A Critical Review of Catalhoyuk: a Leopard's Tale

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ARTS 2180: Topics in archaeology|
A Critical Review of“Catalhoyuk: The Leopard’s Tale”| Final Assignment|
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By Chin Wei Yi|
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Introduction

Çatalhöyük, located in the Konya Plain in central Anatolia, Turkey is one of the earliest densely populated civilizations known to date. It was inhabited from about 7400 BCE towards the end of the Neolithic age through to the Chalcolithic (Copper Age) in 6000 BCE. The site is renowned for a number of reasons. It was an unusually large settlement for its age, extending over 13.5 hectares, housing thousands of people at a time. Nevertheless, its most striking feature is the degree of symbolism imbedded within the society which can be seen in wall art, burials and material culture. James Mellart discovered the site in 1958 and led excavations from 1961- 1965. In 1993, excavations were resumed led by Ian Hodder. The book reviewed is Çatalhöyük: The Leopard’s Tale by Ian Hodder. This review will first provide a summary of the main themes of the book, assess the validity of Hodder’s arguments and finally, address the main controversial aspects of Çatalhöyük.

Main Themes

Hodder’s goal in writing this book was to provide his own understanding of the living conditions of the people living in Çatalhöyük and how the society functioned. He attempts to rationalize the mysteries of the site and why they occurred at that time and place. The Leopard’s Tale comprises of 11 chapters, each devoted to a particular aspect of the site; the settlement as a whole, the house, art, gender roles, demography, patterns of exchange and production, history and myth, individuality and the community. Hodder identifies four spheres of activity which he used as the basis of his explanations and discussions throughout the book; domestic activity, exchange, ancestry and community. These spheres are separate to some extent but are inextricably linked.

Production was primarily domestic rather than communal. According to Hodder, every household was self-sufficient. Each household was responsible for its own production of food, storage, religious or funerary rituals. There is strong support for this argument for there is little or no evidence of a central government or community centers despite the considerable size of the settlement. Houses were closely packed together and the entrances were on the roof. Within the house, areas were differentiated by platforms all of which, have specific uses and often have restrictions associated with the rituals and symbolism of the society. There are designated working areas (dirty areas) near the hearths, middens (generally situated at the southern end of the building) and on the roofs while ‘clean areas’ can be seen by the whiter plastering on the floor. Each house had its own grain storage area and caches for storing obsidian. The consistency of the structure of the houses leaves little doubt that food and material production was centered on the domestic sphere. Hodder is reluctant to categorize the settlement as a town on the basis of the degree of complexity, believing it more appropriately categorized as a really large village. The rationalization for this statement is the generally accepted categorization that the most basic form of complex society requires some degree of craft specialization and centralized distribution of production. Çatalhöyük did not fulfill these requirements.

The second sphere is exchange. A very good indication of exchange is the presence of obsidian within the site which was procured from Cappadocia some 179km away. Obsidian was brought into the settlement as pre-forms and buried. It was dug up again when needed and worked on to create tools. Hodder believes that the action of burying or hiding and then revealing obsidian was for symbolic rather than for practical reasons. The production of stamp seals could be an indication of exchange. Although the usages of these seals remain uncertain, they can be used to mark...
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