Changing Materialities at Çatalhöyük: Reports from the 1995-99
Seasons, ed. Ian Hodder
This book forms one of a series of four (sic) volumes (this is Volume 5) detailing the results of the recent excavations at Çatalhöyük. It follows on from the stratigraphic narrative (Volume 3), the inhabitation/environmental analysis (Volume 4), with Volume 6 forming the final synthetic monograph, bringing together and linking all of the work through a series of themed topics (eg, social memory, trade, art etc.).
This volume effectively deals with all aspects of material culture that were excavated between 1995 and 1999 from three main areas of the East Mound of Çatalhöyük, from buildings that cover over a thousand years of occupation (from the mid 7th to mid-late 6th millennium cal BC). The analysis is focussed upon 355 priority units, and artefact categories discussed include ceramics and other fired and unfired clay materials (clay balls, mudbrick and figurines), chipped and ground-stone, worked bone, basketry and beads.
The typological and comparative issues concerning the materials are addressed by the specialists as well as wider themes including exchange, scale of production, specialisation, consumption, use and deposition. The central theme that runs through all of the chapters is that of continuity (eg, in house rebuilding, repetition of things done in houses) versus degrees and speed of change over time. Hodder’s tenet which he states in the Introduction is that of entanglement. That is, through time, people’s involvement with objects becomes more marked as social complexity increases. As the inhabitants of the site get progressively caught up in material engagements, these relationships start to act back on them. He states that ‘In making things humans make themselves’ (p. 20). Recent notions of materiality argue that material has an active role (‘thingness’) and constitutes social concepts and relations (eg, see Chapman 2000 and Tilley 1999).
Many of the 19 chapters demonstrate that the rate of change with regards to material culture speeds up in the upper later levels. There is also, however, evidence for marked continuity in many object categories which may relate to an attempt to create enduring links with the past. Perhaps certain codified rules may have repressed change.
Chapter 2 by Cross May deals with the statistical integration of the contextual analysis of the all the material culture data sets. The results of the analysis are presented in clear graphics, which allow the reader to identify patterns within the datasets easily. A number of important issues are addressed which concern the structuring principles of all archaeological data sets – such as composition, diversity of assemblages, and biases of recovery. The statistical multivariate approach to contextual variation has produced some promising results with regards to the relationship of different artefacts within different contextual types (floors/ room fills/ middens/external spaces etc.).
Chapter 3 on heavy residue analysis by Cessford and Mitrović involves a general comparison of the diversity and density of artefacts between different types of deposits and their spatial and temporal variation, with a focus on micro-patterning. There are lots of graphs, some of which are rather complicated, and much of the text is peppered with detailed information. Patterns identified include the fact that some artefacts (eg, pottery, sharp obsidian) are generally absent in floor deposits and that middens are most likely to contain all material categories, neither of which may come as a surprise. Despite the huge corpus of data discussed there is not a great deal of interpretation concerning what the patterns may mean but the authors do state that the ‘analysis at this stage is relatively superficial’.
Chapter 4 on the absolute dating, by Cessford et al. provides a very impressive sequence of dates that span the one thousand year occupation of the site, following careful selection and sampling procedures to minimise factors such as residuality. Some new techniques are employed such as the AMS dating of inhaled particulated carbon adhering to the ribs of skeletons of older individuals. There is a suggestion that buildings may have had a use-life of 45-90 years (not disagreeing substantially with Mellaart’s original suggestions of 50-100 yrs), although in later levels construction and use became more dynamic. This is one of the fullest publications of a sequence of radiocarbon dates from any tell-site in Anatolia and provides an excellent and refined chronological basis for placing the site within a wider temporal framework, the importance of which cannot be underestimated.
Chapter 5 by Last discusses the small Neolithic pottery assemblage. The vegetable-tempered pottery of the earlier levels is replaced by mineral-tempered fabrics in the later levels, particularly levels VI-V. This change coincides with transformations within clay ball technology and indicates developments within food preparation and cooking. Last stresses, however, that the basic ‘recipe’ for pottery production, once accepted, remains relatively stable. Even with the shift to better clays and mineral temper from Level VI onwards, other elements (such as forms and surface finish) change relatively little.
The clay ball analysis by Atalay (Chapter 6) focuses mainly upon their function and concludes that they were associated with cooking. Evidence for this comes from sooting and residues on the balls and the fact that their breakage patterns are consistent with heat stress. Residue analysis (Chapter 7) found no lipids on the clay balls to support this, but only a very small number were analysed. This is a well structured chapter, which benefits from detailed analysis. Atalay suggests that perhaps clay balls often form house foundation deposits because symbolically they were associated with warmth and cooking, and hence imbued with positive attributes that could be transferred to newly built houses and their inhabitants.
One of the most famous and perhaps controversial categories of material culture from Çatalhöyük is tackled in Chapter 9 by Hamilton – the figurines. The analysis sets out to establish the uses of the figurines and how they relate to an understanding of Neolithic social structures. Hamilton re-examines the context of the figurines and argues that they were not just from potentially ‘votive’ locations (eg, between houses, within plaster bins), but also from general domestic refuse and building fills. She suggests that perhaps figurines were ‘made for the moment (perhaps for a wish or prayer) and then deliberately broken and abandoned’ (p.187). Many of the zoomorphic figurines had stabbing marks and Hamilton proposes that they may have been linked to hunting magic. However a number of these stabbed representations appear to be of domestic sheep/goat so perhaps this analogy does not work so neatly. This chapter could benefit from cross comparison with other types of clay objects. Furthermore, many of the figurines referred to by the author are not illustrated, and it is hard for the reader to be objective in following the author’s descriptions and interpretations of them when this element is lacking.
The longest chapter (Chapter 11) in this book by Carter et al. presents a traditional technological and typological analysis of chipped stone and details through time the various industries and raw materials and relates them to the different modes of production and consumption (chaînes opératoires). This is then related to activity at other contemporary sites in central Anatolia and beyond. The main issues addressed are how the raw material arrived at the site, how it circulated in the community, where and how it was used and the contexts it was discarded in. The final objective is to understand contextual patterning and explore variations of this through time.
This chapter is written in the language of a lithics specialist, and the lack of plates and illustrations within the main body of the text (most are relegated to the accompanying CD) means that a non-lithics specialist may find it quite hard to follow. A small number of illustrations just showing the main type fossils for each level would have been really helpful. Their absence is a shame because the detailed analysis that the lithic specialists have undertaken at Çatalhöyük over eight or more seasons demonstrates that this is one of the most fully studied and detailed Neolithic chipped stone assemblages in central Anatolia, and indeed, more widely within the Near East. The work published here will surely form a core text for all present and future lithic specialists working in this area. However, reading the text and flicking to the figures on the computer at the same time is made even harder by the fact that none of the illustrations on the CD have captions (eg, prismatic blade or backed double end-scraper), only context and lithic numbers which you then have to cross-reference back to the main body of the text. Furthermore, the chipped stone has been drawn by three or more illustrators in quite different styles. It is unfortunate that this is not a user-friendly reference text.
This chapter demonstrates a very thorough analysis, and a number of important observations and interpretations are made. Some of the main patterns drawn out include the fact that the flake industry is the dominant mode of obsidian working from the earliest levels until level VIB when there is a radical shift to the prismatic blade industry. Furthermore, cores become more exhausted in the later levels suggesting more intensive reduction strategies. Contextual analysis of the lithics is frustrated to some extent as it is difficult to relate most of the chipped stone from within buildings to activities. Many of the placed deposits, however, tend to relate to fire installations, and the authors argue that this association with heat and light may be linked to the medium of transformation and the potent power of volcanoes: the source of the obsidian.
The vast majority (over 90%) of chipped stone in all levels is obsidian, the nearest source of which is over 200km away, as confirmed by elemental characterisation (Chapter 12). This detailed analysis has demonstrated that the shifts in the modes of knapping obsidian correlate with increased exploitation of different Cappadocian sources over time. Both the analysis of the mudbrick by Tung and the ground-stone by Baysal and Wright are at an early stage and only preliminary conclusions can be made at present. The final few chapters on the beads, basketry and worked bone are quite short, dealing with relatively small assemblages of material. The only clearly deliberate deposition of beads is in burial contexts, where they tend to be associated with females and juveniles. Hamilton could make more of this association, particularly with babies (protection, votive offerings associated with untimely death etc.) and also of where the beads were placed on the body and whether burial beads differ from the other types of beads found?
The worked bone chapter by Russell is eloquently written, easy to follow and well illustrated, with a good range of both plates and line drawings to demonstrate the various points made. Worked bone was manufactured to produce a range of objects including tools and ornaments). The extent of repair, reuse and resharpening that some bone objects were subject to is interesting. Furthermore, it is clear that specific animal bones (eg, sheep/goat metapodials) were deliberately chosen for much of the worked bone. Russell concisely describes how the tools and ornaments were made, the contexts in which they were used and deposited and how their functions changed through time.
It cannot be stressed enough just how enormous a piece of work this volume represents. Overall this monograph is the culmination of tireless, thorough, extensive and intensive analysis by the dedicated specialist team at Çatalhöyük. These specialists are to be congratulated for their hard work, detailed investigations and stimulating observations and interpretations. The task is a daunting one – the vast corpus of material from five long seasons of excavation at such a finds-rich tell must be studied on site within the time-frame of the field or study season, as very little can be exported.
Detailed methodological sections are included in almost all of the chapters and provide core texts for any student embarking upon analysis of material culture – the wealth of the specialists’ knowledge and their detailed and intimate understanding is made explicit. Furthermore, they share important lessons they have learnt and how and why they have revised their methodologies in the light of pitfalls and problems encountered.
There is one small criticism which is that for a book completely dedicated to understanding and celebrating material culture, it is remarkably lacking in images of such, at least within the main body of the text. The vast majority of illustrations have been relegated to the CD. Although a picture may not tell a thousand words, it does seem sad that photographs and drawings of such beautiful artefacts have become divorced from the main body of the text, while graphs and tables seem to take their place. The lack of colour is also surprising especially given that colour photographs illustrating the three dimensional nature of the objects could have been put on the CD at no extra cost.
It would be unfair to be critical of the fact that the material categories are at different stages of analysis since this is a reflection of the dynamic nature of the project, with various specialists becoming involved at different times. It must be remembered that the excavations and analysis at Çatalhöyük is very much a ‘work in progress’, so eventually all of the specialist analysis will become comparable.
There is not too much cross-fertilisation and comparison between all the various specialists although such comparisons may have been kept deliberately for Volume 6. Many of the specialists seem to focus upon their own material and fail to make even conceptual links between different cultural categories or similar technologies (eg, pottery, mudbrick, figurines, clay balls), although several urge the reader to engage in other chapters and cross-reference with other volumes. The impression given is that the specialists were not briefed on the overarching agenda of entanglement and increased complexity in material culture through time, and thus few relate their conclusions back to the theoretical considerations set out by Hodder in the Introduction.
The majority of the chapters perpetuate a traditional archaeological division of labour by dealing with a single category of material – which ironically is exactly what Hodder had been at pains to move away from (eg, 1997; 1999), although synthetic monograph (volume 6) should remedy this partly.
With respect to the contextual analysis, it is clear that sometimes the specialists are frustrated by the fact that the Neolithic occupants of Çatalhöyük were fastidious and house-proud. For instance, house floors tended to be scoured clean prior to decommissioning the space or structure. There was very little in the way of ‘in situ’ artefacts relating to occupation and use and the majority of material culture comes from make up layers (or backfill within buildings) and middens. Thus the context of deposition may bear little relation to the original use of the object. It is clear that the mound of Çatalhöyük still stubbornly refuses to give up all of its secrets no matter how much science and detailed comprehensive analysis is thrown at it!
To conclude this work will undoubtedly become an absolute key text for all students and researchers of both material culture and Neolithic Anatolia. The methodology and analysis is set at a very high level and this work certainly provides a bar that all future investigation in this area should endeavour to reach. It will certainly become one of the seminal texts and set the standard and agenda for a number of years to come. The volume should not be read in isolation but readers should be encouraged to cross-reference this work with the stratigraphic, environmental and synthetic discussions in Volumes 3, 4 and 6 respectively.
Review Submitted: December 2006
The views expressed in this review are not necessarily those
of the Society or the Reviews Editor.
|The Prehistoric Society Home Page|