Updated 10th Sep 2011
Into the Stone Age With a Scalpel: A Dig With Clues on Early Urban Life
In view of different claims of land ownership in this part of Caucasus, which some Armenians trace to the legend of Noah’s Ark on Mount Ararat, let us see first, how much validity these tales hold from standpoint of scholarship vs. divinity.
If we are to believe the teachings of all the holy books, we must conclude that Adam was made of mud and our first grand-grandfather Abraham was the first human from whom we are all born. I am still unclear if, humankind started with Abraham or with the “Children of Noah”! Anyway, the period of time all books refer to is the last Ice Age, which means that we are speaking of only 10,000 - 8,000 years B.C. This means, that if we can prove that humans lived before Abraham or Noah (10,000- 8,000 years B.C.) then, the whole theory of “creation” and “celestial rights of ownership of land” collapses into . . cosmic dust.
According to discovery of the rock-drawings of the Van region by Dr.Oktay Belli of Turkish Historical Society at Yedisalkim region of the Hakkari mountains, these are dated 15.000 to 7.000 BC.
Furthermore, according to paleontologists, the existence of Homo Sapiens in Anatolia goes back to about 600,000 years BC! Those who wish to argue about the “truth” of science vs. fiction may please refer directly to the footnoted sources below:
* L. Slimak – 2004 Implantations humaines et exploitation des obsidiennes en Anatolie Centrale, Durant le Pleistocene, Paleorient, 30/2, 7-20
* L. Slimak, H. Roche, D.Mouralis, H. Buitenhuis, N.Balkan-Atli, D. Binder & C. Kuzucuoglu, M.Grenet – Kaletepe Deresi 3 (Turquie) aspects archeologiques, chronologiques et paleontologiques d’une sequence Pleistocene en Anatolie centrale. -Comptes Rendu Palevol de l’Academie des Science de Paris, Vol.3, 411-420
Addendum to the Noah Ark story... even this finding beats the fairy tales!
Into the Stone Age With a Scalpel: A Dig With Clues on Early Urban Life By SUSANNE FOWLER, September 7, 2011.
Other Images: SlideShow
CATALHOYUK, TURKEY — A pair of space-age shelters rising from the beet and barley fields of the flat Konya Plain are the first clue to the Catalhoyuk Research Project, where archaeologists are excavating a 9,000-year-old Neolithic village.
Dig Site in Turkey Reveals an Ancient People’s Handiwork
The experts, armed with scalpels, gingerly scraped away micro-layers of white plaster from a wall deep in the dig last month to reveal what the project director, the British archaeologist Ian Hodder, called a “very exciting” and “particularly intriguing” painting with deep reds and reddish oranges thought to be made with red ochre and cinnabar.
“We were taking off many, many layers of plaster and we have a program where a joint team of Turkish and British conservators try to take them off one by one, so it’s extremely slow-going,” Dr. Hodder said this week by telephone.
“I got called over to where they were working because they saw some paint. The pattern initially didn’t look like very much: We often find just specks of paint or a wall of all-red paint. But this time it gradually emerged that this was a complete painting, and the best preserved painting that I’ve ever seen at Catalhoyuk, with wonderfully fresh, bright colors and very neat lines.”
Word of the discovery spread quickly through the international team on site as more of the painting was exposed.
“It is by far the most intricate and elaborate painting we have found during our excavations here since the mid-90s,” Dr. Hodder said. “We’ve been waiting quite a long time for something so elaborate.”
But Stone Age paintings don’t come with labels explaining what they are.
“An interesting aspect of some of the paintings at Catal,” Dr. Hodder said, “is that they are very enigmatic and full of ambiguity and difficult to read.
“But the two main contenders for what this new discovery might show are that it’s simply a geometric design whose meaning is not clear,” he said. “An alternative is that it’s not just a geometric design, but that it is a representation of bricks, some sort of structure,” maybe an early blueprint of some sort.
Houses were “a very important symbol socially and a focus of life at Catal,” he said. “Maybe they were trying to draw the relationship between them and the house but it’s not easy to make sense of it. We have to do more work on it.”
Catalhoyuk — where people occupied mud-brick houses from about 7400 B.C. to about 6000 B.C. — is 60 kilometers, or 37 miles, southeast of Konya in central Turkey. The area is dotted with gently rising mounds that obscure the ancient roots of urbanization and draw archaeologists from around the world.
An international team of people from 22 countries worked on the site this year, led by experts based at Stanford University in California and University College London in Britain, and backed by sponsors like Boeing, Shell and the Turkish bank Yapi Kredi.
The area was first excavated in the 1960s by another Briton, James Mellaart, now 85, who established that it had been home to an advanced culture of people transitioning from a nomadic hunter-gatherer lifestyle to a more settled farming life.
Their houses were uniformly rectangular, and entered by holes in the roof rather than front doors. Each had a hearth and an oven, plus platforms that seemed to have been used for sleeping. When a new house was needed, it was built atop the old one. The houses also served as cemeteries: The dead were buried beneath the floor.
Another find this summer was a row of 11 handprints inside a house and above a burial platform. Still another was the discovery of a young calf’s head that had been painted red and installed in a house, above a platform that covered nine burials.
“One sort of pattern that we noticed is that the paintings seem to be concentrated around burial platforms,” Dr. Hodder said. “We don’t really understand what that relationship is. Is it a way to communicate with the dead? Another idea would be that the paintings are there to protect people from the dead, or to protect the dead from people.”
Over more than 1,400 years, as many as 16 layers of housing were formed, each serving as many as 8,000 people. Dr. Hodder’s team has dug through all 16 layers to reach a lake bed from the Pleistocene era.
“From the excavations to date,” said Shahina Farid, the project’s field director from University College London, “we find that all of the houses are built up against each other. There are no streets or alleys. It was a very dense population. But a lot of activity would have taken place at the roof level. And the traversing would have been at the roof level as well. And in between groups of houses were these open areas where they chucked out their rubbish. It’s those areas that are the richest for us because they actually kept their houses very clean.”
For Ms. Farid, deciphering the inscrutable is part of the appeal.
“Archaeology will always engage people because it’s putting a puzzle together,” she said during an interview at the site. “And it’s a puzzle we will never, ever complete.”
“There are always going to be missing pieces and it’s that sense of awe — that there are things we do today that people were doing 9,000 years ago. You can’t help but be awed by that.”
“We are trying to understand why they chose this spot to live. We look at what we call their art. Why were they so interested in bulls? Why were they using certain geometric designs? What were daily activities and what were ritual activities? We try to define this,” she said. “Are we looking at the beginnings of religion? And what is all this symbolism telling us about the beginnings of civilization?”
If it sounds a bit like detective work, it is. The team even has a fire forensics expert working with the site.
“Archaeology is a bit like C.S.I.,” Ms. Farid said, referring to the Crime Scene Investigation television series. “There are certain things we know happened. A wall is a wall is a wall. But someone else might turn up and say why do you think that’s a wall? And you look at them and you think, well, it’s mud-brick and it’s a wall. Sometime in the future someone will start questioning why we interpreted something as a wall. But for now, we can only interpret based on the data that we have at hand.”
Dr. Hodder, now with Stanford, has been researching at Catalhoyuk since 1993, with a 25-year permit granted by the Ministry of Culture and Tourism, and under the auspices of the British Institute of Archaeology at Ankara. The project’s assistant director is Serap Ozdol from Ege University in Izmir.
Officially, their goals are threefold: to excavate the site, to conserve it and its finds and to present it to the public.
The terrain should be ripe for discoveries in the years to come. “We’ve only excavated 4 percent of Catal,” Dr. Hodder said. “What we’ve done is like digging a very small part of New York and then inferring from that what life was like.”
From a third to one-half of the people digging at the site are Turkish, he said. “I see it as an increasingly Turkish project and we hope to hand it over ultimately to a Turkish team.”
Getting the local community involved is key to preserving the work done over the decades at Catalhoyuk. Last year, 15,000 people toured the site.
While the Visitor Center is open year-round and contains replicas of finds from the dig, the main relics are on display at the Museum of Anatolian Civilization in Ankara and at the Konya Archaeological Museum.
Many visitors are schoolchildren. “They have a great day here,” Ms. Farid, the field director, said. “And as Gulay Sert, who runs our summer school project, says, if one of these children grows up to be a civil engineer, and sees that his or her road will cut through a mound and stops to think ‘That’s archaeology’ and decides to skirt around the mound, then our work is done.”
It was in fact a school trip that set Ms. Farid on her a career path to dusty Anatolia.
“It was the Egyptians!” she said, recounting her introduction to “The Treasures of Tutankhamen” at the British Museum in 1972. “Yeah, it was the excitement of discovery. But now it’s not the discovery that excites me. People always ask what’s the best thing you’ve ever dug up? And I don’t know because it’s not an item, it’s a story. It’s the story that goes with it that excites me. That’s what we have to teach people as well. A treasure is a treasure but without a story, it’s half what it’s worth.”
A version of this article appeared in print on September 8, 2011, in The International Herald Tribune with the headline: Into the Stone Age With a Scalpel: A Dig With Clues on Early Urban Life.