This week I’m tired, grumpy and ready to go home. Excavations on the East Mound finished three days ago and team members have been leaving ever since. One week ago there were over 100 people on site and now there are probably less than 40 (excavations continue on the Chalcolithic West Mound with a different team). Josh and I are the only human remains team members left in the lab, although we were joined yesterday by Michelle Gamble who is continuing her paleopathological analysis of the post-Chalcolithic burials from the East Mound. It’s a strange feeling being on site after the main excavations end and most people have left. It’s like a ghost town around here and while I enjoy the peace, quiet and extra hot water in the showers, my thoughts have shifted towards home. I’ve got one more week left on site, however, and we still have a mountain of skeletal remains to process and inventory. Continue reading
The 2013 excavation season on the East Mound at Çatalhöyük comes to an end this week. The human remains team still has several burials in the process of being excavated, however, and we need to get caught up on the processing and inventorying of the skeletal material before the end of August. Continue reading
While it’s been a much slower season in terms of burials excavated this year, the quality of the finds thus far has been exceptional. One particular burial in Building 52 alone – still in the process of excavation – has already provided a number of very exciting discoveries. When the grave cut in the northwest platform was opened several weeks ago we were confronted with what seemed like a jumble of disarticulated juvenile skulls and other loose bones. As the grave fill was gradually removed, however, it became clear that all of the skulls but one were attached to fully articulated bodies. The first intact body we came across belonged to an infant placed in the northwest part of the grave cut. I’ve already reported on the well-preserved textiles found underneath this infant here. Later, however, as we removed the last of the fabric we realized there was an older child lying directly beneath the infant. It seems the textile was placed between the two bodies but did not appear to wrap around either of them. This second child was also found with a wooden object – possibly a bowl – placed over its head. While Mellaart found a number of wooden household objects during his work at Çatal in the 1960’s, this is the first time such items have been found during the current excavations. Continue reading
A very brief update this week as we are very busy on site of late. Chris is working on the last of the burials in the northeast platform of Building 77, Barbara is excavating a neonate burial in Building 102 and Josh is monitoring several emerging burials in the South Area. Today I started working on removing an infant burial from the northwest platform of Building 52. The infant (in the lower left of the image above) was placed face down in a grave cut that also contained the disarticulated crania of at least five other individuals of various ages. We could see immediately that there were plant fibres as well as soft tissue (more on this in future posts) preserved near the legs and abdomen as a result of the burning in the building, but we weren’t prepared for what we found once we started removing the bones. Continue reading
After a slow start to the season, this week we’re finally seeing some action in the field with several Neolithic skeletons having been uncovered. The first skeleton we dealt with in the North Area was the final burial in a sequence of interments under the northeast platform of Building 52. At Çatalhöyük, the northern and eastern house platforms are the most common locations for burials and they typically contain multiple interments. Once we removed the first burial (an adult) we began to see the disturbed remains of an infant and an older child protruding from the sides and bottom of the grave cut. These earlier burials were disturbed by the grave cut for the adult. The excavators will continue to expose both skeletons this week. Later we removed an adult skeleton from the northeast platform of Building 77, where a number of disturbed burials had already been recovered in 2011 and several more individuals are still waiting to be fully exposed. Continue reading
There’s an eerie calm in the Human Remains lab this week. At this point last season we’d already lifted or were in the process of uncovering a number of burials from all three areas of the site (North, South and TPC). So far this year we’ve only excavated a Neolithic infant burial from the North Area and a post-Chalcolithic adult female burial from the TPC Area. This will change very soon, however, as the excavation team is preparing to open up house platforms in Building 52 in the North Area and Building 80 in the South Area. We can already see the tell-tale oval depressions in the platform surfaces that indicate the presence of burials underneath. I’ve generated a pre-excavation three-dimensional model of the northern platforms in Building 52 (above) and from here onwards we plan on documenting each stage of the excavation process as burials are uncovered. This will enable us to reconstruct the burial sequence under each platform and to produce digitized plans of each skeleton without resorting to the time-consuming process of drawing the skeletons by hand. Continue reading
The core of the human remains team arrived on site last week and we’ve now got the lab set up and ready to go. Excavations will begin in the North and South areas of the mound tomorrow and we expect to encounter human remains straight away in Building 77, as the northeast platform (where a large number of burials were encountered) was only partially excavated in 2011. There are several other areas the excavators will be re-visiting this season (as well as a few new areas) where we also expect to find burials. Continue reading
It’s that time of year again – the start of the 2013 excavation season at Çatalhöyük. We leave for Istanbul tomorrow morning and arrive in Konya the following day. Digging will commence on the 25th of June and the human remains team expects to be very busy excavating and analyzing human remains from a number of areas on the East Mound. I’ll be on site until mid-August and will be posting weekly updates on our work in the field and in the lab.
I’ve just returned from the Conference on the Bioarchaeology of Ancient Egypt held in Cairo last week. I was there to present a paper on hereditary dental trait analysis of Roman-era burials from the Dakhleh Oasis. The conference was organized by Salima Ikram, Roxy Walker and Jessica Kaiser with support from the Wenner-Gren Foundation, The American University in Cairo (AUC), The Institute for Bioarchaeology (IB) and the American Research Center in Egypt (ARCE). The first Egyptian bioarchaeology conference was held in 2010 at the AUC downtown campus, but due to the proximity of the AUC campus to Tahrir Square – the focal point of ongoing protests – it was decided to move this year’s conference venue to the Flamenco Hotel in Zamalek instead. The original vision was to hold the conference every two years, but funding issues and the revolution in 2011 meant the organizers had to wait. This year the conference incorporated zooarchaeological and archaeobotanical research into the programme, broadening the scope of the conference to reflect the true sense of the term “bioarchaeology”. This was my first time in Egypt since 2010 and it was great to catch up with old friends and colleagues, as well as to see for myself how much Egypt has changed – if any – since the revolution.
The retrieval, curation and redeposition of human heads – either the entire skull (i.e. cranium and mandible), or simply the cranium (without the mandible) – is a common feature of Near Eastern Neolithic mortuary practices1. In some cases, the facial features were modelled in plaster or mud, and bivalve or cowrie shells were set into the eye sockets to provide a life-like appearance. Some of the most well-known examples of plastered skulls/crania are from Jericho in Palestine and ‘Ain Ghazal in Jordan. Modified skulls have also been found at other sites such as Beisamoun, Kfar-HaHoresh and Tell Ramad in the Levant, as well as at Köşk Höyük in central Anatolia. While some have argued that this practice is a form of trophy collection, likely from dead enemies2, the traditional view holds that skull collecting in the Neolithic represents a form of ancestor veneration, possibly linked to emerging sedentism and the control of local resources3,4,5. More recently, however, researchers have begun to question the interpretation of ancestor worship as evidence mounts from other sites that skull collection and modification was not reserved strictly for older adults, i.e. elder members of society6,7,8,9,10. Continue reading