TPO 1 Lecture 3. Archeology

TPO 1 Lecture 3 Archeology – Click the Audio to listen first, then to do some exercise. 

TPO 1 Lecture 3 – Archeology

Narrator – Listen to part of a lecture in an archeology class.
A lecture of one professor talking about archeology

OK, we’ve been talking about early agriculture in the near east. So let’s concentrate on one site and see what we can learn from it. Let’s look at Catalhoyuk. Ah… I’d better write that down. Catalhoyuk, that’s about as close as we get in English. It’s Turkish, really. The sites in modern day Turkey, and who knows what the original inhabitants called it. Anyway, uh…Catalhoyuk wasn’t the first agricultural settlement in the near east, but it was pretty early, settled about 9000 years ago in the Neolithic period. And … umm… the settlement…ah…town really, lasted about a thousand years and grew to a size of about eight or ten thousand people. That certainly makes it one of the largest towns in the world at that time.

One of the things that make the settlement of this size impressive is the time period. It’s the Neolithic, remember, the late Stone Age. So the people that lived there had only stone tools, no metals. So everything they accomplished, like building this town, they did with just stone, plus wood, bricks, that sort of thing. But you got to remember that it wasn’t just any stone they had, they had obsidian. And umm… obsidian is a black, volcanic, well, almost like glass. It flakes very nicely into really sharp points. The sharpest tools of the entire Stone Age were made of obsidian. And urrr… the people of Catalhoyuk got theirs from further inland, from central Turkey, traded for it, probably.

Anyway, what I wanna focus on is the way the town was built. The houses are all rectangular, one storey made of sun dried bricks. But what’s really interesting is that there are no spaces between them, no streets in other words, and so generally no doors on the houses either. People walked around on the roofs and entered the house through a hatchway on the roof, down a wooden ladder. You can still see the diagonal marks of the ladders in the plaster on the inside walls. Once you were in the house, there would be one main room and a couple of small rooms for storage. The main room had the hearths, for cooking and for heat. It would’ve been pretty cold during the winters. And it also looks like they made their tools near the fire. There tends to be a lot of obsidian flakes and chips in the hearth ashes, but no chimney. The smoke just went out the same hatchway that people used for going in and out themselves. So there would have been an open fire inside the house with only one hole in the roof to let the smoke out. You and I would have found it a bit too smoky in there. You can see on the walls, which they plastered and decorated with paintings. They ended up with a layer of black soot on them, and so did people’s lungs. The bones found in the graves show a layer of soot on the inside of the ribs.

And that’s another unusual feature of Catalhoyuk, the burial sites. The graves have all been found under the houses, right under the floors. And it maybe this burial custom that explains why the houses were packed in so tightly without streets. I mean, you might think it was for protection or something, but there has been no evidence found yet of any violent attack that would indicate that kind of danger. It maybe they wanted to live as near as possible to their ancestors’ graves and be buried near them themselves. But it makes a good point.

Based on excavations, we can know the layout of the houses and the location of the graves, but we’re only guessing when we tried to say why they did it that way. That’s the way it is with archeology. You are dealing with the physical remains that people left behind. We have no sure access to what they thought and how they felt about things. I mean it’s interesting to speculate. And the physical artifacts can give us clues, but there is a lot we can’t really know. So, for instance, their art. They painted on the plastered walls and usually they painted hunting scenes with wild animals in them. Now they did hunt and they also raised cereal crops and kept sheep, but we don’t know why so many of the paintings are of hunting scenes. Was it supposed to have religious or magical significance? That’s the kind of thing we can only guess at based on clues. And hopefully, further excavation of Catalhoyuk will yield more clues. But we’ll probably never know for sure.

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