. The inhabitants
lived in mud-brick houses which were crammed together in an
agglutinative manner. No footpaths or streets were used between the
dwellings, which were clustered in a honeycomb-like maze. Most were
accessed by holes in the ceiling, which were reached by interior and
exterior ladders and stairs. Thus, their rooftops were their
streets. The ceiling openings also served as the only source of
ventilation, letting in fresh air and allowing smoke from open
hearths and ovens to escape. Houses had plaster interiors
characterized by squared off timber ladders or steep stairs, usually
placed on the south wall of the room, as were cooking hearths and
ovens. Each main room served as an area for cooking and daily
activities. The main rooms contained raised platforms that may have
been used for a range of domestic activities. All interior walls and
platforms were plastered to a smooth finish. Ancillary rooms were
used as storage, and were accessed through low entry openings from
main rooms. All rooms were kept scrupulously clean. Archaeologists
identified very little trash or rubbish within the buildings, but
found that trash heaps outside the ruins contain sewage and food
waste as well as significant amounts of wood ash. In good weather,
many daily activities may also have taken place on the rooftops,
which conceivably formed an open air plaza. In later periods, large
communal ovens appear to have been built on these rooftops. Over
time, houses were renewed by partial demolition and rebuilding on a
foundation of rubblewhich was how the mound became built up. Up to
eighteen levels of settlement have been uncovered.
The people of Çatalhöyük buried their dead within
the village. Human remains have been found in pits beneath the
floors, and especially beneath hearths, the platforms within the
main rooms and under the beds. The bodies were tightly flexed before
burial, and were often placed in baskets or wrapped in reed mats.
Disarticulated bones in some graves suggest that bodies may have
been exposed in the open air for a time before the bones were
gathered and buried. In some cases, graves were disturbed and the
individuals head removed from the skeleton. These heads may have
been used in ritual, as some were found in other areas of the
community. Some skulls were plastered and painted with ochre to
recreate human-like faces, a custom more characteristic of Neolithic
sites in Syria and at Neolithic Jericho than at sites closer by.
Vivid murals and figurines are found throughout
the settlement, on interior and exterior walls. Distinctive clay
figurines of women have been found in the upper levels of the site.
Although no identifiable temples have been found, the graves,
murals, and figurines suggest that the people of Çatalhöyük had a
religion that was rich in symbol.
Rooms with concentrations of these items may have
been shrines or public meeting areas. Predominant images include men
with erect phalluses, hunting scenes, red images of the now extinct
aurochs (cattle) and stags, and vultures swooping down on headless
figures. Relief figures are carved out of the walls, such as the
depiction of lionesses facing one another, as shown to the left.
Heads of animals, especially of cattle, were
mounted on walls. A painting of the village with the twin mountain
peaks of Hasan Dağ in the background currently is credited as the
world's oldest map and the first landscape painting.
The people appear to have lived relatively
egalitarian lives with no apparent social classes, as no houses with
distinctive features (belonging to royalty or religious hierarchy,
for example) have been found so far. The most recent investigations
also reveal little social distinction based on gender, with both men
and women receiving equivalent nutrition and apparently, having
relatively equal social status as typically found in hunter-gatherer
In upper levels of the site, it becomes apparent
that the people of Çatalhöyük were gaining skills in agriculture and
the domestication of animals. Female figurines have been found
within bins used for storage of cereals such as wheat and barley
that are presumed to be a deity protecting the grain. Peas were also
grown, and almonds, pistachios, and fruit were harvested from trees
in the surrounding hills. Sheep were domesticated and evidence
suggests the beginning of cattle domestication as well. However,
hunting continued to be a major source of meat for the community.
The making of pottery and the construction of obsidian tools were
major industries. Obsidian tools were probably both used and traded
for items such as Mediterranean sea shells and flint from Syria.
A striking feature of Catalhoyuk are its female
figurines. Mellaart, the original excavator, argued that these
well-formed, carefully made figurines, carved and molded from
marble, blue and brown limestone, schist, calcite, basalt,
alabaster, and clay, represented a female deity of the Great Goddess
type. Although a male deity existed as well,
statues of a female
deity far outnumber those of the male deity, who moreover, does not
appear to be represented at all after Level VI. To date eighteen
levels have been identified. These careful figurines were found
primarily in areas Mellaart believed to be shrines. One, however a
stately goddess seated on a throne flanked by two lionesses was
found in a grain bin, which Mellaart suggests might have been a
means of ensuring the harvest or protecting the food supply.
Whereas Mellaart excavated nearly two hundred
buildings in four seasons, the current excavator, Ian Hodder, spent
an entire season excavating one building alone. Nevertheless,
Hodder, in 2004 and 2005, began turning up the same corpulent,
carefully-made "Mother Goddess" figurines that Mellaart found in
abundance. The 2005 female figurine was striking; according to the
official Catalhoyuk website, it "
may force us to change our views
of the nature of Catalhoyuk society
"There are full breasts on which the hands rest,
and the stomach is extended in the central part
. As one turns the
figurine around one notices that the arms are very thin, and then on
the back of the figurine one sees a depiction of either a skeleton
or the bones of a very thin and depleted human. The ribs and
vertebrae are clear, as are the scapulae and the main pelvic bones
[T]his is a unique piece that may force us to change our views of
the nature of Catalhoyuk society and imagery".
- a b c d e Kleiner, Fred
S.; Mamiya, Christin J. (2006). Gardner's Art Through the Ages:
The Western Perspective: Volume 1, Twelfth, Belmont, California:
Wadsworth Publishing, 12-4. ISBN 0-495-00479-0.
- Fielder, Christine
(2004). sexual paradox:culture. Sexual Paradox: Complementarity,
Reproductive Conflict and Human Emergence. Christine Fielder and
- Mellaart, James (1967).
Catal Huyuk: A Neolithic Town in Anatolia. McGraw-Hill, 181.
- Mellaart (1967), 180.
- Balter, Michael (2005).
The Goddess and the Bull. New York: Free Press, 127. ISBN
- Hodder, Ian (2005). New
finds and new interpretations at Çatalhöyük. Çatalhöyük 2005
Archive Report. Catalhoyuk Research Project, Institute of