A New Dating Sequence for Catalhoyuk

By Cessford, Craig | Antiquity, December 2001 | Go to article overview
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A New Dating Sequence for Catalhoyuk

Cessford, Craig, Antiquity


Catalhoyuk (1) in Central Anatolia is a large Early Neolithic tell site made famous by the work of James Mellaart in the 1960s (Mellaart 1962; 1963; 1964; 1966; 1967; 1998). Mellaart phased Catalhoyuk by levels of buildings and discovered 15 Neolithic levels numbered 0 (latest) to XIII (earliest), with level VI divided into two phases A and B. Despite attempts in 1963 and 1965 Mellaart never reached the base of the mound. Work restarted at Catalhoyuk in 1993 (Hodder 1996) and during the 1999 season a trench was excavated to the base of the mound (Farid 1999). This trench lay beneath Mellaart's level X buildings 1 and 8 and partially incorporated his 1963 deep sounding. The upper part of the trench was interpreted as an area for penning ovicaprids; the evidence of walls shows that this can be equated with Mellaart's level XI (space 198) and level XII (space 199). Beneath these deposits there was an extended sequence of deposits (space 181) indicating a wide variety of activities. Below level XII there was no evidence for buildings so that the general system of phasing the site developed by Mellaart could not be applied. The area could, however, be broadly divided into five phases:

* Pre-level XII.A: thinly banded midden dumps with evidence for burning episodes.

* Pre-level XII.B: thinly banded midden dumps with evidence of activity in the form of gullies and post-pads and distinctive dumps of material associated with lime burning.

* Pre-level XII.C: thinly banded midden dumps.

* Pre-level XII.D: alluviated deposits filling earlier quarry pits into which material was being dumped.

* Pre-level XII.E: quarrying activity to obtain natural clay and lake marl.

This sequence, which is 3.4-3.8m deep, indicates a prolonged period of activity at Catalhoyuk prior to level XII and elements of the artefactual assemblages recovered were potentially indicative of temporal change. To date these deposits, a sequence of 10 samples were selected, covering the entire sequence. (2) Where practical these were selected from contexts with a low potential for containing residual material and charred seeds were utilised as there are considerable problems with dates obtained from charcoal at Catalhoyuk with regard to 'old wood' and the reuse-of timber. None of the material dated has a demonstrable functional relationship to the deposits they occur in so there is only a reasonable probability that the material is associated with the archaeological events being dated (Aitken 1991:90-91). The use of seeds means that the time difference between the samples and the deposits is likely to be negligible and the fact that they come from prolonged systematic excavations increases their reliability (Aitken 1991: 90-91). The species selected were typical of the source contexts and the samples were so rich in botanical remains that any contamination is likely to be insignificant.

The early sequence

The results achieved agreed well with the stratigraphic sequence (FIGURES 1 and 2; TABLE 1). Stratigraphically the earliest dates belong to phase pre-level XII.D and although OxA-9893 is earlier than OxA-9778 these alluviated dumping deposits were not well stratified and probably represent a mixture of materials from different sources. The results indicate dates in the range 7330 to 7050 and 7480 to 7080 cal BC at 95% probability (OxA-9893, 8155 [+ or -] 50 BP and OxA-9778, 8240 [+ or -] 55 BP). The earliest phase pre-level XII.E quarrying activity probably dates to the same time span, as there is unlikely to have been a substantial time lag between the digging of these features and their infilling. These dates agree well with those from a nearby core CH94A, these were obtained from charcoal in a clay-silt matrix (Roberts et al. 1996, 25 figure 2.2; Gokturk et al. forthcoming) which appears to be physically similar to the pre-level XII.D deposits. The possibility of a phase of activity prior to the quarrying can not be discounted.

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A New Dating Sequence for Catalhoyuk


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