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.
On the southeast slope of the main mound at Çatalhöyük, away from the bustle and dust of the excavation shelters, a solitary grave marker stands among the tall grass. It marks the final resting place of Güllü Ayşa, a woman from the nearby village of Küçükköy who died in 1933 and was refused a place in the town cemetery. Her grave represents the last known burial at Çatalhöyük after 9,500 years of interments beginning in the Neolithic period and ending in the 20th century. It is a remarkable testament to the power and longevity of social memory operating amid an ancient landscape. Continue reading
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
Extremely short post this week. I have one week left to go here in Çatalhöyük before heading home on the 25th. Josh and I are mostly caught up with the cleaning and inventorying of the human remains excavated this season, although there are several crates of loose bone recovered from surface and other non-burial contexts to be dealt with first thing next year. The final task for this season will be to enter all the skeletal inventory sheets into the database and start writing up the archive report. Continue reading
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. Continue reading
This week I want to write about changes in the way we’re recording burials at Çatalhöyük. Previously, once a burial was fully excavated and cleaned up for a photo we would draw the skeleton and grave cut in plan view at a 1:10 scale (1:5 for infants). This is standard archaeological practice on most excavations; the plans are typically used in conjunction with photographs in order to provide a visualization of the orientation of the body within the grave and any grave goods that may be associated with the burial. A problem with planning burials by hand, however, is that the accuracy of the scale drawing depends on the skill level of the archaeologist.
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. Continue reading