Shane, Orrin C. III, and Mine Küçuk. "The World's First City." Archaeology 51.2 (1998): 43-47.

Copy of a fresco at Çatalhöyük depicting a red deer stag

The World's First City

 Scholars are once again working at Çatalhöyük in central Anatolia, seekings the origins of life.

 by Orrin C. Shane, III, and Mine Küçuk

NINE THOUSAND YEARS AGO, visitors approaching Çatalhöyük from across a vast marshy plain would have seen many hundreds of mud-brick dwellings stacked up on the slopes of an enormous settlement mound. The site's several thousand inhabitants would have been herding sheep or goats; hunting wild cattle (aurochs), horse, and deer; tending crops of peas, lentils, and cereals; or collecting wild plant foods such as tubers from the marshes. Some would have been bringing valuable raw materials to the site, such as obsidian from volcanic peaks to the northeast. In size and complexity, Çatalhöyük was unlike any other site in the world. The American archaeologist Walter Fairservis, Jr., writing in 1975, described it as a community "at the threshold of civilization." Çatalhöyük was first brought to worldwide attention by James Mellaart, whose excavations from 1961 to 1965 revealed more than 150 dwellings and rooms, many decorated with murals, plaster reliefs, and sculpture. Some rooms, which Mellaart designated "shrines," contained murals depicting men pulling the tongues and tails of aurochs and stags, or vaulting across the backs of animals while women and men watched. Other scenes seemed to show vultures apparently eating headless bodies and mortuary rituals in-

Excavators clean and reexamine a part of Çatalhöyük dug by James Mellaart 30 years ago.

 Reconstruction of a small portion of the Early Neolithic settlement at Çatalhöyük. Several thousand people may have lived at the site, the largest known settlement from this period.
volving exposure of bodies on scaffolds. Mounted on "shrine" walls, sometimes in two or three tiers, were full-size plaster heads of bulls, sheep, and goats to which real horn cores were attached. Cattle horn cores were mounted on pedestals, and in one room a bizarre plaster bench, long enough for a person to lie on, had six pairs of aurochs' horns mounted along its sides. Painted plaster reliefs of stags, bulls, leopards, and human females also decorated the walls. In one room Mellaart found the world's first known landscape: a view of a twin-peaked volcano erupting over a community of rectangular dwellings. The artifacts reported by Mellaarrt

were just as spectacular, including the world's earliest known pottery, polished obsidian mirrors, and bonehook-and-eye closures; preserved basketry, textiles, and carved wooden utensils; and well-fashioned obsidian tools and exquisitely shaped flint daggers with bone handles carved in the forms of animals.

Meaning "fork mound" in Turkish, Çatalhöyük consists of two mounds on either side of an ancient channel of the Çarsamba River on the fertile Konya Plain of central Turkey. The larger mound, Çatalhöyük East, is of Early Neolithic age with occupation levels dated to between 9,000 and 7,500 years ago, and even older undated and unexplored occupation levels at its base. Çatalhöyük West is made up primarily of later Neolithic and Chalcolithic levels 7,500 to 5,000 years old. Mellaarrt excavated less than four percent of Çatalhöyük East, but it was enough to indicate the settlement's size and architectural complexity as well as the sophistication of its art. In doing so, he established Çatalhöyük as an important site for studying the origins of settled farming life and the rise of the first cities. Some scholars consider Çatalhöyük to be the world's first city, and its murals are recognized by art historians as unique in world history. Colin Renfrew of the University of Cambridge believes central Anatolia, with Çatalhöyük as it preeminent site, was the wellspring of European settled farming life and perhaps the homeland of the Indo-European language and people.

After 1965, the site lay idle until 1993, when Ian Hodder of the University of Cambridge, a leading archaeological theoretician, launched the Çatalhöyük Research Project. Working in collaboration with the McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research at Cambridge and the British Institute for Archaeology at Ankara, Hodder has now completed five years of

excavation and study as part of a 25-year program. An international and multidisciplinary undertaking, the project has three principal aims: archaeological investigation of the site; conservation of architecture, murals, artifacts, and human remains; and management of the site, including interpretive programs for visitors. A "dig house" to support this work, with research and conservation laboratories, secure storage areas, living quarters for project members, and an interpretive center is under construction north of Çatalhöyük East.

One innovative aspect of the project has been improved communication between field excavators and specialists working in the laboratory. Too often at archaeological sites the two groups work in isolation. Here on-site lab and excavation teams interact daily through site tours and a network that links workstations in the labs and at trenchside with a central computer, making it possible to adjust digging and sampling strategies as work progresses.

We spent three years studying Mellaart's results and conducting noninvasive explorations of Çatalhoyuk East, then in 1995 began excavating building 1, a structure in the northern part of the mound. It was cleared in 1997, revealing a complex history of remodeling during at least eight occupation phases. The structure was approximately 29 by 20 feet, with a 20-by-20-foot room and another, smaller chamber divided into two subrooms. The floors were plastered, and platforms were built in the larger room. On the rem-


nants of the larger room's west and north walls were sections of mural with ten painted layers. The fragmentary images appeared to be geometnc figures and floral designs. Pieces of horn and antler found set into the plastered west wall or bearing traces of wall plaster indicate that this wall had a plaster relief. Other features of building 1 include traces in the south wall of a ladder to the roof, an oven built into the south wall early in the history of the dwelling and later abandoned and bricked up, and two superimposed ovens in a small room at the building's west end. These ovens, as well as food debris such as lentils and cereal grains found on the floor, indicate the room was used for food preparation.

Buried beneath the platforms and floors of building 1 were the remains of 67 people interred throughout the history of the building. Theya Molleson and Peter Andrews of the Natural History Museum in London lead the team studying the human remains, which include males and females of all ages, from newborns to aged adults, the oldest man well past 60. Tightly flexed bodies were placed in pits, which were then plastered over. The building was occupied and used while people were being interred, and pits were reopened for later addition of bodies.

Excavation of a large area adjacent to building 1 was begun in 1997 by a team directed by Ruth Tringham of the University of California, Berkeley, revealing a large and elaborate structure (building 3) with thickly plastered walls with red and black paint and the remains of bulls'heads.

An area about 125 feet square within Mellaarrt's old excavation has been cleared as a first step in excavating to the mound's base, 60 to 70 feet below the summit. Here we


Micromorphologist, top, removes a sample from a wall in the old excavation area; lifting rig, above, facilitates removal of walls with preserved frescoes to an on-site conservation lab.


Remains of 67 people have been found in building 1 at Çatalhöyük. The site's inhabitants buried their dead in pits beneath platforms and foors.

hope to reach the earliest settlement levels, which will permit us to study the origins of the mural art and sculpture. Excavations since 1994 have revealed building 2, an elaborate structure, dated to about 9,000 years ago, with remarkably well preserved plaster walls with traces of sculpture and plaster reliefs. There is evidence of paintings, which we will uncover later.

The new research at Çatalhöyük East has already led us to revise some of Mellaart's conclusions about the site. For example, we have found that rooms like those he called shrines-buildings with murals, plaster reliefs, and sculpture-are numerous and occur throughout the mound, demonstrating that there is no evidence of a ritual elite concentrated in a "priestly quarter," as he suggested. Recently developed techniques unavailable to

Mellaart, such as micromorphology, the study of soils and sediments in thin sections under the microscope, are also contributing to our understanding of the site. Directed by Wendy Matthews of the University of Cambridge, this work includes the identification of construction materials such as mud brick and mortar, study of structural details and layering of painted plasters, determination of the contents of hearths and ovens, and identification of activity areas in rooms and open spaces between buildings. Analysis of material trampled in floor plasters may help to determine the function of rooms and to identify activities carried on in them. For example, study of floor trample from an open area between buildings excavated by Mellaart in 1963 and identified by him as a courtyard revealed the presence of animal dung and straw. Comparisons with the floor debris

from modern sheep and goat pens suggests a similar function for this area. Such analysis will provide more data for evaluating Mellaart's interpretation of rooms with wall paintings, reliefs, and sculpture as shrines.

Because of the age and fragility of the murals and the plaster finishes to which they are applied, conservation is crucial. The buildings at Çatalhöyük were made of mudbrick walls coated with plaster finishes on which murals were painted or plaster reliefs built up. Walls, floors, and internal room features such as benches and platforms were also plastered, often with multiple layers applied in thin sequences (less than one millimeter thick) consisting of a base coat and a thinner, overlying finish coat. Surfaces with as many as 40 episodes of replastering are common, and one plaster specimen collected in 1995 had at least 68 pairs of base and finish plasters. Conservation work is being directed by Frank Matero, head of the University of Pennsylvania's Laboratory for Architectural Conservation. Walls and layers of painted plaster will be stabilized in the field, and sections of walls will be lifted and moved to the conservation lab where layers of painted plaster will be separated.

An important part of the project is a regional survey to locate Epipalaeolithic (15,000-10,000 years ago) and Neolithic (10,000-7,000 years ago) sites on the Konya Plain. Headed by Douglas Baird of Liverpool University, the survey has identified several early sites buried by alluvial sediments from the Çarsamba River. At Pinarbasi, a rocky promontory 20 miles southeast of Çatalhöyük, open-air and rock-shelter sites with deposits contemporary with and older than Çatalhöyük are now under excavation by Trevor Watkins of Edinburgh University and Cengiz Topal of the Karaman Museum in the city of Karaman, 60 miles south of Çatalhöyük. The Konya Plain covers part of the floor of the Konya Basin, which once held a large freshwater lake. Some 18,000 years ago the lake was 100 feet deep at the place where Çatalhöyük later stood. After the Ice Age, it dried up, leaving remnant lakes and wetlands in depressions in the basin's floor. By Early Neolithic times, when people began to live at Çatalhöyük, the site must have been surrounded by marshland and small lakes. By combining the results from excavations at Çatalhöyük and the Pmarba,sl sites with evidence from regional surveys and environmental reconstructions, we may better understand the origins of farming and town life in Anatolia.

Nowadays, few people come to Çatalhöyük, which is 30 miles southeast of the city of Konya and ten miles from the nearest sizable town. The roads to the site are unpaved, poorly marked, and heavily used by tractors and agricultural vehicles. The site's location is not well known and tourists prefer to visit the more spectacular temples, theaters, and monuments of Turkey's rich classical sites. Development of public programming that will attract visitors to the site is an important part of the Çatalhöyük Research Project. The dig house interpretive center, being prepared by the Science Museum of Minnesota in collaboration with IDAAJANS, a

graphic design agency in Ankara, will house panels explaining the history of the site and current research. On the walls, we plan to re-create a mural from one of the "shrines" excavated by Mellaarrt and display artifacts from the excavation. A 1:4 scale model of a room with elaborate bulls' heads and benches will also be displayed. For now, temporary exhibits, developed between 1994 and 1996, provide visitors with the site's excavation history and present findings of the Çatalhöyük Research Project. Interpretive panels, maps and photographic murals describe the surface survey and geophysical prospecting that preceded the start of excavations in 1995, as well as the regional archaeological survey to identify other Early Neolithic sites in the Konya Basin. We also envision a future exhibit-featuring important new findings and artifacts from the project and Mellaart's dig - that will tour Turkey, the United States, and Europe.

One major goal of the project is to reach a global audience through the world wide web. A site at the University of Cambridge (http ://Catal. arch. carries information about the project, annually updated summaries and more specialized preliminary reports about the individual excavation areas, the regional survey, micromorphology, pottery, plant and animal remains, and other topics. Computer animations of some Çatalhöyük building interiors may be seen at jects/vam/CATAL-E.html. The Science Museum of Minnesota is developing a web site for middle- and high-school teachers and their students. It will present educational themes developed from the first excavations at Çatalhöyük and provide students and teachers access to new discoveries at the site and to archaeologists in Europe and America involved in the project.

As archaeologists and exhibit developers we find working on the Çatalhöyük Research Project both deeply challenging and exciting. Our hope is to convey to the public the sophisticated science and interpretive methods being brought to bear on Çatalhöyük. At the same time it is extremely rewarding to be part of one of the great archaeological projects of the twentieth century. Twenty years from now, at the close of the current investigations, we will be able to view, in a museum setting and on the world wide web, paintings that document the origin and development of the mural art of Çatalhöyük and that illustrate long lost lifeways of the Early Neolithic. More important, we will have plausible and scientifically defensible interpretations concerning the meanings of this art and the cultural context in which it existed. Finally, we will have recovered and presented information that will carry forward our understanding of early urban life.

ORRIN C. SHANE, III, curatorfor archaeology at the Science Museum of Minnesota, and MINE KÜÇÜK, an archaeologist and exhibit developer living in Istanbul, head the pub1ic programming team of the Çatalhöyük Research Project. To become part of the project, please write The Friends of Çatalhöyük, Department of Archaeology, Downing Street, Cambridge CB2 3DZ, England.