Just a short post this week. We are halfway through the excavation season on the East Mound and the weather is extremely hot at the moment. There are now burials being uncovered in all three excavation areas on the East Mound (North, South and TPC), which means the human remains team is occupied with excavating, processing and recording the skeletal material as quickly and efficiently as possible. In the North Area we have already lifted five Roman/Byzantine burials, while a series of complicated Neolithic burial sequences are still in the process of being uncovered. In the South Area the archaeologists have begun to excavate burial cuts beneath platforms in several Neolithic houses, and in the TPC Area at the top of the East Mound several post-Chalcolithic burials have already been recovered and a few new ones have been exposed.
The western limit of excavation (LOE) of the TPC Area trench overlaps the eastern edge of James Mellaart’s original excavation trench, which means the excavators often encounter walls and other features previously exposed during the 1960s. This week we encountered a post-Chalcolithic burial of a child which had been truncated by Mellaart’s LOE (see picture above). The 1960s excavation removed the upper half of the body, leaving only the legs, feet and partial pelvis in situ. Mellaart rarely mentions the post-Neolithic burials in his excavation reports and, like many archaeologists of his time, he wasn’t terribly interested in keeping them for study because he was only concerned with the Neolithic occupation of the site. There are no post-Neolithic remains in Mellaart’s extant skeletal assemblage (described here) and it seems likely that the “Late” burials he encountered ended up in the spoil heap.
Today most researchers treat the archaeological material (both cultural and biological) excavated from multi-period sites equally, regardless of whether or not it is of primary interest to current investigators. Conducting archaeological research entails the destruction of the site being studied. As such, it is essential that archaeologists record their findings in a thorough and consistent manner so that no information is lost and that the data are retained for future generations. While Mellaart’s work at Çatalhöyük in the 1960s was in many ways ahead of its time, it’s a shame to think of all the material and information lost due to a narrow-minded focus on a single period. Perhaps, though, archaeologists in the future might recover and reunite the upper half of this child’s body with the lower half now in storage in the human remains lab.