The Microstratigraphy of Middens: Capturing Daily Routine in Rubbish at Neolithic Catalhoyuk, Turkey

Article excerpt



Catalhoyuk is a tell site in the Anatolian region of Turkey with an occupation spanning the early Neolithic to Chalcolithic. The site consists of two mounds--the larger, mainly Neolithic east mound, and the smaller Chalcolithic west mound (Figure la). The east mound covers an area of 13.5ha, with the highest point reaching c. 20m. Catalhoyuk is internationally recognised as one of the largest early settled villages in the world with exceptionally well preserved mud-brick architecture, faunal and botanical remains, and elaborate burials, wall paintings and sculptures. As such, it is a key site in understanding the Neolithic, for example the origins of complex settlements, the development of agriculture and domestication, and changing human-environment relationships (Hodder 2006).


Micromorphology at Catalhoyuk

Micromorphology has become an increasingly important analytical tool in understanding site formation processes and the use of space (Matthews et al. 1997), particularly within settlements, where it can be used to investigate the life histories of buildings at high temporal resolution (Matthews 2005; Shahack-Gross et al. 2005; Karkanas & Efstratiou 2009), and to understand the formation processes of deposits such as middens which are difficult to resolve at the macroscale (Simpson & Barrett 1996; Shillito et al. 2008). Buildings at Catalhoyuk were kept remarkably clean and have little evidence of in situ activity (Hodder & Cessford 2004). Micromorphology has contributed significantly to understanding the use of space by examining microscopic indicators of activity, and has demonstrated, for example, the frequent sweeping of floors and removal of micro-debris, cyclical replastering of walls and floors, and possible floor coverings in Buildings 1 and 5 (Matthews 2005).

Found within and between groups of buildings are extensive midden deposits, which can be up to 5m wide and over lm high. Middens are typically composed of many individual tine layers, which are impossible to distinguish during excavation (Yeomans 2005). Studies of midden faunal assemblages have highlighted the complex histories of discarded materials (Martin & Russel12000). Micromorphological studies of early middens in the South Area, Spaces 181 and 115 (levels VIII and pre-XII, 6790 to pre-7070 cal BC respectively), have demonstrated the potential of the technique for distinguishing between layers and the potential of middens as indicators of activities that are absent in buildings, such as animal penning (Matthews 2005).

This study has also highlighted difficulties with the use of micromorphology on certain deposits due to the emphasis on visible components and the two dimensional nature of the samples (Matthews 2005). For example, decayed organic remains have a similar amorphous appearance to coprolites, and can only be identified further using biomolecular geochemical methods (Bull et al. 2005; Matthews 2005). Phytoliths, an abundant component (Rosen 2005), can also be difficult to identify depending on their orientation (Matthews 2010). Conversely, geochemical and phytolith analyses can provide identifications of these components but are unable to distinguish between different microcontexts, and provide a general overview rather than activity-specific signals (Jenkins 2005).

The integrated microstratigraphic approach

To overcome these limitations, the integration of microscopic and analytical techniques is necessary, which can be called the microstratigraphic approach to characterising deposits (Weiner 2010). Targeted geochemical analyses such as infra-red spectroscopy (FT-IR), and scanning electron microscopy (SEM-EDX) for identifying inorganic materials (Berna et al. 2007; Shillito et al. 2009) and, less commonly, gas chromatography/mass spectrometry (GC/MS) for organic materials have been successfully integrated with micromorphology (Simpson et al. …