Catal Huyuk

Catal Huyuk
Neolithic Site on the Konya
Plateau in Turkey
By Susan Daly
Catal Huyuk is the oldest and the
largest Neolithic city found, so far. It
dates to 8,000 years BCE and was
occupied continuously for 376
generations. No specific reasons for its
abandonment have been found but it
may have just gotten too high for
comfortable living on top of the mound.
Mrs. Daly at Catal Huyuk
Rebecca Daly, a bone analyst at Catal
The population of the eastern mound is
estimated to have been up to 10,000
people but the average population is
believed to have been between 5,000
and 8,000 people. Life expectancy was
very short by modern standards, with
males living to 34 and females living to
around 28 years.
The height of this mound
The East Mound dig
The Catal Huyuk site is believed to be
haunted by local people. This may
explain why no other people settled
here after the original builders left the
site. Local people farm around the base
of the mound but had done no digging
on the mound because of the belief that
it was haunted by ghosts.
The dig house compound
Catal Huyuk was occupied from 8,000
BCE for about 1600 years. During this
period, the climate was very different
than it is now. More rainfall meant that
these people farmed extensively with
productive fields located about 8
kilometers away from their homes. This
required a lot of work to walk back and
forth to farm.
This site was first discovered in 1958
and excavations started in 1961 led by
James Mellaart. Mellaart was banned
from Turkey in 1965 after some
artifacts were found to be missing .
The site remained closed until 1993
when Dr. Ian Hodder from University of
Cambridge and Stanford University
began a 25 year project.
Modern archaeology involves more
than just digging. Under Dr. Hodder,
many aspects of life at Catal Huyuk are
examined as each layer of soil reveals
pottery, animal tools and bones, shells,
seeds, wall paintings, and food
remnants. Many different experts
contribute their expertise to interpret life
in this Neolithic village.
Faunal analysis lab
A modern goat skull for reference
Specialists in faunal analysis examine
the remains of animals found here to
see differences and similarities
between the modern animals in this
area and what lived and died here
during its occupation. Domesticated
animals did exist and that was a big
change from nomadic life. This also
helps us to understand what their diet
was like.
A section of an earlier dig
During the period of 1961 -1965,
James Mellaart excavated nearly 200
buildings using 6 or 7 archaeologists
as supervisors but with all digging done
by local laborers. He believed that
these people worshipped a goddess
figure since many female figurines
were found here.
An artists reconstruction of the site.
These buildings were accessed
through a ladder from the roof, similar
to the Pueblos found the American
southwest. Each building was separate
but built right next to the next building
with no paths or streets. It is not clear if
this was for defense or simply the way
people preferred to live. The hole in the
roof also let out the smoke from
cooking fires.
Flotation area for dirt from the site.
Flotation involves sending a small
amount of the sites soil through water
to allow the dirt to float away while
heavier objects in the soil are left in the
bottom of the catch basin to be
collected and later identified. This is
another new technique to find more
information from an archaeological site.
Obsidian flints
Obsidian is volcanic glass and would
have been a trade good coming from
nearby Cappodocia.There were 3
volcanoes whose eruptions
approximately 1 million years ago
produced the obsidian found at Catal.
Obsidian is very sharp and requires a
lot of work to make into knives and axe
Under one of the dig tents looking outside.
The “ Finds
Room “ where
artifacts wait
to be logged in
and examined.
In 1993, when Dr. Hodder was allowed
to reopen this site, the Turkish
government wanted to insure that no
other objects would be missing so
everything found is catalogued and
carefully examined before being sent to
Ankara. There is a Turkish official on
the site at all times to make sure that
nothing disappears again.
Finds which have
been washed , air
drying outside the
Finds lab.
More Finds
The Pottery
Crate storage
The dig season here is from mid June
to late August, the hottest time of the
year. There might be as many as 100120 archaeologists at work on different
aspects of Neolithic life here in any
season. The work is dirty and very hot
since the average temperature here
runs around 95-100 degrees daily.
A Map showing
the dig sites.
Local women sorting finds at the dig house.
To give visitors a better understanding
of life here, a replica of a typical house
has been built. This allows visitors to
see how Neolithic people would have
lived. Local children are invited every
spring to come and learn about their
history by spending a day here being
an “ junior archaeologist". This should
help the kids to value their own history
and protect it.
The Experimental House
Inside the experimental house
The ladder is on a small platform and
the oven and fire were placed close to
the opening to allow the smoke to go
out the hole in the roof. In the winter,
these houses would have been very
smoky, because a covering kept out the
snow and cold but also kept in the
Food preparation area
A local children’s program teaches kids about the site and
they leave their hand prints when they finish.
Because Mellaart excavated so quickly,
his scrap pile often contains objects his
workers missed. The local children get
to sort through some of this pile when
they practice being an archaeologist.
Mellaart scrap pile
A wall mural in the experimental house
A wall mural found here
Storage bins in the experimental house.
This mural shows an auroch, like a modern
bull with large horns.
A bull head mounted on the wall and another
wall painting in the experimental house.
An auroch head mounted on the wall. This is
a replica.
Archaeologists at work
Conserving a fragile object so it can be
safely moved.
Another house being excavated. You can
see the oven and the platform for the ladder
on the left.
Lots of archaeology is simply tedious and
time consuming removal of dirt.
Several homes being excavated.
The height of the walls is due to their
destruction when a head of the
household died. People destroyed the
old home and moved when a significant
man or woman died . They buried their
dead in the floor of their homes. The
bodies are in a fetal position. Some key
people ‘s heads were kept in the home
to serve in rituals. Some skulls were
plastered and painted with red ochre.
A skeleton found in a house.
An artists view
of the floor
burial at Catal
Huyuk. The red
comes from red
ochre applied
after death.
An infant burial.
The baby is
wearing 2
turquoise bead
bracelets , one
on each wrist.
Another burial in the floor
Examining a burial in the floor
The following slides show you everyday
objects found at Catal Huyuk.
How do these objects help us to better
understand what life was like for
Neolithic people?
Do some objects look familiar ?
Bones used for tools
A highly polished obsidian mirror
A mural showing 2 animals.
2 small clay figurines.
The work of sorting objects.
A single clay object.
A large clay pot
which may have
been used for
A pottery bowl
with a tripod
A bone & pottery hook and eye.
This female figurine was what Mellaart
considered a “ goddess” .Many have been
found. They may have been part of religion.
The next slide shows a map of Turkey
and the location of Catal Huyuk. It also
shows three areas where trade took
place. Shells from the coast and
obsidian from Cappodocia, as well as
trade with the Red Sea are shown.
Catal which means mound in Turkish is
a very large archaeological site with a
wealth of information to teach us about
Neolithic life. These people were not so
different from us. They lived and
worked at farming and herding. They
had to heat their homes in the winter
and keep them cool in the hot Turkish
summers. They cared about their
families and buried their dead with
objects they valued.
What will you remember most about
Catal Huyuk?