Çatalhöyük (Turkish pronunciation: [tʃaˈtaɫhøjyc]; 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, which existed from approximately 7500 BCE to 5700 BCE . 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 km (87 mi) from the twin-coned volcano of Mount Hasan. The eastern settlement forms a mound which would have risen about 20 m (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 Çarşamba river once flowed between the two mounds, and the settlement was built on alluvial clay which may have been favourable for early agriculture.

Çatalhöyük is located in Turkey
Location in Turkey
Coordinates: 37°40′03″N 32°49′42″E / 37.6675°N 32.82833°E / 37.6675; 32.82833



The site was first excavated by James Mellaart in 1958. He later led a team which excavated there for four seasons between 1961 and 1965.[1][2][3][4] These excavations revealed this section of Anatolia as a centre of advanced culture in the Neolithic period.[5] 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.[6]

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. [7] [8] [9] [10] 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 been employed. Hodder, a former student of Mellaart, chose the site as the first "real world" test of his then-controversial theory of post-processual archaeology.

Brigid Gallagher, of British Channel 4 Time Team fame, works with Ian Hodder on Çatalhöyük, as joint project conservator.


On-site restoration of a typical interior

Çatalhöyük was composed entirely of domestic buildings, with no obvious public buildings. While some of the larger ones have rather ornate murals, these rooms' purpose remains unclear.[5]

The population of the eastern mound has been estimated at up to 10,000 people, but population 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 that 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, with doors reached by ladders and stairs. The rooftops were effectively streets. The ceiling openings also served as the only source of ventilation, allowing smoke from the houses' open hearths and ovens to escape.

The Neolithic
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Boian culture
Cucuteni-Trypillian culture
Linear Pottery Culture
Malta Temples
Sesklo Culture
Varna culture
Vinča culture
Vučedol culture
South Asia

farming, animal husbandry
pottery, metallurgy, wheel
circular ditches, henges, megaliths
Neolithic religion


Houses had plaster interiors characterized by squared-off timber ladders or steep stairs. These were usually on the south wall of the room, as were cooking hearths and ovens. Each main room served 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.[5] Ancillary rooms were used as storage, and were accessed through low openings from main rooms.

All rooms were kept scrupulously clean. Archaeologists identified very little trash or rubbish in the buildings, finding trash heaps outside the ruins, with 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 may have formed a 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 was gradually built up. As many as 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 beds. 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 rituals, as some were found in other areas of the community. Some skulls were plastered and painted with ochre to recreate 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, notably the Seated Woman of Çatalhöyük (illustration, right), 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 rich in symbols. 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 (wild cattle) and stags, and vultures swooping down on headless figures.[5] Relief figures are carved on walls, such as of lionesses facing one another.

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, is frequently cited as the world's oldest map and the first landscape painting.[5] However, some archaeologists question this interpretation. Stephanie Meece, for example, argues that it is more likely a painting of a leopard skin instead of a volcano, and a decorative geometric design instead of a map.[11]

Çatalhöyük had 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 men and women receiving equivalent nutrition and seeming to have equal social status, as typically found in Paleolithic cultures.[12][13][14]

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, the figurines presumed to be of 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 food for the community. Pottery and obsidian tools appear to have been major industries; obsidian tools were probably both used, and also traded for items such as Mediterranean sea shells and flint from Syria.


Seated goddess on a throne flanked by two lionesses

A striking feature of Çatalhöyük 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. 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”.[15] To date, eighteen levels have been identified. These careful figurines were found primarily in areas Mellaart believed to be shrines. The stately goddess seated on a throne flanked by two female lions (illustration) was found in a grain bin, which Mellaart suggests might have been a means of ensuring the harvest or protecting the food supply.[16]

Whereas Mellaart excavated nearly two hundred buildings in four seasons, the current excavator, Ian Hodder, spent an entire season excavating one building alone.[17] 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.[18]

In an article in the Turkish Daily News, Hodder is reported as denying that Çatalhöyük 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."[19]

In a report in September 2009 on the discovery of around 2000 figurines Hodder is quoted as saying:

“Çatalhöyük was excavated in the 1960s in a methodical way, but not using the full range of natural science techniques that are available to us today. Sir James Mellaart who excavated the site in the 1960s came up with all sorts of ideas about the way the site was organised and how it was lived in and so on,” he said. “We’ve now started working there since the mid 1990s and come up with very different ideas about the site. One of the most obvious examples of that is that Çatalhöyük is perhaps best known for the idea of the mother goddess. But our work more recently has tended to show that in fact there is very little evidence of a mother goddess and very little evidence of some sort of female-based matriarchy. That’s just one of the many myths that the modern scientific work is undermining.”[20]

Professor Lynn Meskell explained that while the original excavations had found only 200 figures, the new excavations had uncovered 2000 figurines of which most were animals, with less than 5% of the figurines women.[20]

Estonian folklorist Uku Masing has suggested as early as in 1976, that Çatalhöyük was probably a hunting and gathering religion and the Mother Goddess figurine didn't represent female deity. He implied that perhaps a longer period of time was needed in order to develop symbols for agricultural rites.[21]

Archaeological project support

The current archaeological investigations at Çatalhöyük are supported by the following institutions and organizations[22]:

See also


  1. ^ J. Mellaart, Excavations at Çatal Hüyük, first preliminary report: 1961. Anatolian Studies, vol. 12, pp. 41-65, 1962
  2. ^ J. Mellaart, Excavations at Çatal Hüyük, second preliminary report: 1962. Anatolian Studies, vol. 13, pp. 43-103, 1963
  3. ^ J. Mellaart, Excavations at Çatal Hüyük, third preliminary report: 1963. Anatolian Studies, vol. 14, pp. 39-119, 1964
  4. ^ J. Mellaart, Excavations at Çatal Hüyük, fourth preliminary report: 1965. Anatolian Studies, vol. 16, pp. 15-191, 1966
  5. ^ a b c d e Kleiner, Fred S.; Mamiya, Christin J. (2006). Gardner's Art Through the Ages: The Western Perspective: Volume 1 (Twelfth ed.). Belmont, California: Wadsworth Publishing. pp. 12–4. ISBN 0-495-00479-0. 
  6. ^ Kenneth Pearson and Patricia Connor, The Dorak affair, New York, Atheneum, 1968
  7. ^ I. Hodder, Çatalhöyük, Anatolian Archaeology, vol. 4, pp. 8-10, 1998
  8. ^ I. Hodder, Getting to the Bottom of Thing: Çatalhöyük 1999, Anatolian Archaeology, vol. 5, pp. 4-7, 1999
  9. ^ I. Hodder, Çatalhöyük, Anatolian Archaeology, vol. 8, pp. 5-7, 2002
  10. ^ I. Hodder, A New Phase of Excavation at Çatalhöyük, Anatolian Archaeology, vol. 9, pp. 9-11, 2003
  11. ^ A bird’s eye view - of a leopard’s spots. The Çatalhöyük ‘map’ and the development of cartographic representation in prehistory. Anatolian Studies 56, 2006, pp. 1-16. Published by The British Institute of Archaeology at Ankara
  12. ^ Leften Stavros Stavrianos (1991). A Global History from Prehistory to the Present. New Jersey, USA: Prentice Hall. ISBN 0-13-357005-3. http://books.google.com/?id=MKhe6qNva10C&q=paleolithic+society&dq=paleolithic+society.  Pages 9-13
  13. ^ R Dale Gutrie (2005). The Nature of Paleolithic art. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. ISBN 0-226-31126-0. http://books.google.com/?id=3u6JNwMyMCEC&printsec=frontcover#PPA420,M1.  Page 420-422
  14. ^ Museum of Antiquites web site (accessed February 13, 2008).
  15. ^ Mellaart, James (1967). Catal Huyuk: A Neolithic Town in Anatolia. McGraw-Hill. pp. 181. 
  16. ^ Mellaart (1967), 180.
  17. ^ Balter, Michael (2005). The Goddess and the Bull. New York: Free Press. pp. 127. ISBN 0-7432-4360-9. 
  18. ^ Hodder, Ian (2005). "New finds and new interpretations at Çatalhöyük". Çatalhöyük 2005 Archive Report. Catalhoyuk Research Project, Institute of Archaeology. http://www.catalhoyuk.com/archive_reports/2005/ar05_01.html. 
  19. ^ Hodder, Ian (2008-01-17). "A Journey to 9000 years ago". http://www.turkishdailynews.com.tr/article.php?enewsid=93856. Retrieved 2008-08-07. 
  20. ^ a b O'Brien, Jeremy "New techniques undermine 'mother goddess' role in the community" Irish Times September 20, 2009 [1]
  21. ^ Masing, Uku (2011). Aarded Tellistes. Tartu, Estonia: Ilmamaa. pp. 209–227. ISBN 978-9985-77-351-2. 
  22. ^ Çatalhöyük: Excavations of a Neolithic Anatolian Höyük - Çatalhöyük Archive Report 2008


Further reading

  • Bailey, Douglass. Prehistoric Figurines: Representation and Corporeality in the Neolithic. New York: Routledge, 2005 (hardcover, ISBN 0-415-33151-X; paperback, ISBN 0-415-33152-8).
  • Balter, Michael. The Goddess and the Bull: Çatalhöyük: An Archaeological Journey to the Dawn of Civilization. New York: Free Press, 2004 (hardcover, ISBN 0-7432-4360-9); Walnut Creek, CA: Left Coast Press, 2006 (paperback, ISBN 1-59874-069-5). A highly condensed version was published in The Smithsonian Magazine, May 2005.
  • Dural, Sadrettin. "Protecting Catalhoyuk: Memoir of an Archaeological Site Guard." Contributions by Ian Hodder. Translated by Duygu Camurcuoglu Cleere. Walnut Creek, CA: Left Coast Press, 2007. ISBN 978-1-59874-050-9.
  • Hodder, Ian. "Women and Men at Çatalhöyük," Scientific American Magazine, January 2004 (update V15:1, 2005).
  • Hodder, Ian. The Leopard's Tale: Revealing the Mysteries of Çatalhöyük. London; New York: Thames & Hudson, 2006 (hardcover, ISBN 0-500-05141-0). (The UK title of this work is Çatalhöyük: The Leopard's Tale.)
  • Mallett, Marla, "The Goddess from Anatolia: An Updated View of the Catak Huyuk Controversy," in Oriental Rug Review, Vol. XIII, No. 2 (December 1992/January 1993).
  • Mellaart, James. Çatal Hüyük: A Neolithic Town in Anatolia. London: Thames & Hudson, 1967; New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1967.
  • On the Surface: Çatalhöyük 1993–95, edited by Ian Hodder. Cambridge: McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research and British Institute of Archaeology at Ankara, 1996 (ISBN 0-9519420-3-4).
  • Todd, Ian A. Çatal Hüyük in Perspective. Menlo Park, CA: Cummings Pub. Co., 1976 (ISBN 0-8465-1958-5; ISBN 0-8465-1957-7).

External links

Coordinates: 37°40′03″N 32°49′42″E / 37.6675°N 32.82833°E / 37.6675; 32.82833

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