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Çatalhöyük

Çatalhöyük after the early excavations by James Mellaart

Çatalhöyük is a large Neolithic “town” with a history of 9.400 years and was inhabited by approximately 8.000 people. In this big town without streets, people walked around on the roofs and entered their homes through the openings in the roofs. These people created wonderful works of art, as can be seen from the murals, reliefs, and sculptures inside their homes that have survived for thousands of years. The works of art found in Çatalhöyük shed light on the early periods when the people from Asia Minor began to live in the city.

Çatalhöyük was first discovered by British archaeologists James Mellaart (1925-2012) and David French in 1958. The first excavations were carried out by the British Archaeological Institute between 1961 and 1965. It consists of two mounds side by side in east and west directions. On the eastern mound, there are 18 layers of neolithic settlements dated between 7.400 BC and 6200 BC. On the western mound, there are Chalcolithic layers dated between 6.200 BC and 5.200 BC.

Illustration of Çatalhöyük. Çatalhöyük Archaeological Site, Konya, Turkey.

Illustration of Çatalhöyük. Çatalhöyük Archaeological Site, Konya, Turkey.

Thousands of people lived in Çatalhöyük, which is one of the oldest towns in history. Although the city has a regular structure, the existence of any central system or administration that keeps this population together is unknown. In addition, during the archaeological excavations, no fortification structure was found to form a borderline and protect Çatalhöyük. This shows us that the area was not attacked and that the people living here were not concerned about “defense”.

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  • Çatalhöyük is a large Neolithic “town” with a history of 9.400 years and home to approximately 8.000 people. In this big town without streets, people were walking around on the roofs and entering their homes through the openings in the roofs. These people created wonderful works of art, as can be seen from the murals, reliefs and sculptures inside their homes that have survived thousands of years ago.
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  • This design was inspired by a 7.700-year-old deer-hunting scene discovered at the neolithic site of Catalhoyuk (modern-day Konya, Turkey).
  • Çatalhöyük is a large Neolithic “town” with a history of 9.400 years and home to approximately 8.000 people.
The mud-brick houses of catalhoyuk

The mud-brick houses were clustered together, and there were no outside doors. People went in and out of the houses through openings in the ceilings.

Çatalhöyük after the early excavations by James Mellaart

: Çatalhöyük after the early excavations by James Mellaart and his team. It became a trading center, and its craftworkers produced a range of goods, such as weapons, textiles, clay figures and metal trinkets, which they exchanged for raw materials.

In Çatalhöyük, families lived in small adobe houses located in a dense urban fabric. The people living in Çatalhöyük used their homes much differently than we do now. The houses were planned separately, and one house was built next to the other. Each house had its own walls, and there were no streets in Çatalhöyük because of the adjacent walls of the houses. Walking on flat roofs was the only way to get around.

The entrance to the houses was by going down a portable ladder through an opening in the roof. Daily life was probably spent both on rooftops and inside the houses, despite poor lighting and ventilation conditions. Each house had a room and a warehouse. Inside the rooms, there are platforms (benches) slightly raised from the ground and niches on the walls. They used these platforms for sleeping, sitting, and doing their daily works. They buried their dead together with their grave gifts under the platforms.

A number of tools and jewelry made of seashells, bones and stones have been discovered as burial gifts. The vultures and headless human figures seen in some wall paintings are also thought to be related to the burial customs.

A reconstruction of one of four Çatalhöyük houses

A reconstruction of one of four Çatalhöyük houses. On the wall there are frescoes of what look like vultures; some scholars believe that dead bodies were subject to excarnation which means that their flesh was stripped from the body to leave the skeleton.

The walls of the houses in Çatalhöyük were plastered, and after the plaster was painted white, wall paintings were made in red, black, and yellow tones. These paintings are a continuation of the tradition started by the Paleolithic men who painted on the cave walls. Among the depictions painted on the walls, geometric motifs, handprints, human and animal figures (vulture, leopard, wild deer), hunting and dance scenes that may have been made for good hunting, and wall paintings reflecting the natural environment come to the forefront.

The painted leopard reliefs from Çatalhöyük

The painted leopard reliefs from Çatalhöyük, c. 6.500-6.000 BC, now on display in the Museum of Anatolian Civilizations, Ankara, Turkey.

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  • Catalhöyük is a large Neolithic town with a history of 9.400 years and home to approximately 8.000 people. These people created wonderful works of art, as can be seen from the murals, reliefs and sculptures inside their homes.
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Çatalhöyük, Mural painting of a red bull chased by hunters. (c. 7.500 – 5.000 BC)

The reconstructed fresco of an original hunting scene found at Çatalhöyük

The reconstructed fresco of an original hunting scene found at Çatalhöyük. Reconstructed houses, Çatalhöyük Archaeological Site, Konya, Turkey.

Another type of decoration used apart from the paintings is the depictions made in relief and the bull heads and horns placed on the platforms in the buildings. There are reliefs made by plastering real bull heads with clay on the walls of many houses. In buildings that are thought to be sacred places, bull heads are found more densely and sometimes arranged in rows. In the archaeological excavations, it was determined that the heads of the bulls, which were plastered with clay, were painted with red ocher.

Bull bucrania, corner installation in Building 77, Çatalhöyük

Bull bucrania, corner installation in Building 77, Çatalhöyük.

The small figurines found in Çatalhöyük excavations give us important information about the beginning of the Mother Goddess cult and the religious beliefs of the period. These small statues made of baked clay and stone are 5-15 cm high.

The female figures are fat and plump, with big hips. They are sometimes depicted as giving birth. These figurines are thought to represent abundance and fertility. Stone or clay axes, plates, figurines of the goddess of fertility, bracelets and necklaces, sharp tools made of bones, arrows and spearheads made of obsidian are the other objects found at Çatalhöyük.

A Neolithic stone sculpture representing Mother Goddess

A Neolithic stone sculpture representing Mother Goddess (?), or the Goddess of Fertility(?), from the site of Çatalhöyük, Museum of Anatolian Civilizations, Ankara, Turkey.

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  • Çatalhöyük is a large Neolithic “town” with a history of 9.400 years and home to approximately 8.000 people. In this big town without streets, people were walking around on the roofs and entering their homes through the openings in the roofs. These people created wonderful works of art, as can be seen from the murals, reliefs and sculptures inside their homes that have survived thousands of years ago.
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