Ancient City of Catal Huyuk

In 1950 an expedition excavating south of Damascus  proved that an urban center existed in the 4th century B.C., just southeast of the city we know today. Archaeological attempts continue to determine more closely when, during the period from 8,000 B.C. to 400 B.C., the first ‘city’ arose. Pottery has been turned up pre-dating the latter date, and also found were the remains of a highly advanced irrigation system which had been improved and extended by successive rulers throughout the ensuing centuries. Damascus first came under Western control when the armies of Alexander the Great captured it in 323 B.C.. The history of the city from that time on became a list of foreign conquerors. From the Persians, it passed to the Mamelukes, the Mongols, to the Greeks and then the Romans. The city was taken by Muslim soldiers in A.D. 635 and has remained in Muslim custody ever since.

In 1961, another British archaeologist, James Mellaart, began digging at a site containing large mounds on a plateau in Central Anatolia in what today is Turkey. It was not an impressive sight, a pitted, gullied area amid a rolling plain of wheat fields. But Mellaart was confident that the mounds concealed settlements abandoned even before the beginning of the Bronze Age, and his confidence was soon justified. A settlement dated at 5400 B.C. was discovered—and the work continued at an increased pace, the archeologists electrified by the uncovering of a time that pre-dated any discovery yet made. To their amazement, still another settlement beneath it was unearthed, dating from an even earlier period.

Further excavation revealed yet another city beneath that and the extraordinary series of discoveries continued until no less than thirteen levels, each representing an earlier city, were exposed! The earliest of these dated back to 6800 B.C.

James Mellaart continued his work for four years, until 1965. Legal problems intervened then, concerning his publication of drawings of Bronze Age artifacts which later disappeared—the now infamous ‘Dorak Affair.’

The site lay idle until September in 1993 when digging re-commenced under the leadership of Ian Hodder and a team from the University of Cambridge. Hodder’s team undertook a completely different and more thorough approach. Whereas Mellaart had excavated two hundred buildings in four seasons, Hodder spent an entire season unearthing only one building.

Today, barely one acre out of a 32-acre site has been excavated. Nevertheless, even though new research from India may cast doubt on the proposition, most conventional archaeologists are currently convinced that the spot is in fact the mother city of civilized life on earth, the ancestress of all cities and the center of the first great prehistoric civilization. The amount of knowledge gathered from the two periods of excavation has been enormous and it seems to give us a glimpse of just what life was like at the dawn of modern mankind’s sojourn on earth, long before recorded history—as far back as nine thousand years ago.

Leopard Dance Painting

The inhabitants of earth’s first city were apparently aware of their precarious location. A landscape painting on the wall of a shrine in Catal Huyuk shows that they knew of the twin volcanoes less than a hundred miles away from their city. The painting depicts smoke rising. At least they were able to take advantage of previous eruptions as indicated by the many ax heads, knife blades, scrapers and other tools and weapons made from obsidian, the volcanic glass spewed out by volcanic action, which were found at the site.

This complex settlement seems to have had a population of close to 10,000 at its peak. This figure must have varied but was in all likelihood never less than 5,000 throughout most of the duration of Catal Huyuk’s period of activity which had a number of intriguing variations.

The top layers of the mound, that is, those containing the most recent buildings, are dated to 5,600 B.C.. The city was mysteriously and suddenly abandoned at about this time and a new city, designated Catal Huyuk West was founded several miles away across the Carsamba Cay River. The most likely reason for the desertion would seem to have been volcanic eruption from Hasan Dag, the nearby twin-coned volcano, but the argument has been raised that in this case, the new city would surely have been located further away. Catal Huyuk West was apparently occupied for about 700 years, then it too, was abandoned, again for no obvious reason.

About 4,900 B.C., the entire region was deserted, again without explanation. The oldest layer has been dated to before 6,500 B.C. and it is thought that the site was occupied for several hundred years at the least before that and possibly even several millennia. Consequently, the full duration of Catal Huyuk’s existence can be said to stretch approximately from 7,000 B.C. to 4,900 B.C.

The denizens of Catal Huyuk lived in houses built of mud-brick and although huddled together, there were no streets. The houses were accessed through holes in the ceilings and ladders to the floor. The holes served for ventilation and the expulsion of cooking fumes. A main room was used for cooking and daily activities, though in good weather the roofs were used for many activities including community relations. Raised platforms were built along the walls of the rooms for sleeping, sitting and working. All these surfaces were plastered smooth and timbered beams reinforced the roof. Many niches were built into the walls which were plastered and whitened with gesso and frequently decorated with paintings.

No defensive walls have been excavated, so that there must have been no fear of attack by more aggressive tribes, although the exterior houses had a thicker wall on the outside, perhaps for insulation against temperature extremes.

The people of Catal Huyuk were skilled in agriculture, and the domestication of animals and their skills increased through the centuries. Their nutritional needs were supplied by barley and wheat as well as ‘triticum,’ a hardy variety of wheat common in the Near East, while the growing of peas, almonds, pistachios and fruit as well as the raising of sheep and cattle were all pursued.

In addition to the dwellings, larger buildings that served as sanctuaries have been identified. This conclusion was reached by studying decorations on the walls, many in relief. A great number are modeled in plaster and show bulls’ heads. Many contain the horns of actual aurochs, the ancestor of the bull, and seem clearly related to the animal that formed the basis of the cult on the island of Crete in the Bronze Age.

Catal Huyuk appears to have been not only the first city but the hub of a network of smaller cities, all combined in a trading union that extended over hundreds of miles. At various times of the year, the walls of Catal Huyuk were painted in bright colors. So until further exploration reveals another candidate, perhaps in India, Catal Huyuk will be regarded by orthodox archaeology as the first city on earth.

Sources:
Atlantis Rising Magazine Vol. 62: “Does a Long-lost Turkish Metropolis Qualify for the Oldest-City Award?” by Peter King;
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/%C3%87atalh%C3%B6y%C3%BCk

Pic Source:
Atlantis Rising Magazine Vol. 62 page 30
Ancient City of Catal Huyuk Ancient City of Catal Huyuk Reviewed by Tripzibit on 07:17 Rating: 5

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