Çatalhöyük (in Turkish; 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 B.C. for the lowest layers. It is the largest and best preserved Neolithic site found to date.
Çatalhöyük is located overlooking wheat fields in the Konya Plain, southeast of the present-day city of Konya (ancient Iconium) in Turkey, approximately 140 kilometers (87 mi) from the twin-coned volcano of Hasan Dağ. The eastern settlement forms a mound which would have risen about 20 meters (66 ft) 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.
After this scandal, the site lay idle until September 12 1993, when investigations began under the leadership of Ian Hodder then at 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 been employed.
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 community’s 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 rubble—which 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 individual’s 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 Paleolithic cultures.
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 female lions – 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. Hodder and his team, in 2004 and 2005, began to believe that the patterns suggested by Mellaart were false. They found one similar figurine, but the vast majority did not imitate the Mother Goddess style that Mellaart suggested. Instead of a Mother Goddess culture, Hodder points out that the site gives little indication of a matriarchy or patriarchy.
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.
In an article in the Turkish Daily News Hodder is reported as denying that Catalhoyuk was a matriarchal society and quoted as saying "When we look at what they eat and drink and at their social statues, we see that men and women had the same social status. There was a balance of power. Another example is the skulls found. If one's social status was of high importance in Çatalhöyük, the body and head were separated after death. The number of female and male skulls found during the excavations is almost equal.