Çatalhöyük, oldest city or biggest village?
December 29, 2007 5:55 PM   Subscribe

Why humans started huddling together in cities is still shrouded in mystery but if the question is ever settled the answer will probably be found in Çatalhöyük, a settlement of five to eight thousand located in what is now Turkey that came into existence around 7500 BC. The current head archaeologist of the Çatalhöyük Project is Ian Hodder, one of the leading lights in postprocessual archaeology, who summarized his finding in a recent article in Natural History Magazine. The Çatalhöyük Project website is a treasure trove of information about the ancient settlement.

Should the site's sprawling hugeness prove intimidating, I recommend starting with Hodder's introduction to the 2005 archive report. Just the photography section alone is immense, though the flickr page and illustration gallery is of manageable size. The illustrator, John Gordon Swogger, has blog archives from the 2005 and 2006 seasons and includes plenty of images with his writing. Finally, here are interactive 3d visualizations and a streaming video introduction where, among other things, you learn how to pronounce Çatalhöyük.
posted by Kattullus (24 comments total) 62 users marked this as a favorite
There goes the rest of my day! Whoohoo. Thanks, Kattullus!
posted by ninazer0 at 6:16 PM on December 29, 2007

There is a lot of interesting reading here, and without having gone through it all, I'll say there are some pretty robust theories about why people urbanized themselves (cf, Bodley. Diamond, Dyer, etc) so saying it is shrouded in mystery may be overstating things a mite much.
posted by edgeways at 6:16 PM on December 29, 2007 [1 favorite]

I thought someone might call me out on that very point, edgeways, but I think that it's not terribly controversial to say that the question as to why city formation occurred is very far from being answered. One of the many theories on offer may be true, but there's no definitive proof. For all we know, each and every early city formed for completely different reasons.
posted by Kattullus at 6:38 PM on December 29, 2007

Fabulous Kattullus. The more they uncover, the more questions they have. I have always found the lands surrounding the Mediterranean to be endlessly fascinating, their histories in particular. This is yet another example.
posted by tellurian at 6:38 PM on December 29, 2007

And wheat originally comes from Diyarbakır, just down the way. I imagine this proximity is not a coincidence.
posted by Meatbomb at 6:40 PM on December 29, 2007

I'm fascinated by Hodder's contention that ancient beliefs can be accurately reconstructed; in light of the fact that artifacts of thoughts are, by their very nature, ephemeral.

Great resource, thanks.
posted by PareidoliaticBoy at 6:46 PM on December 29, 2007

OOo, this is gonna be some good reading. Bookmarked. Thanks!
posted by johnj at 7:07 PM on December 29, 2007

There's a large difference between "a great deal of speculation" and "shrouded in mystery", but those links are still great. Thanks!
posted by furtive at 7:07 PM on December 29, 2007

Don't really see it as a "call out" as more of taking exception to what I consider just a bit of hyperbole, I think furtive makes the point well. Mind you I'm not trying to storm in and be nit picky, nor am I coming at it from a position of random ignorance, aspects of this very question where part of my recently finished Masters thesis, so it is still buzzing around in my brain and, as others have said there is plenty of good stuff here to read.
posted by edgeways at 7:23 PM on December 29, 2007

Kattullus, you can write. For those not convinced, check out the guys profile.
posted by grahamwell at 7:32 PM on December 29, 2007

Oh, neat post. I visited Çatalhöyük in 2003 (having had to bribe a travel agent in Konya to drive me out there) and was blown away by it all.
posted by Paragon at 8:31 PM on December 29, 2007

I barely graduated high school with a C- average, but I still think this post rules. Much learning to be done here.

One of the theories I've seen put forth (note my credentials, above) is that as earth came out of the last ice age, grasses were the most opportunistic plants to re-colonize the recently de-glaciated valleys, and amongst these grasses were the grains that were discovered to be edible and thus domesticated and grown agriculturally. I can see this leading to villages, but how that gives way to dense cities, Well , I dunno, thus I think I'll read the links, now.
posted by Devils Rancher at 8:41 PM on December 29, 2007

You can also visit a virtual Çatalhöyük in Second Life [link requires SL Browser], created by the Berkeley Archaeologists at Çatalhöyük. They also have Remixing Çatalhöyük, a multimedia site that allows users to access archaeological data from the site and use it to create their own projects.
posted by ursus_comiter at 9:01 PM on December 29, 2007

Why cities? Well, like, DUH! It's the same reason for much of what men do: sex! Cities offer more choices and opportunities to get laid. How is this less than obvious? And I hear beer makes the choices even better. What further reason is required?
posted by Goofyy at 10:14 PM on December 29, 2007 [1 favorite]

"I'll say there are some pretty robust theories about why people urbanized themselves (cf, Bodley. Diamond, Dyer, etc) so saying it is shrouded in mystery may be overstating things a mite much."

I thought this was a given. Admittedly, the 'theory' that I've presumed until this moment to be fact stems from my reading the books of Laura Ingalls Wilder as a kid, and also Michael Landon's "Little House On The Prairie" tv series.

The head of a household aka 'bread winner' of rural America learned the hard way how there's no certainty in farming. Your fate is at the whim of the elements, wild beasts, insects, bandits, and sociological elements that a hard working farmer simply doesn't have time to factor. So you pack up your family and head for the promise of the Big City. There's safety in numbers. You lose some freedoms, but gain at least the illusion of security.

People argue about this? Really?

...although Goofyy's sex theory is also compelling.
posted by ZachsMind at 5:15 AM on December 30, 2007

Goofyy, please: Sex and beer in this investigation so far? Nil. I have read, at length, the material Kattullus has linked to and none of it has pointed in these directions. Possibly a quasi-religion, maybe a protection-like society from outside threats but no indication of a male organised harem as far as I can tell other than your over-excited Neolithic fantasy.
On preview: ZachsMind, I assume, is not really compelled by Goofyy's sex theory, given the criteria.
posted by tellurian at 5:40 AM on December 30, 2007

Twenty people can kick the asses of ten people. A hundred people can kick the asses of twenty people. And so on. That's my own personal theory: safety in numbers. The folks with fifty 'friends' are far more likely to survive than the random dude with no 'friends'. I'll protect my neighbor's shit, if he'll in turn protect my shit.

We may never really *know* why people urbanized though. And, as some have pointed out, there may have been different reasons for different cities/villages. Still, an interesting period of time in human evolution, and well worth studying. Lots of nice stuff to read here too. Thanks! ;)
posted by jamstigator at 6:18 AM on December 30, 2007

Alright, I'll take my lumps about the hyperbole. I'm but a rank amateur when it comes to these matters. However, I've read a bunch of theories about how cities came into existence but never have they convinced me. Every one of them seems to have a step or two that can be restated as "and this is where the magic happens."

That said, I haven't read all that much and if edgeways and furtive can recommend something to me, I'd be thrilled.
posted by Kattullus at 6:21 AM on December 30, 2007

7,500 BC? Impossible. Don't they know that the Earth is only 5,500 years old?
posted by caddis at 7:01 AM on December 30, 2007 [1 favorite]

Cities happened for the same reason everything else happened: evolution. People who didn't live in big, powerful social units in the most advantageous places were outreproduced and squashed or assimilated by those wacky people who said to themselves, "You know what? I've had it with wandering around the fucking desert with these fucking goats and living out of goatskin tents and burying my shit like a cat. Remember that nice green spot on top of the defensible hill back there? The one near the clean running water? Let's turn right the fuck around, go back there, build a big god damned wall around that spot to keep the other tribes out, and never set foot in this motherfucking desert again. Deal?"
posted by pracowity at 8:38 AM on December 30, 2007 [2 favorites]

So, to summarize:

1. agriculture
2. aggregation
3. ???
4. profit!

posted by mwhybark at 11:13 AM on December 30, 2007

Actually, to dismiss my argument about sex is to deny a large percentage of human nature. While I thought of it rather jokingly, further thought has caused me to consider it far more seriously. I think it is a highly defensible idea.

Consider the alternative of having some one with whom you grew up? Better consider the experience of Israeli kibbutzim before you knock my little theory. It's like having your own sister! While this may not be a reason to build a city, it sure encourages people to move in to them. And I speak as a guy from a small Michigan town who moved to NYC, because not only was work more available, sex was way more available (OMG, don't underestimate how big this was, in the days before AIDS!)

OTH: Agriculture! Plenty of wonderful, belly-filling grain! So much grain it becomes a fat target for those other slobs that haven't learned to plant. So we band together to protect the grain that will last us the entire year.

Yet some years are not so good. There's hardly enough grain. And that will get thin before next planting season. Someone is going to have to be kept well fed enough they can guard the grain from the now-starving people that grew it. One must not eat the precious seed grain. And someone else will have to convince everyone it's for their own good. For that, you need a talker. Someone who can sell people on the virtue of being hungry, and doing without. Sure, some might be smart enough to understand about the seed grain, but there are plenty that need something more. So the talker sells 'god'.

Some gods are bigger and better than other gods. You can tell by how well the people thrive, and how they speak of their god. In a world as unpredictable as ours, it's good to have divine help! Someone to make sure the rain comes and the grain grows. The better gods are those with the most well fed people. Even the skeptics might become convinced. More people come to those cities, some even willing to be slaves, for the sake of some tasty grain.
posted by Goofyy at 11:53 PM on December 30, 2007

For me the really odd thing about civilization and agriculture was how recently humans took them up. We've been around for 200,000 years and all of a sudden 10,000 years a few of us decide to organize ourselves to grow food and huddle together in cities? What happened 10,000 years ago and why didn't the same thing happen in the previous 190,000 years?
posted by rdr at 11:54 PM on December 30, 2007

And I hear beer makes the choices even better. What further reason is required?

Actually there are some interesting theories that beer brewing was more important than making bread for the Sumerians.

They were really serious about their beer!

"Hammurabi's code, assembled in the eighteenth century B.C., made special mention of beer parlors. Owners who overcharged customers were to be drowned; high priestesses caught in a beer parlor were to be executed by fire."
posted by afu at 12:55 AM on December 31, 2007

« Older The Third World Squat   |   Catalog Choice Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments