A journey to 9,000 years ago
ISTANBUL - Turkish Daily News | 1/17/2008 12:00:00 AM | VERCİHAN ZİFLİOĞLU
Çatalhöyük Research Project Director Ian Hodder says goddess icons do not, contrary to assumptions, point to a matriarchal society in Çatalhöyük. Findings in Çatalhöyük show that men and women had equal social status. According to Hodder, who also has been following the Göbeklitepe excavations in Şanlıurfa, meticulous archaeological excavation in southeastern Anatolia can change all scientific archaeological assumptions
Clues as to when mankind really began living in urban patterns lie in the Neolithic layers of Çatalhöyük.
Çatalhöyük is within the borders of Cumra district in the central Anatolian city of Konya and is only 10 kilometers away from the district. The discovery of Çatalhöyük by English researcher James Mellart in the beginning of the 1950s had vast repercussions for the scientific world. Mellart was trying to prove that the oldest agricultural towns were located not only in the eastern Mediterranean but also in central Anatolia when he ran into a big surprise. As a result of research conducted, Çatalhöyük was discovered to feature a permanent settlement pattern thousands of years ago. The surprise also raised many questions: Why were all the buildings attached? Why were the people able to enter their houses only through the roof?
As Mellart continued his research until 1965, many layers were discovered. But from then on research stopped until 1993. That was when a protégé of Mellart, Professor Ian Hodder from the University of London resumed excavation work researching the most important layers of the ancient city using different techniques and methods.
While on a short visit to Turkey Hodder spoke to the Turkish Daily News about the recent findings and excavations in Çatalhöyük. Hodder said the male icons found during the excavations negate the belief that Çatalhöyük was a matriarchal society. According to Hodder, pointing to the symbolic ties between Hittites and Çatalhöyük, possible excavations in southeastern Anatolia would shake scientific archaeological assumptions.
Research into Çatalhöyük's DNA
“When I was a student, Professor Mellart used to tell us about working in Çatalhöyük. It was legendary to me. Working in Çatalhöyük was my dream,” said Hodder and added that Mellart's basic findings are essential. Yet, Hodder and his team make use of technology.
“We are analyzing DNA. We check bones and teeth to find out about their eating habits in those days,” said Hodder adding that such research is very detailed and it takes a long time to acquire scientific data.
Hodder thinks that archaeology is like forensic medicine as it makes use of various methods from natural and positive sciences to answer questions like “Why are residential areas so large?” “Why did people choose to live collectively?” “Why did they use the roofs and ladders to enter the houses?” and “Why did they have burial sites on the ground floor of their houses?”
“Çatalhöyük's societal life and relations with its neighbors are the most important parts of our research. With this research, we are aiming to shed light on the ways of settling which took place 9,000 years ago.”
Hodder said findings point to ties between Çatalhöyük, Hittites and other ancient civilizations of Anatolia, since bulls and strong women icons in Çatalhöyük also carry great symbolic importance in Hittite culture.
Hodder said Çatalhöyük has come to be identified with the icon of a goddess, adding, “Mellart drew public attention to the female icon he found during excavation. Therefore, Çatalhöyük came to be identified with the goddess. Female icons, male icons and phallus symbols were found during excavation. When we look at what they eat and drink and at their social statues, we see that men and women had the same social status. There was a balance of power. Another example is the skulls found. If one's social status was of high importance in Çatalhöyük, the body and head were separated after death. The number of female and male skulls found during the excavations is almost equal.”
18 mysterious layers of Çatalhöyük
A total of 18 layers have been excavated in Çatalhöyük thus far. “Research shows that cattle were not domesticated on the lowest layers. Domestication exists on upper layers. Symbolism lessens on upper layers. Buildings are constructed more suited for production. The difference between the layers is huge,” said Hodder.
Hodder said among the 18 layers, the fifth, sixth and seventh layers are the most important ones, as early art and burial sites are observed the most in these layers. According to Hodder, Çatalhöyük people are devoted very much to their ancestors.
Leading the excavations for 14 years now, Hodder aims to make it 25 years looking for an answer to symbols and permanent settling. Hodder plans to open a Çatalhöyük Museum with support from Konya Metropolitan Municipality. Hodder said Çatalhöyük is an obligatory part of the school activity curriculum in California and every year more than 600 foreign and local children visit the excavations in groups of 20.
Hodder said this year excavations in Çatalhöyük yielded bear patterned friezes and Anatolia is one of the world's richest archaeological sites, adding, “Anatolia has great importance when it comes to the spread of culture throughout the world. Findings show that agriculture, settlements, crockery production and various figures spread through Europe from Anatolia.”
The secret of the world lies in southeastern Anatolia
“Southeastern Turkey has great archaeological importance. If comprehensive excavations are conducted, we may come across findings that will shock the scientific world. We can even obtain data that would rewrite the science of archaeology. As a matter of fact, excavations in the 11,500 year-old Neolithic residential areas of Göbeklitepe, which lies 15 kilometers northeast of Şanlıurfa, radically changed our knowledge.”
Before the Göbeklitepe excavations it was widely believed that the area stretching from east Mediterranean Lebanon to Jordan experienced an agricultural revolution, said Hodder. Yet, the Göbeklitepe excavations tore this argument to shreds. Hodder said the agricultural revolution began much earlier in southeastern Anatolia, and recent findings show that the transition to an agricultural society began in more than just one place.
Hodder said the male icon and headless bird icon found in Göbeklitepe share similarities with those found in Çatalhöyük. Unlike Çatalhöyük, male symbolism is more prominent in Göbeklitepe. Male sexual organs were drawn on animal icons found in Göbeklitepe, which leads to the complete disposal of the idea that agriculture is related to female and goddess images, said Hodder.
I. Ian Hodder was born in 1948 in the United Kingdom. He went to University of London, where he became James Mellart's protégé. He completed his dissertation on “Spatial Analysis on Archaeology” in 1975 at Cambridge University. After working as a lecturer from 1974 to 1977 at Leeds University, he returned to Cambridge and became a Professor of Archaeology in 1996. In 1999, he started working at Stanford University's Department of Cultural and Social Anthropology. Hodder has written extensively on Neolithic Europe, ethno-archaeology and symbolic and structural archaeology. Hodder has been leading the excavations in Çatalhöyük since 1993. The Turkish Culture Ministry awarded Hodder for his contributions to Turkish archaeology in 2002.