Technical Strategies and Technical Change at Neolithic Catalhoyuk, Turkey

By Conolly, James | Antiquity, December 1999 | Go to article overview

Technical Strategies and Technical Change at Neolithic Catalhoyuk, Turkey


Conolly, James, Antiquity


Catalhoyuk East(1)

Catalhoyuk is a large early ceramic Neolithic site in Central Anatolia that was occupied between the mid 9th and early 8th millennium BP.(2) It is situated in the Konya Plain; a vast interior drainage basin and alluvial fan enclosed by the Sultandaglari Mountains to the west, the Taurus to the south and southwest and the Aladaglari range to the east (FIGURE 1). The Konya Plain would have been an attractive area for prehistoric hunters and farmers with extensive and rich alluvial soils, open grassland for cattle and equids, and nearby forest providing cover for animals such as deer and wild pig.

[Figure 1 ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

Catalhoyuk plays a prominent role in contributing to our understanding of the early ceramic Neolithic in Central Anatolia and the Near East. Its archaeology is well known and need not be repeated in any detail here beyond noting that the settlement is characterized by several phases of tightly packed mud-brick buildings that lack evidence for external doorways and thus are assumed to have been entered via an entrance on the roof. Internally, the buildings possess a variety of features that range from hearths and ovens, storage bins, plastered floors and benches, painted plaster walls, as well as evidence for moulded bucrania and anthropomorphic figures. Large amounts of animal bone, charred plant remains, struck and ground obsidian and, in less quantity, flint, quartz and basalt artefacts, ceramic vessels and baked and unbaked figurines have also been recovered.

The knapped-stone artefacts form a major component of the material culture assemblage and contribute much to our understanding of elements of production, use and exchange as well as the social and symbolic role of stone tools in this formative period of human society. There are several sources or information about the knapped-stone artefacts: a report by Bialor (1962) published after the first season of work; an unpublished report by Mortensen (1964) who examined the material from the years 1961 to 1963; and various brief comments by Mellaart contained in reports of the 1963 and 1965 seasons (Mellaart 1964; 1966). More recently Balkan-Ath (1994) has re-analysed the material from the earliest levels and I (Conolly 1996a) have described surface-derived material from the early stages of Hodder's fieldwork, together with a more substantial analysis and interpretation of the technical characteristics of the flint and obsidian and the contexts from which they were derived, based on a sample of some 15,000 artefacts (Conolly 1997). This paper reviews the characteristics of the knapped-stone assemblage and examines one particularly interesting discovery: the technical change in obsidian production that occurs mid-way through the occupation sequence.

Technical strategies and technical change

There are an enormous variety of knapping techniques, methods and tool forms in the stone assemblage. There are nine basic categories of debitage (TABLE 1);(3) (i) flakes; (ii) prismatic blades; (iii) non-prismatic blades; (iv)crested-blades; (v) core rejuvenation flakes; (vi) blade cores; (vii) flake cores; (viii) shatter; (ix) chips. However, within each of these categories there is considerable variation; blade cores (for instance) range from small, opposed-platform varieties through to more structured, single-platform `bullet' examples, and flakes may range from the extremely large (in excess of 17 cm) to sub-1-cm thinning flakes. There is a similar range of variation in the retouched tool assemblage, although there are six broad categories of what could be considered recurrent forms (TABLE 2): (i) projectile points and bifacially worked pieces; (ii) flint daggers; (iii) obsidian mirrors; (iv) large retouched obsidian flake scrapers; (v) pieces esquillees (Tixier 1963: 146); and (vi) `non-formal' retouched blades and retouched flakes. It is possible to differentiate further within these categories. …

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