Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

The First Cities

I've been spending a little spare time recently reading about the first large settlements, just as agriculture was starting to be used in the Fertile Crescent, Egypt and Anatolia. Perhaps the most interesting site in this regard is Çatalhöyük in modern day Turkey. The primary site was inhabited from about 7,400 to 6,000 BC, and a smaller secondary site was inhabited from 6,000 to 5,7000 BC.

Çatalhöyük's population averaged about 6,000 people at a given time, which is very small compared to modern towns, but for a mid neolithic settlement (at a time when most other settlements discovered numbered just a few hundred inhabitants) it is huge.

Despite the settlement's size, the nature of the buildings suggests a fairly fragmented society, with the extended family as the most important social unit. There are no public buildings (fortifications, temples, palaces, granaries) and most houses are basically the same size. Although houses (built of mud brick, plaster and timber) were built incredibly close together (sometimes only inches apart) they do not share walls, all buildings are free standing.

Houses were windowless and doorless, with access through a hole in the ceiling and a ladder. Since the settlement had no streets (the spaces between the houses were used for dumping rubbish) people must have got about by walking from roof to roof.

Members of the family were carefully buried under the floors of their houses, and when a house became old, it was disassembled until the walls stood 3-4 feet high, carefully filled with brick, rubble and dirt, and then used as the foundation to build a new house directly on top of it. This successive building eventually created a mount on which the settlement stood, with more than a dozen layers of successive building in many areas.

The inhabitants appear to have lived off a mixture of agriculture, domesticated animals, wild animals, and wild grains and vegetables -- suggesting that Çatalhöyük dates from a period when the transition to agriculture was still ongoing.

Natural History Magazine
Science Magazine


John Farrell said...

Fascinating post. And to think this was several thousand years before what we call the 'ancient' Greeks.

Michael Balter said...

If you want to read more about Catalhoyuk, check out the book The Goddess and the Bull which gives the entire history of the site and the people who have dug there, plus the most important findings.

best, Michael Balter

Darwin said...


Thanks so much for coming by! I have your book and also Ian Hodder's Leopard's Tale on my Amazon shopping list.