The Neolithic site of Catalhoyuk was first discovered in the late 1950s and excavated by James Mellaart in 4 excavation seasons between 1961 and 1965. The site rapidly became famous internationally due to the large size and dense occupation of the settlement, as well as the spectacular wall paintings and other art that was uncovered inside the houses.
As well as wall painting and wall reliefs, many objects of daily life were uncovered. Some were decorative such as exceptional flint 'daggers' with decorative bone handles and clay or stone figurines, depicting human figures and animals. Other utilitarian objects include obsidian, flint, pottery, worked bone and clay balls. Another distinguishing feature of Catalhoyuk was the nature of the houses: they had no doors to the outside and were clearly entered through ladders from the roof, and the inhabitants buried their dead under the floors of their platforms.
Since 1993 an international team of archaeologists, led by Professor Ian Hodder, has been carrying out new research at Catalhoyuk. After first seasons of surface survey, the excavations in the North and South Areas began in 1995. In 1996 and 1997, the Summit Area was excavated by a team from Thessaloniki University. In 1997, the BACH Area excavations were opened by a team from Berkeley University. The excavations in the North Area between 1995 and 1998 revealed two buildings, building 1 on top of building 5. Building 5 is now on permanent display, therefore no more excavation is possible in that area. The large scale excavations in the South Area begun in 1995 were suspended after 1999 to allow time for publication, but plans are to return to this area as soon as possible. After preliminary work in the SP and TP Area in 2000, a Team from Poznan University began excavating the TP Area in 2001 and has so far uncovered traces a Late Roman/early Byzantine house, and a Byzantine cemetery. The years 1996, 1997 and 1999 also saw excavations of the Kopal Trenches / Areas, where locations on the slope of the East Mound as well as next to the mound were examined to find out about neolithic activities at the edge of the site. Since 1999 Excavations on the West Mound have also taken place. All this work is documented on www.catalhoyuk.com web site in Newsletters and detailed Archive Reports.
Experimental Neolithic House at Catalhoyuk
The interiors of houses at Çatalhöyük follow the same general plan with similar features in similar locations. Most houses have raised platforms around the edges with burials underneath, ovens against the south wall, ladders in the southeast corner of the main room, storage bins and areas for grinding and preparing food. During the life span of a house, the interior undergoes numerous reconfigurations as features evolve and the use of space changes.
Different areas of the houses were used for different types of activities, and these activity areas were usually well defined. Areas could be defined by the use of platforms, screen walls, internal pillars, low ridges on the floor, and painting on the walls. For example, a slightly raised ridge often surrounded fireplaces, hearths and ovens, to separate dirtier areas of the room from cleaner ones, so soot, charcoal and ash was not allowed to spread around the room. Platforms, covered with mats to keep them clean, might have been sleeping and sitting areas. Other well-defined areas included spaces for food preparation with basins and grinding stones and spaces for working obsidian.
The aim of the project is to carry out an archaeological experiment to build a replica of a Neolithic Catalhoyuk house that would be used as a display for the visitors to the site.
Work on the construction of an experimental version of a Neolithic house replica at the site began in 1999 after two years of preparation which included brick manufacture and collection of materials. The external and internal walls were built from mudbricks, later a roof and internal features have been added.
The house shape, size and interior division is based on excavated Neolithic houses at Catalhoyuk. However, the house replica is not a copy of any specific house from the site, it incorporates the elements from multiple houses. One major difference between the Neolithic houses excavated so far and the experimental house is that the latter has a regular door. The experimental house also has the roof entrance but for the majority of the future visitors to the experimental house a standard door was provided.
Mirjana Stevanovic who directs the house replica project hopes to learn more about construction techniques used at Catalhoyuk 9,000 years ago. She would also like to learn more about lifestyle inside a Neolithic house-everything from how people cooked in clay ovens to the kinds of paint they used on house walls.
What were they eating?Çatalhöyük may have been one of the first places where people started growing food-not simply hunting and gathering for their meals.
Hackberries, chickpeas, chaff, lentils, acorns, wheat, pistachio are among those seeds and nuts they have found at Çatalhöyük.
People used plants for other things too. They built houses, made perfumes, dyes and colors out of plants. And unless you look for the little seeds, you are going to miss many of the clues that will help you understand what happened on an archaeological site.
Was this the first city?9,000 years ago, this place was home to one of the world's largest settlements!
At a time when most of the world's people were nomadic hunter-gatherers, Çatalhöyük was a bustling town of as many as 10,000 people.
Mud brick houses were built close together more and more of them as the population grew. Eventually, the settlement became terraces of houses rising above one another. Over time, layers of debris from demolished houses accumulated. Erosion smoothed the ruins into a hill-like mound.
Why were the dead buried in the floor?While people talk of the 'houses' of Çatalhöyük, they can equally be talked of as tombs. People lived their lives walking, eating, and sleeping on the bones of their dead ancestors.
Skeletons were buried in a fetal position, many under raised platforms, which the archaeologists believe were covered with reed mats and used as beds.
It is thought that staying close to one's dead was one of the main reasons why the city existed in the first place. At least the overgrown structure anyway. It is also seen that they would go under the floor after a couple of years and cut off some of the heads. Probably from important family members. Men and women heads were cut off about equally, alluding to a sexual equality. There were other clues to a sexually equal society as well.
Clay BallsThose clay balls were found in vast quantities in many houses... hundreds of thousands probably on the mound. We're not really sure what they're used for. It is thought they might have something to do with cooking. Because they are found with ash deposits. Here you can see ash and charcoal which probably comes from fire. Some of them have strange markings in them ... it’s not known why ... they might have been used for counting ... they might be used for some kind of bartering system. There is also the possibility that they were used as weapons ... when people annoyed you, you just throw a ball at your neighbors - but we're not really sure about that one.
We found these things that we call clay balls. They're made of fired clay. They're about the same size as a baseball or a cricket ball. We don't think they were used for sport but it's quite a nice idea."
-Roddy Reagan, Archaeologist
Goddess FigurineToday, some feminist and New Age Groups believe that all Stone Age cultures worshipped a great Mother Goddess. They point to this figurine as an important piece of evidence. Many archaeologists are not so sure.
"The famous seated 'Mother Goddess' was found in a grain bin-perhaps this has something to do with fertility, but we have no suggestion that grain bins were symbolically important. It is quite likely that the figurines and statuettes had a range of different functions. But for most of them it is difficult to argue for any special symbolic significance." Ian Hodder, Project Director