Ritual in the Landscape: Evidence from Pinarbasi in the Seventh-Millennium Cal BC Konya Plain

Article excerpt



This paper examines relationships between the way communities engaged with their landscapes, ritual practices in the landscape and world views in the early Holocene of Southwest Asia. In the Neolithic villages of Southwest Asia communities have been considered as relatively homogeneous groups based on fairly standardised dwellings and typical domestic structures: the Neolithic buildings of Catalhoyuk or the Middle Pre-Pottery Neolithic B (PPNB) pier houses of the southern Levant (Byrd & Banning 1988). This has led to the attribution to the inhabitants of rather uniform cosmologies, beliefs and behaviours. At Catalhoyuk, the very structured creation and use of space, the standard locations for burials, paintings, plaster installations and the features of many paintings, are taken as indicating an almost uniform socialisation of individuals in their homes (Hodder 2006: 138-9). Moreover, Hodder contrasts the world of the domestic domus with that of the wild agrios (2005: 13--14), stressing the significance at Catalhoyuk of wild animals, like bears and leopards, and dangerous pointed animal parts: aurochs horns, boars' tusks, vulture beaks and weasel or badger skulls. Such emphasis may represent a shared understanding of a wild landscape, a violent and spiritually-charged world set outside the domestic household and its domestic animals (Hodder 2006: 198-204).


Here we investigate an aspect of this outside world, and the question of the uniformity or diversity of related symbolic practices, by examining the ritual significance of depositions at Pinarbasi, in the Konya Plain of south-central Anatolia, 24.5km south-east of Catalhoyuk (Figure 1). We argue that this campsite was most probably frequented by task groups from Catalhoyuk or, less likely, by mobile communities utilising the Konya Plain. In either case, distinctive practices at the site indicate diverse rituals and beliefs in the Neolithic Konya Plain, which appear to present different if complementary modes of religiosity (Whitehouse 2000; Mithen 2004).


Pinarbasi: sequence

Pinarbasi is visible from Catalhoyuk as a distinctive distant feature and a clear point to head for when moving east or south-east across the plain. It lies on what was the southern edge of an extensive marshland or lake on the eastern side of the Konya basin, marking a physical transition point from plain to hill, from steppe and lake or marsh to woodland (Figure 2). Late Neolithic occupation in a rockshelter there, with a maximum extent of 400[m.sup.2], has been radiocarbon-dated to c. 6500-6000 cal BC (Watkins 1996: 51-3), contemporary with Levels V-I at Catalhoyuk East (Cessford 2005: 97).

Our excavations in Area B identified three phases of late seventh-millennium activity. The first (Phase F) consisted of a series of large irregular oval fire pits, filled with a mass of stone and bone, representing food preparation and consumption alongside other activities (Figure 3). The second (Phase E I) was a habitation with a central hearth contained by a curved wall, with an oven built into it, an arrangement that parallels cooking arrangements in Catalhoyuk houses (Figure 4). A mass of reed phytoliths and carbonised reed stems suggest an easily refurbishable light superstructure of reeds. In a third phase (Phase E II) fills accumulated within the shell of the structure deriving both from occupation and dumped material, suggesting repeated occupation and abandonment. Use of this structure as an animal pen is unlikely: analysis by micromorphology identified a low density of spherulites and deposits unlike the penning deposits at Catalhoyuk (Matthews 2005: 389-91).

Faunal remains included a substantial proportion of herded sheep, with significant quantities of hunted aurochs and equid and a small number of deer. The large quantities of animal bones point to significant processing of animal carcasses. …