Once again I was surprised by the remoteness and the isolation of a site as significant as Çatalhöyük. After all, we are talking about one of the oldest and largest surviving settlements from neolithic times, but there is hardly a way to even get there unless you have your own transportation.
Çatalhöyük was one of the major draws for my visit to Konya. A bus took me to a nearby town, where I fell to the mercy of the taxi drivers who knew that full well, and charged me a triple the amount of money to take me to Çatalhöyük. I had no choice… But I sent the taxi back knowing I would fare better on my return, if I resorted to my trusted and proven hitch-hiking tactics.
In the middle of nowhere, a mound rises about 60 feet above the plane. Archaeologists know what that means… James Mellaart is credited with the discovery of the site in the early 1960s. Even though he is English, there seem to be a lot (!) of notorious similarities to the German Heinrich Schliemann story of the discovery of Troy 200 years earlier. Both discovered major sites, both worked with their wives, both forged some of their findings, both made up stories, both got into trouble with the Turkish authorities… And yet… both are still considered and really are, important archaeologists.
Çatalhöyük dates from about 9500 years ago (7500 BC). It is estimated that at one point 8000 people lived there. There were 13 layers of consecutive settlements. But archaeology is by its nature destructive. When Mellaart started to excavate, the top layer still looked like a real village. But once you go down and dig into the earlier levels, the top levels have to be dismantled. Today, you are looking into deep excavation holes exposing multiple layers of occupation. Once again, this triggered my deepest admiration for the scientists who can make sense out of all this rubble…
A small visitor center provides helpful information. There is a tiny guard house on site with some toilets, and a guy at a kiosk across the street occasionally sells tea — when there is a group visiting — and some snacks. He is also a local, and a hobby writer who wrote a novel based on life in Çatalhöyük from the perspective of a little boy. If the English translation of his book had not been so godawful, I might have considered buying a copy.
A complex closed to visitors houses the team of students who dig here for several months, and the archaeologists’ quarters as well as the on-site laboratory.
Two completed excavation sites are covered and open to the public. For the two hours I spent there, it was just me, a Swedish family, and later a British couple.
Archaeologists today are doing a great job trying to make their finds accessible to the average visitor. To demonstrate the actual Life in Çatalhöyük, models work well. A set of adobe houses has been installed at the premise, recreating the neolithic dwelling places with their flat roofs, their close proximity to another — house walls are touching and there is hardly a way to walk between houses. Access to the dwellings was only possible by openings in the roofs. Each house had a ladder to climb down, and a set of rooms were connected by small round doors. You had a storage room, a kitchen/living room with raised platforms that would double as dining tables, and perhaps a third bedroom. Often right beneath the floor, were the graves in which family members would be buried. It was customary and important to be in close proximity to the dead. Some rooms were painted with ochre murals showing animals and stylized people.
A bit over the top is the recreation of a very small “mother goddess” figurine as a giant public sculpture. Oh well… it made for a good photo-op.
When I had finished my rounds and realized there was no tea at the kiosk, I was on the lookout for a ride home. I got very, very lucky! The British couple turned out to be British Sara, a student of Classical Antiquity, and German Carsten, a lawyer. They had come in a spacious van with their driver Memet. And they were willing to take me, if I was willing to go on a little detour with them. Willing? I was thrilled beyond belief!
Manifestation of the finest order. It happened again. In the visitor center mention was made of another nearby neolithic site worth visiting: Boncuklu. But how would I have gotten there? Here was my opportunity.
Things took an unexpected turn for the better for all of us. We arrived at Boncuklu. Excavation season had not yet started, but the discoverer of the site himself, Professor Douglas Baird from the Liverpool University in England, had arrived and took over an hour to introduce us to the site! We could not believe it. This was a treat!
Boncuklu is even older than Çatalhöyük and translates as “site of beads” based on the many beads that were found there. Many of the finds here support (or contradict) theories that have been made about Çatalhöyük. It once was one of those 60 feet high hills, but locals had bulldozed the top layer down to build their nearby road…
That means more recent settlements and artifacts were destroyed, but it benefited the team of Professor Baird who is interested in the neolithic layers more than anything. A brief note in the visitor center mentioned that Professor Baird had conducted 8 years of surveying in the area to identify neolithic sites. Boncuklu was discovered on the very last day of the survey period and proved to be the most important site of the handful of others they found! What a story.
Not only was Boncukly a real treat, my new travel companions were awesome, fun people to talk to and after the ride we found ourselves together sipping tea in Memet’s carpet store — how can you refuse your driver this favor…
And that night, we had dinner together at one of the beautiful terraces overlooking the iconic plaza of Konya.
And so I give a heartfelt thanks to my new friends, and the powers of manifesting!