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Skeleton 19593: a Neolithic adolescent found in the room fill of Building 114.

One of the last Neolithic skeletons excavated in 2012 was the body of a young adolescent (skeleton 19593) found in a side room of Building 114. Unlike most Neolithic burials at Çatalhöyük, however, it was not found tightly flexed within a burial cut under a platform; this individual was found instead on top of a floor under layers of infill containing the disarticulated bones of animals and other humans. The positioning of the body and the lack of a grave cut suggests it was simply dumped on the floor along with the rest of the infill. Its cranium is missing but the lower jaw remains in anatomical position. A disarticulated foot lies above its right shoulder and another foot lies next to the body.

When houses at Çatalhöyük fell out of use they were typically “closed” in a standardized fashion: wooden posts and other useful building materials were salvaged; the upper heights of the walls were knocked down and the building was filled with rubble and other infill in order to make a solid, level foundation for the next building, which was typically built directly above the previous one. In the later levels, many “closed” houses appear to have been intentionally burned. In some cases we find objects placed on the floors of these closed buildings which appear to have been intentionally left behind; these have often been interpreted as “closure” or “abandonment” deposits. Such deposits may consist of clusters of animal bones, projectile points, pottery and sometimes disarticulated human remains. In the case of Building 114, however, we have an entire articulated body (minus the cranium) that seems to have been part of a closure deposit which also includes the bones of other humans, as well as the remnants of several animals including aurochs (wild cattle) and pig.

The discovery of skeleton 19593 raises some interesting questions about the behaviour of Neolithic peoples at Çatalhöyük: were the death of the adolescent and the closure of the building unrelated events? That is, did they just happen to have a recently dead body lying around ready to be thrown into the side room, or – more disturbingly – was this individual’s life intentionally ended as part of the closure and infilling of Building 114? We haven’t had time yet to fully examine the bones of skeleton 19593, but perhaps they might reveal something about the circumstances in which this individual died and, furthermore, about the way bodies – and parts of bodies – were used to mark the end of a building’s life cycle.