Monday, September 30, 2013

History mystery: Catal Huyuk A Stone Age Settlement -2

Reed matting covered the centre of the floor. On two sides of the room, at the northern end, raised platforms covered with mats served as sofas and workbenches during the day as beds at night. The discovery of traces of material suggests that felt was used to make bedding. The platforms had one further use – they also acted as family sepulchers. The plaster surface of platforms was broken open to allow the burial of bones beneath them, 1.5m to 1.8m (5ft to 6ft) below the surface. The dead were buried with funerary gifts such as armlets, bracelets, copper beads, necklaces, obsidian mirrors, and weapons, as well as a wide variety of baskets and wooden vessels, which suggests a belief in life after death.

Their bodies were laid to rest in a contracted position inside the platform, which was then plastered over again. More than half of the bodies found at Catal Huyuk were of young children. Each platform seems to have been the burial place of a nuclear family. In several cases the latest burial was of a mature adult male whose interment was followed by the abandonment of the house, which probably then became an ancestral shrine. The contents of each house were generally the same: the remains of food and matting; vessels made of pottery, wood, and occasionally stone; and beads, tools, and weapons made of obsidian – a glassy and extremely hard volcanic rock – or more rarely, from flint.

The people of Catal Huyuk kept domesticated dogs to guard their houses and, as one wall-painting shows, for sheep herding and for hunting. Human teeth from the site indicate that meat made up a large part of their diet; there is little evidence of the worn teeth that are prevalent among people who subsist mainly on cereals. The meat came from domestic stock and wild game. The number of bones found suggests that mutton was their main protein, supplemented by other meats and fish. From wall-paintings as well as bones, it is clear that the Catal Huyuk residents hunted wild goats, horses, and cattle, as well as wild boar and deer. Leopards, onagers (a species of wild ass), lions, gazelles, bears, and even wild cats were tracked down and killed for their skins.

Deposits of grain of different types suggest a fairly advanced system of cultivation and a variety of cereal foods. Grain was sometimes made into bread, but was more commonly served toasted, or in soup. The farmers also grew vegetables, and there is evidence that they processed oil from a type of mustard seed called shepherd’s purse. Foods eaten regularly by them included acorns, capers, crab apples, grapes, pistachios, and walnuts, gathered from swampy areas near the settlement and the forests on the edge of the Konya plain. Recent excavations have revealed that tubers were also an important element of their diet, including the marsh Scirpus, a bulrush that grew locally.

Apart from food, the Konya plain had few natural resources beyond reeds and clay. Virtually everything else was imported. Timber – juniper, oak, and pine – was probably floated down the Carsamba river from the Taurus Mountains about 80km (50 miles) to the south, then hauled to the settlement by teams of oxen. Copper and lead also came from the Taurus Mountains. The obsidian used for implements such as arrowheads and knife-blades came from Cappadocia to the north-east. Sea-shells from the Mediterranean were also found at the site, along with Syrian flints, and a fragment of Syrian pottery.

The Catal Huyuk craftsmen used many other materials not available in the local environment – they must have imported pigments such as red and yellow ochre; hard stone for toolmaking; limestone, shale, and aragonite; and minerals such as carnelian and blue and green apatite, which were fashioned into beads. These finds are evidence of trade with faraway places. The discovery of Catal Huyuk pottery in Cilicia, 160km (100 miles) to the south-east, suggests that the cultural influence of the settlement extended well beyond the Konya plain, perhaps even into the mountains surrounding it, across an area that may have been as large as 30,000 km2 (11,580 sq miles).

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