Thursday, September 26, 2013

History mystery: Catal Huyuk A Stone Age Settlement

Catal Huyuk  settlement
A mysterious mound excavated in Turkey in the 1960s was to revolutionize archaeological thinking. For a large community had flourished on the ancient site 2000 years before the onset of civilization in Egypt and Mesopotamia. In 1961 a team of british archaeologists led by James Mellaart traveled to the Konya plain in Anatolia, to site about 320km (200 miles) south of the Turkish capital. The purpose of the expedition was to excavate an artificial mound, known in Turkey as a buyuk, which rose beside the Carsamba river more than 1,000m (3,281 ft) above sea level. As the digging proceeded, it became clear that this man-made hill – Catal Huyuk – was the site of the largest, most important, and most fascinating Neolithic (Late Stone Age) settlement ever discovered in the Middle East. There were substantial dwelling – houses, cult-centres or shrines, and evidence of art and crafts, and of extensive trade – mostly in local produce and artifacts, but also in more exotic articles.

 Catal Huyuk Religious Figurines

catal huyuk figurines
Initially, radiocarbon dating placed the foundation of the settlement between 6250 and 5400 BC. But using a method called dendrochronology, counting rings in tree trunks to double-check radiocarbon dating; it became clear that it was established even earlier-between 7200 and 7100 BC. Catal Huyuk consists, in fact, of two separate eastern and western mounds, divided by a branch of the River Carsamba. Archaeologists have concentrated on the Neolithic eastern mound; the settlement shifted to the western mound in the succeeding Chalcolithic period. Only a small section of the 13ha (32 acre) eastern mound was excavated between 1961 and 1965, but since 1993 a large international team has expanded the investigations. At the time of its discovery, Catal Huyuk was unique. In recent years, similar contemporary sites have been discovered, including Umm Dabaghiyah in northern Iraq, Aagheh in northern Iran, Bouqras and Abu Hureyra in Syria, and Can Hasan, Suberde, and Erbaba in Turkey itself. Nut none of these settlements has shown quite the cultural and technical achievements of Catal Huyyk – the site which gave archaeologists the first, tantalizing glimpse of an early farming settlement whose people cultivated cereals, crafted religious figurines, and traded with distant communities.

 Catal Huyuk Excavation Site

History mystery: Catal Huyuk A Stone Age Settlement
Mellaart’s excavations of the eastern mound uncovered one complete block of houses and shrines, part of another, similar block, and part of a third block which contained only houses. To the 1960s team, the shrines - rooms cluttered with relics such as bulls’ horns and statuettes – seemed clearly distinguishable from the houses. But recent investigations have shown that most houses had domestic areas with hearths, beds, and storage bins in their southern section, and ritual features such as elaborate wall decoration in the northern section. Each mud-brick house was surrounded by walls built directly up against its neighboring buildings. It remained detached, though, and so could be demolished and rebuilt easily. Clusters of box-like, rectangular houses formed vast blocks, like cells in a honeycomb, interspersed with courtyards.

Shrine Room of Catal Huyuk

Shrine room of catal huyuk
A system of gutters moulded from plaster took the rainwater of the roof into the nearest courtyard and kept the house dry. There were no streets, so there were no front doors – houses were entered via the roof. The reasons for using this method of building remain a puzzle. Evidence from other settlements in Iraq, Iran, Syria and elsewhere in Turkey suggests that roof-entry may have been widespread in the Middle East in the 8th and 7th millennia BC. It may have been the best way to protect food and portable property from scavenging animals and light-fingered neighbours. There are 14 known levels of building in Catal Huyuk spanning 800 years of cultural development, yet the basic design of the houses remains virtually unchanged throughout that period.

Each house consisted of a main room, generally measuring about 6m (20ft) by 4m (13ft), with a storeroom along one side. On the roof was a small, ramshackle extra storey built of sticks and plaster which served as additional storage space and as a porch. Wooden stairs or a ladder led from the roof of the kitchen area positioned at the southern end of the house. This consisted of a hearth or ovens and a fuel store. Cooking pots were kept in holes in the floor, and smoke escaped through a hole in the roof. Some of the pots contained ancient ‘pot-boilers’ – stones heated in the fire than dropped into the pots to cook their contents.

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