Çatalhöyük Update #2: Works in-progress and fun with Play-Doh

I’ve now been at Çatalhöyük for two and a half weeks and have a couple of illustration projects on the go.

Screen shot of my experimental houses cutaway in progress.

Screen shot of my experimental house cutaway in progress.

The first is a cutaway view of 4 Çatalhöyük experimental buildings which will be built this summer for site visitors to explore. We already have one experimental house, built in the early 2000s. Three of the new buildings will be based on ones excavated by James Mellaart in the 1960s and the forth will be a composite of different features found both in the Mellaart and current excavations. I actually completed a version of this illustration last summer but there have been some changes to the building plans. I am updating the illustration to reflect them. It’s been quite challenging to pour over Mellaart’s publications and photos, trying to gather enough detail to create a scaled isometric reconstruction of the buildings.

An in-progress reconstruction  of aurochs feasting.

An in-progress reconstruction of a large feast at Çatalhöyük .

I’ve also been working on a reconstruction of a large feast taking place off-site. The image depicts a group of people (90+) feasting on a recently killed aurochs. They’re located in the KOPAL area, an area excavated in 1999 just to the north of the mound. It’s a complicated image with lots of people and data to cram in and a tight deadline. I was having a bit of trouble envisioning the partially butchered aurochs that I’m placing in the background so I resorted to stealing Play-Doh from one of the kids on site and making a couple of models. (Don’t worry, I returned the Play-Doh after).

Modelling aurochs butchery with Play-Doh.

Modelling aurochs butchery with Play-Doh.

I’ll post the final versions of these illustrations when they are finished. I should also have some artifact illustrations to share soon. The excavations are gathering steam and a lot of new material is coming off the mound.

In Progress: Female Adornment at Çatalhöyük


Female Adornment at Çatalhöyük Preliminary Drawing

This is the preliminary drawing for Female Adornment at Çatalhöyük, the companion piece to Male Adornment at Çatalhöyük, which I’ve been working on with Milena Vasic, a Phd student currently working on this subject. You can read about it and our decision process in this post. As discussed in the Male Adornment post, there is limited evidence for clothing at Çatalhöyük. This is especially true for females. There are only one or two representations of females in the Çatalhöyük wall paintings (excavated by Mellaart) and they are silhouettes with no clothing depicted. The only data for female adornment come from figurines and jewelry items such as beads.

One female figurine from the 1960’s Mellaart excavations has indications of clothing (the figurine in the upper left of the drawing). The figurine has some sort of spotted top and skirt with possibly fringed edges incised into the clay. In this illustration I’ve dressed the woman’s full-body-view in my interpretation of this outfit. Researchers at Çatalhöyük have interpreted depictions of spotted clothing as leopard skin or imitation leopard skin. Only one leopard bone has ever been identified on site making it unlikely that they had ready access to the real deal (you can read more about leopards on site in The Leopard’s Tale by Ian Hodder). I’ve drawn the top as goat’s skin with hair intact and painted with spots. The bottom has been cut to create a fringe. The skirt is also made of leather and fringed, but scraped clean of hair.

Most of the other female figurines recovered both from the Mellaart and the current Hodder excavations lack any sort of adornment. Exceptions are some figurines depicting either a hairstyle or head dress (such as the one in the lower right of the drawing, excavated by Mellaart). The woman in both the full-body-view and the upper-body-view wears one of many possible interpretations of this hairstyle or head dress. Here I’ve drawn it as a wide, flat, up-swept bun, probably one of the more conservative ways to interpret the figurines. In other illustrations I’ve shown it as in a similar fashion, but with the sides of the head shaved (see image below).

Building 55 Storage Room. Notice the hairstyles with shaved sides.

Building 55 Storage Room. Graphite, 2011.

A more structured hairstyle with some sort of internal support that is either left in or removed after construction has also been suggested (The Hopi squash blossom whorl for unmarried women is an ethnographic example of this. You can see photos of this hairstyle being constructed at this link). You can also see a variety of other interpretations in John Swogger’s illustrations.

The figurine in the upper right of the drawing (excavated by Mellaart), which was painted with red pigment in a “x” pattern, hints at the possibility of body painting. Stamp seals found on site might be one way patterns were applied to the body, though they have not been found with obvious pigment on them or in any sort of primary context. I’ve added the red “x”s to the woman’s full-figure-view.

I’ve also included evidence from beads and textiles in this illustration. Both views of the woman wear the bracelet found in the plaster skull burial. This bracelet includes the only leopard bone found on site. The woman in full-body-view is wearing a necklace found in Burial 15924. The dress in the upper-body-view is based on 5 incised torques found with a female burial in Building 50. The torques, carved from boar tusks, were distributed down the front of the skeleton’s chest, indicating they were perhaps sewn to some perishable material. I’ve drawn them stitched to a leather dress. I’ve also added a woven belt. Textiles are extremely rare at Çatalhöyük because of their organic nature and no secondary evidence for their production has been found. But small pieces have been recovered and therefore were probably part of adornment in some way. I’ve chosen to include a woven belt because narrow strips of cloth are the easiest to weave and the technology to do so is some of the simplest.

I’m currently painting the final version of Male Adornment at Çatalhöyük and Female Adornment at Çatalhöyük is up next. I’ll post both here when I’m finished.

In Progress: Adornment at Çatalhöyük

Male Adornment Preliminary Drawing

Male Adornment Preliminary Drawing

If a good fairy or mad scientist suddenly appeared in a puff of smoke and offered you the ability to time travel, where and when would you go?

My first stop would probably be Neolithic Çatalhöyük. I’d love to see what the place and the people really looked like. 9000 years is a long, long time ago and while we can recover broad information on topics like architecture, animal husbandry, agriculture, daily practices, etc., we’ll forever be missing the smaller details. There is no Pompeii effect at work at Çatalhöyük; the site was not preserved due to a cataclysmic event that froze everything in time, but through slow accumulation and the perseverance of certain materials such as stone, mudbrick, bone, and fired clay. This means we know they hunted aurochs (wild predecessors to cattle) and kept domesticated sheep and goat, but we don’t know exactly how they used all the skins they must have collected. We know they made all sorts of things out of carved bone, stone, and clay, but we only have hints of what they made from botanical materials such as wood, flax, and reeds. We know the average height of males and females occupying the site, but we can only make educated guesses about their hair and eye colors. It’s my job to illustrate scenes with all these small harder-to-uncover details filled in.

I could use a good fairy right about now as I am working on some images for Milena Vasic’s chapter on adornment at Çatalhöyük which will be published in an upcoming project volume. Most of the direct evidence for adornment here consists of beads; beads made of stone, clay, shell, and bone. They are sometimes found in burials, clustered around necks, wrists, and ankles, but also singly all over in contexts such as middens and room fill. More rare are bone rings, alabaster armbands, and bone hooks and eyes. Most rare are materials made of soft tissue and plants such as leather, linen textiles, and wooden objects. While we sometimes find residues or small charred scraps of these materials, most of the evidence for them is indirect. For example, objects found in burials that would have been attached to cloth or leather, such as hooks and eyes, indicate that these materials where once present. Depictions of humans in figurines and wall paintings are another line of indirect evidence for cloth and leather, as well as jewelry and hairstyles.

Drawing indirect evidence from figurines and wall paintings has its own set of issues. This evidence is two or three times removed from what the people of Çatalhöyük wore. First, the people of Çatalhöyük had their own style of representation and ideas about what was important to represent. This filters the information we are getting. Second, in the case of wall paintings, James Mellaart recorded these paintings in the 1960s and as he re-drew them he interpreted what he saw, filtering the information again. Finally, I am looking at Mellaart’s drawings of Çatalhöyükians’ drawings of what Çatalhöyükian’s wore and putting my own interpretations on it based on my own experience of the site, other people’s interpretations (see John Swogger’s reconstructions), and my own society’s adornment norms.

All these different lines of evidence provide information on what the people of Çatalhöyük were putting on their bodies, but what did those bodies look like? For this kind of evidence I turn to the site’s bioarchaeologists who study the skeletal remains. Dr. Clark Larsen (Ohio State University) and Dr. Christopher Knüsel (University of Exeter) lead the current Human Remains Team. This summer I had a meeting with Dr. Knüsel and Scott Haddow, a Human Remains Team lab supervisor, during which we discussed what we know about the Çatalhöyükians’ phenotype. Based on skeletal analysis, we know their average height and that they were robust with strong facial features such as wide jaws and heavy brows. Unfortunately, no DNA has been successfully retrieved from skeletal remains so we have no information on their nearest living relatives or coloring. Dr. Knüsel has suggested that they may have had olive skin with dark hair and eyes based on common adaptations to similar climates. We can also hypothesize that they would have had well-weathered skin and callused hands and feet from spending so much time outdoors on daily tasks.

So far I have completed a preliminary drawing for male adornment (see above). The bone rings on the man’s left hand are from Feature 212, a male burial in Building 1. His necklace is also from a male burial in  Building 1, Feature 38. The bone hook closing his cloak and the leather pouch with flints are from the male burial Feature 1709 in Building 50. The head dress and loin cloth are drawn from the male figurine on the left (from the Mellaart excavations) and the surrounding painted male figures, which are part of the Hunting Shrine FVI wall paintings (also from the Mellaart excavations). Only one leopard bone has been found on site so it is possible the spotted fabric/leather has been painted to mimic leopard skin.

I’ll be completing the final art for this reconstruction, as well as a companion piece on female adornment, this month so check back!