Wednesday, October 2, 2013

History mystery: Catal Huyuk A Stone Age Settlement -3

It seems likely that the stability of the community at Catal Huyuk, and its links with other communities, owed much to a common religion. The shrines in the houses were elaborately decorated in three ways; with wall-paintings, plaster reliefs (frequently painted), and silhouettes etched into the plaster. The wall-paintings range from simple red panels and geometric patterns to complex designs featuring symbolic figures and human hand shapes. Others depict vultures hovering over human corpses, a man defending himself from a vulture, a man carrying two human heads, a deer hunts, and an erupting volcano with a settlement in the foreground. Two of the shrines show bull-baiting and hunting dances. The plaster reliefs explore a limited number of themes, which are frequently repeated.

The most common figure is that of a goddess shown in the posture of childbirth, with her legs and arms lifted. Birth is a recurrent motif: there is a large female figure giving birth to a bull’s head, and next to it is another female giving birth to a ram’s head. In this second relief, three superimposed bulls’ heads appear below the ram’s head. Whether these represent previous births, or the ‘heraldic’ supporters of the goddess, is still not clear. Bull’s heads appear in a great many of the buildings. In some cases their horns are real; in others they are moulded out of clay and plaster. The bull almost certainly represents the male element which, in the reliefs, is never portrayed in human form. The female element is represented in various forms apart from the figure of the goddess. Some figures are pregnant; others are slim and elegant. One particularly skilful image represents a woman whose arms and legs fit into sockets, like a child’s doll. Many of the figures have no faces, suggesting that masks or headdresses may have been hung on pegs above the heads. The third form of decoration, the silhouette style, depicts bulls, deer heads with antlers in profile, wild boars, and cows. Bulls’ heads also appear with offerings laid beneath them, ranging from precious objects and weapons to cuts of meat and, in one case, a human head in a basket.

An axact interpretation of this religious imagery is impossible. In general terms it seems to celebrate the cycle of birth and death, a theme maintained in ritual objects found at the site. Small statuettes - most less than 20cm (8 in) tall and made of stone, though some are of baked clay – depict gods and demigods. They were found in the shrines, placed in groups, obviously to suggest some kind of connection between each set of figures. Several statuettes represent a bearded man, probably a god of hunting, sitting astride crudely carved animals. But the most remarkable sculpture is of the female deity seated on an animal throne, giving birth to a human child. The richness of the ritual imagery at Catal Huyuk hints at a high level of religious consciousness. Its nameless deities are the prototypes of later Anatolian gods and goddesses associated with birds, leopards, bulls, and deer. So where did Catal Huyuk’s original settlers come from? On the south coast of Anatolia, traces have been found of the late Palaeolithic (Early Stone Age) culture that preceded the civilization of Catal Huyuk.

 In the caves of Kara’In, Okuzlu’In, and the rock shelter of Beldibi, there are wall-paintings and engravings of bulls, deer, ibex, and small human figures which may be the precursors of the art at Catal Huyuk. It is possible that the first builders of Catal Huyuk abandoned these caves and journeyed up to the plateau to found a new settlement. The region continued to prosper for several thousand years. During the Early Bronze Age, there was a great increase in the number of settlements established in the Konya plain. By 3000 BC, cities began to emerge, but by then the descendents of the Catal Huyuk people had moved on to other sites. Strangely, shortly before 2000 BC, the region was virtually abandoned. A tiny race of the Catal Huyuk culture does, however, survive to this day. The simple geometric patterns painted on the walls of the Catal ?Huyuk houses – layers of red panels, with the imprints of human hands – can be seen in six modern villages near Catal Huyuk: a creative idea which, astonishingly, has survived for 9,000 years.

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