Urban Life in Neolithic Anatolia

Rectified fisheye overhead shot of Building 56 in South Area of excavation.
Rectified fisheye overhead shot of Building 56 in South Area of excavation. Çatalhöyük

On the yellow plains of central Anatolia lie the remains of one of the oldest civilizations on earth. Called Çatalhöyük (which has been spelled Catal Hoyuk, Catal Huyuk, and many other ways), the site ruins represent a village of 300 mud brick and plaster residences, one of the earliest villages found to date. The site was occupied from about 6300-5500 BC, and its most striking and famous feature are the shrines, shrines dedicated to what has been called the "Mother Goddess."

Excavations at Çatalhöyük

Excavations at the site were first carried out in the 1960s, by James Mellaart. Mellaart described a closely packed urban settlement, lacking streets. The residences were accessed through the roof, into main rooms, each about 20x13 ft (6x4 m). The floors of the rooms were lime-plastered, and covered with reed mats. The walls of the main rooms were painted with red-colored panels, touched up over time. Built-in benches and platforms lined the walls; small niches and ovens were carved into them. Indoor grain bins were associated with some of the residences. Figurines were recovered from several of these seemingly utilitarian rooms. Non-utilitarian rooms were also present; they are apparently shrines. Elaborate wall paintings, and displays of objects including decorated animal skulls were found in these rooms.

Burial Customs

Burial customs for the peoples of Çatalhöyükwere clearly secondary; that is, the bodies were left in the open for a time, and then the bones were bundled and placed beneath the floors of the sleeping chambers.

Only rarely were personal items interred with the individuals, yellow ochre stains and personal jewelry were in evidence, but little more.

Stone tools at Çatalhöyük include delicately chipped arrow points, spearheads, and daggers; ground stone tools included mortars, pestles, querns, axes, adzes and the like.

Bone tools have been recovered from the site as well, including awls, needles, hairpins, knife handles; wooden bowls and woven baskets have also been recovered. Ceramic vessels have been recovered from all levels. Most remarkable of all are the figurines from Çatalhöyük. Women predominate as the subjects of the art, but cattle, goats and other animal figurines are not uncommon.

Current Studies

After a long period of inactivity at the site, in 1993, Ian Hodder began extensive excavations at Çatalhöyük, a full-scale modern archaeological excavation combined with conservation, intended to provide the Turkish Ministry of Culture and visitors with a well planned heritage site. Hodder and his team have excavated for several years; a laboratory and a dig house have been built, and a museum is underway.

Hodder's work at Çatalhöyük is at the forefront of public outreach. A full-scale multimedia web site has also been produced, as well as several general public books, a Flickr photographic collection, and even Second Life avatars. Interpretations of the site continue to challenge researchers and the public alike.


Çatalhöyük is a part of the About.com Guide to the Pre-Pottery Neolithic, and part of the Dictionary of Archaeology.

Reports on the discoveries at Çatalhöyük can be accessed directly at the Çatalhöyük homepage.

Adams, Ron L. 2005 Ethnoarchaeology In Indonesia Illuminating the Ancient Past at Çatalhöyük? American Antiquity 70(1):181-188.

Atalay, Sonya and Christine A. Hastorf 2006 Food, meals, and daily activities: food habitus at Neolithic Çatalhöyük. American Antiquity 71:283-320.

Balter, Michael. 2004. The Goddess and the Bull. Çatalhöyük: An Archaeological Journey to the Dawn of Civilization. Free Press, New York

Carter, Tristan, Gerard Poupeau, Celine Bressy, and Nicholas J. G. Pearce 2006 A new programme of obsidian characterization at Çatalhöyük, Turkey. Journal of Archaeological Science 33:893-909.

Cutting, Marion 2003 The use of spatial analysis to study prehistoric settlement architecture. Oxford Journal of Archaeology 22(1):1-21.

Erdogu B, and Ulubey A. 2011. Colour symbolism in the prehistoric architecture of central Anatolia and Raman Spectroscopic Investigation of red ochre in Chalcolithic Çatalhöyük. Oxford Journal Of Archaeology 30(1):1-11.

Hodder, Ian 2005 Socialization and Feasting at Çatalhöyük: A Response to Adams. American Antiquity 70(1):189-191.

Hodder, Ian and Craig Cessford 2004 Daily Practice and Social Memory at Çatalhöyük. American Antiquity 69(1):17-40.

Last, Jonathan 1998 A design for life: Interpreting the art of Çatalhöyük. Journal of Material Culture 3(3):355-378.

Nakamura, Carolyn and Lynn Meskell 2009 Articulate Bodies: Forms and Figures at Çatalhöyük. Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory In press.

Roberts, Neil and Arlene Rosen 2009 Diversity and Complexity in Early Farming Communities of Southwest Asia: New Insights into the Economic and Environmental Basis of Neolithic Catalhoyuk. Current Anthropology 50(3):393-402.

Russell, Nerissa and Kevin J. McGowan 2003 Dance of the cranes: Crane symbolism at Çatalhöyük and beyond. Antiquity 77(297):445-256.

Sadrettin Dural. 2007. Protecting Çatalhöyük: Memoir of an Archaeological Site Guard. Left Coast Press, Walnut Creek, California