After James Mellaart discovered the Çatalhöyük mound in central Turkey in 1958, his excavations revealed an extensive Neolithic village featuring dozens of wall paintings and statuettes showing hunting scenes, giant bulls, leopards, vultures, female breasts and so-called “goddesses.” In an Archaeology Odyssey article, Michael Balter, author of The Goddess and the Bull, wrote: “One painting, he [Mellart] thought, seemed to represent a town plan of the Neolithic village, with an erupting volcano looming overhead.”
Interested in the latest archaeological technology? Researchers at UCSD’s Calit2 laboratory recently released the FREE BAS eBook “Cyber-Archaeology in the Holy Land — The Future of the Past,” featuring the latest research on GPS, Light Detection and Ranging Laser Scanning, unmanned aerial drones, 3D artifact scans, CAVE visualization environments and much more.
Over the past two decades, prominent excavations at Çatalhöyük, under the direction of Stanford archaeologist Ian Hodder, have greatly expanded our image of the Neolithic proto-city. A recent study conducted by volcanologist Axel Schmitt of the University of California in Los Angeles has returned attention to Mellaart’s volcanic mural. The ochre-painted mural has been given a range of classifications over the years; those that see the peaks of Hasan Dağ looming over a Neolithic village have described it as the world’s oldest extant landscape scene or map, whereas skeptics have dismissed the theory, suggesting that the abstract shapes could instead represent a range of subjects, including a leopard’s skin.
At a Geological Society of America conference held on October 30, 2013, Schmitt presented new evidence of a small scale eruption at Hasan Dağ. Using uranium-thorium-helium dating in zircon crystals, Schmitt revealed that the volcanic deposits match the mural’s chronology and depiction of a minor volcanic flare, resembling what is known as a Strombolian-type eruption.
Obsidian, a sharp volcanic glass, formed a dominant part of the lithic industry at Çatalhöyük, and the proximity of volcanic sources for the valuable Neolithic commodity shaped the site’s material culture. Çatalhöyük residents made tools of obsidian by flaking the black volcanic glass into razor-sharp knives and blades, and used the material to form an even more surprising artifact type: mirrors. Obsidian fragments were cut into semi-hemispherical shapes and carefully polished until a reflection was visible. Mellaart discovered eight obsidian mirrors at the site—the earliest ever found.
Volcanic obsidian is one of the trademarks of the Neolithic material culture at Çatalhöyük, and the recent volcanic studies may indicate that the residents had a collective memory of the creation of one of the sources of their valuable commodity.
Read more in Discovery News
Watch Video: 3-D Digging at Çatalhöyük for free in Bible History Daily.
More on Çatalhöyük in the BAS Library
Shahina Farid, “Excavating Catalhoyuk,” Archaeology Odyssey, May/Jun 2005.
Michael Balter, “Discovering Catalhoyuk,” Archaeology Odyssey, May/Jun 2005.
Not a BAS Library member yet? Sign up today.