Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Çatal Hüyük: The First City of the World

Cities, today, are filled with high rise condominiums and apartments. These tall and livable structures provide comfort to families or individuals and maximized the available space. Some condominiums or apartment complex were small suburban villages, it had community centers, schools, and amenities, such as swimming pools. In the past such structures, compact living environments appeared in 8,000 BCE, 2,000 after the Ice Age. In Anatolia, it appeared that a group of people lived in the old versions of high rise houses in an old city known as Çatal Hüyük.

The archaeological site of Çatal Hüyük (or Çatal Höyük) was found in 1960’s. British archaeologist, James Mellaart dug the remains of Çatal Hüyük in 1961. The total area of the site covered 32 acres. The whole site was said to have been inhabited by estimated 5,000 to 10,000 individuals. When dated, Çatal Hüyük existed around the Neolithic period, between 8,000 to 6,000 BCE.

Çatal Hüyük was characterized as a city. From its large numbers of people as well as the structures in have. Most buildings in Çatal Hüyük were high rise houses, seemingly appearing as apartments. It had 4-storey buildings with one house top of the other.

The uniqueness of Çatal Hüyük laid in its structures. Normally, houses had their doors in the side of their houses. However, in Çatal Hüyük, the openings to the houses were not in the side of the houses, but in the top of it. An occupant must climb up to the house where a hole that had a ladder would allow access to the houses. Theories on why it was such explained that it was due to the climate. Less opening or bigger holes in the side would allow warm to be kept inside the houses in times of cold winter. Because of entrances in the top of the houses, Çatal Hüyük had less needs for streets. It was for the reason that the roofs of the structure had become the inhabitants’ streets.

The houses of the people of Çatal Hüyük were simple. It was made of mud bricks and plastered to make smooth walls. It had also wood framings, especially in the roof to provided support. Inside, most houses had two to three rooms. But the main room, was center of a family. It had an oven that was used for both heating and cooking. It also had a platform where the family’s altar was placed. Benches were also found which could serve for sitting and sleeping. Plenty of houses in Çatal Hüyük were decorated with murals of bulls and vultures, mostly based from nature. It was explained either as an artistic expression or religious significant as would later be talked about. Some houses in Çatal Hüyük were not just for humans, but also for animals. Animal pens made.

The economy of Çatal Hüyük was vibrant and self-sufficient. Agriculture was centered on grains, which included wheat and sorghum. They also had irrigation that helped agriculture to flourish. Their cereals were companioned with fruits, vegetable, peas, and nuts.  Protein came from animal husbandry that was present in Çatal Hüyük. The animal pens kept pigs, goats, cattle, and deer. Hunting also remained an integral part of life.  Along with agriculture and animal husbandry, mining was also booming in Çatal Hüyük. Evidence revealed that copper and lead were used by the inhabitants. Also, from the nearby volcano, they also had extracted obsidian which was highly useful. Turquoise was also present. With these resources, the city had a manufacturing sector as well. Copper were used to produce weapons and farming tools. Obsidian produce mirror, and cutting tools, as well as jewelry. A textile industry also existed within the city. Cloth made of wool and linen were produce for clothing and trade with nearby settlements. The bulk of trade goods sold to nearby settlements included textile, as mention, as well as jewelry and mirrors.

The religious aspects of Çatal Hüyük was vibrant as its economy. A central worship was non-existent, which explained the lack of temples. Worship was based on family traditions. Some families showed their reverence to bull, which was apparent with bull horns in some platforms in some houses in Çatal Hüyük. Some, worshiped the mother goddess of fertility. Figurines of typical mother goddess with exaggerated features, like huge thighs and breasts, were found. The most famous was the mother goddess enthroned between two felines in the side. Besides artifacts, the murals were also said to have been part of Çatal Hüyük people’s worship of their deities.

But the most prominent part of the life of Çatal Hüyük was its ritual to the dead. The most usual, the body of the decease would undergo bone cleansing. After which, the bones would be buried beneath the main room of the houses. After a certain number family members had died and been buried beneath the main room was reached, the house would then be filled with dirt. A new house would then be built on top of the filled house. Thus, theories that high rise structures of Çatal Hüyük was not a result of simultaneous occupation, but by generation after generation of building on top of the house of the previous time.

The end of Çatal Hüyük remained unknown. Only speculation remained to shed light on that part of the history of the city. The legacy of Çatal Hüyük was becoming a mirror of the life of man, after the hard period of the ice age. It provided knowledge about life of humans during the Neolithic Period.


Ching, F. et. al. A Global History of Architecture. New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2011. 

Howard: D. The History of Turkey. Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 2001. 

Palmer, D. et. al. Unearthing the Past: The Great Discoveries of Archaeology From Around the World. London: Octopus Publishing Group Ltd., 2005. 

Reilly, K. The Human Journey: A Concise Introduction to World History. Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 2012.

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