Sunday, July 25, 2010

Catal Hoyuk

Originally Posted by Chris at 8/21/2006 5:08 PM...

Over at Cliopatria, Ralph Luker posted links to a Natural History Magazine article about the on-going excavation at the Neolithic site of Catal Hoyuk, along with a blog describing the excavation and the dig's official web site. Catal Huyouk is an interesting site for a couple of reasons beyond its age:

1. Catal Hoyuk is neither a walled city, nor a collection of huts, but has houses that are built huddled together sharing walls. The access to the houses was via stairs leading into the houses from the roof. Interestingly, there were not permanent stairs on the outside of the houses, implying that ladders were used by inhabitants to climb up to the roof from the outside.

There are varying interpretations for this design. Arther Ferrill wrote in The Origins of War that the design of the city could be a type of defense against attackers that offers more security than a cluster of huts, but required fewer resources and less technical skill than the fortified wall and tower design of Neolithic Jericho. This is a controversial analysis, but does have the advantage of logic. It is easier to attack an individual hut, or group of huts, in the dark than a mass of blank walls with no accessible entrances.

2. Archaeologist Ian Hodder, head of the excavation at Catal Hoyuk, believes that the city represents a significant departure from other Neolitihc (and later) cities in its lack of communal space and public buildings. Catal Hoyuk seems organized around the individual family dwelling, as evidenced by the elaborate nature of the houses, which included extensive private collections of art and multiple types of cooking fires. Hodder provides another reason for having access to the houses from the roof: they were surrounded by refuse heaps, and the local river's spring flood created swampy conditions nearby.

Hodder also provides new evidence about how Catal Hoyuk was built. Ferrill based part of his analysis on the appearance that Catal Hoyuk's houses shared walls, but Hodder writes that one of the things that separates the site from other Neolithic sites in Anatolia is the infrequency of shared walls. The walls at Catal Houyk, it seems, are extremely close together without actually touching. This is similar in effect to houses that share siding, but don't actually have adjoining walls. Regardless, walls separated by mere inches would provide strong protection from attackers.
Catal Hoyuk is a good representation of how the process of "doing" history works - theories based on available evidence are advanced, new evidence is found through research or archaeological work, and the theories are adjusted. Ferrill's initial argument is that war became an important part of human existence much earlier than is usually believed, and his evidence is based on Neolithic archaeological evidence - microliths embedded in bones, the "defensive" design of Catal Hoyuk, the high walls and tower of Jericho, and even interpretations of cave art as "tactics". Now the part of his theory regarding Catal Hoyuk must be re-examined in light of the evidence that the walls of the houses were not shared.

This is what I love about history.

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