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
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.
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
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
Between 1961 and 1965 James Mellaart excavated the skeletal remains of nearly 500 Neolithic individuals at Çatalhöyük. The first physical anthropologists to examine the skeletal material were J. Lawrence Angel and Denise Ferembach in the late 1960s. Angel focused on the health and demographic structure of the assemblage1, while Ferembach carried out an osteometric analysis of the crania and long bones2. The remains have since been kept in storage at Ankara University. Continue reading
Excavations began this week in the South and North Areas of the main mound at Çatalhöyük. For the human remains team it means plenty of incoming burials. One of the first burials we worked on this year was actually discovered at the end of the 2003 season by the team from UC Berkeley. Unfortunately they didn’t have time to excavate it completely so it was carefully covered and backfilled. Now, after nearly ten years, we have finally returned to complete the excavations of this area in order to link the stratigraphic sequence with more recently excavated areas of the site. As is often the case at Çatalhöyük, the interment of this individual disturbed a number of earlier burials under the house floor. Dislodged bones from previous burials are often placed alongside the body of the new inhumation. In the picture above, a number of disarticulated bones including a femur (upper leg), radius (lower arm bone) and ilium (hip bone) can be seen to the left of the flexed skeleton. The burial was fully exposed, photographed and planned yesterday and will be lifted and analysed tomorrow. Continue reading
I’m heading to Turkey on Saturday for another two-month excavation season at Çatalhöyük, a Neolithic settlement located in southeastern Anatolia near the city of Konya. The site is over 9,000 years old, marking it as one of the earliest permanent settlements in the world. While not the oldest, it is the largest and best-preserved Neolithic site in the Near East. Continue reading