6/10/09 - catal huyuk

In today's excerpt - Catal Huyuk one of the first cities in the world, established in 7000 BCE and abandoned in 4500 BCE. Its citizens entered their houses from the roof, decorated their rooms with the heads of wild bulls and intentionally let vultures pick the bones of the dead before burial:

"Catal Huyuk spread over an area of thirty-two acres on the Konya Plain of south central Turkey near a marsh surrounded by well-wooded areas. ...Constructed of sun-dried mud bricks made in molds, the houses were designed to back into each other with occasional courtyards. The roofs were flat and were entered by a ladder to an opening in the roof. The outside walls of the outermost houses provided a kind of defense for the town.

"The food supply in Catal Huyuk was based on domesticated sheep, goats and pigs and on two kinds of wheat barley and peas. Some hunting of red deer, boar and onager went on, while some wild plant life such as grasses and acorns, was collected and stored. ...

"Men in Catal Huyuk grew to an average height of 5'7", while women reached an average of 5'2". Men lived an average of 34 years while women averaged 30 years. These averages include a high rate of infant and child death. The skeletons found at Catal Huyuk reveal some arthritis but no rickets or vitamin deficiency. An overgrowth of the spongy marrow space of the skull does reveal, however, that about 40 percent of the adults studied suffered from anemia, which implies that malaria was endemic. The population ... reach[ed] nearly 6,000 in about 5800 BCE, but this estimate is shaky. ...

"People in Catal Huyuk made coil-based pottery, not yet the wheel-turned variety. People constructed baskets and wove textiles of wool or flax. They chipped exquisite knives and spears, carved stones and bones, worked leather and wood, and created jewelry and cosmetics. Objects of copper and lead, which occur naturally in almost pure form, were found at Catal Huyuk as decorations and ceremonial objects. ...

"Paintings on plastered walls depict hunting scenes with men and women draped in leopard skins. Other scenes depict vultures cleaning bones apparently human ones. Men were buried with weapons rather than with farm tools.

"[Their rooms] featur[ed] sculpted heads of wild bulls, relief models of bulls and rams, depictions of female breasts, goddesses, leopards and handprints. Since fat, fertile female figures far outnumber those of males, experts believe that inhabitants gave top honors to a goddess. ...

"What people in Catal Huyuk believed about death cannot be known, except that food offerings have been found with the bones, suggesting they believed in an afterlife. Their murals indicate that after death, the bodies of people in Catal Huyuk were exposed to vultures. When the bones had been cleaned, they were buried in the shrines or under the sleeping platforms in the houses that they had occupied in life."


Cynthia Stokes Brown


Big History: From Big Bang to the Present


W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., New York


Copyright 2007 by Cynthia Stokes Brown


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