February 12, 2000
I'm at Çatalhöyük, (pronounced CHAT-tall HOO-yuck), one of the oldest human settlements in the known world.
The ruins, buried in a mound at the top of a hill overlooking the Konya plain, date to the Neolithic Era. When you think old, like really old -- as in the beginning of humankind -- you probably think of southern Africa.
Archaeologists have found that Çatalhöyük was a city of "firsts". It was the first to have irrigation. The inhabitants grew barley, lentils, peas, and two kinds of cultivated wheat. They also collected apples, hackberries, almonds, and pistachios. Sounds yummy! Maybe the food was a good reason for them to create the world's earliest known ceramic salt-shaker.
What is most fascinating to me is how the people of Çatalhöyük lived. They were sophisticated in ways that I didn't think Stone Age people could be. The 5000 people here lived in houses, set close to each other, and they entered through holes in the roofs. They had shrines with Bucrania (plaster-covered bull skulls) and statuettes, like a fertility goddess figure that's preserved in the museum on-site. They painted on the walls: they drew figures of men and women, bulls, rams, and deer. Later on, they drew geometric figures and pictures of birds like vultures and herons. To paint, they used natural dyes, like red, yellow, and brown from iron oxides, blue from azurite and green from malachite. They also plastered their walls to create a nice surface. They buried their dead, sometimes underneath the houses, with necklaces, pendants and rings for the children. They were the first people in Anatolia to make and use fired-clay pottery. They also worked with materials like obsidian and flint and even made textiles out of plant fibers and hides. Maybe my images of a bunch of cavemen grunting are out-of-date. While Çatalhöyük today looks like little more than a big mound of dirt with some walls inside, the remains of this older-than-old city give us clues into the ways the earliest human societies developed.
p.s. - Please e-mail me at ...firstname.lastname@example.org
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