Çatalhöyük – Site Background

This has been modified from the MSc Dissertation “Photorealistic Reality: Focusing on artistic space at Çatalhöyük” (Cox 2010)


The site of Çatalhöyük

The Neolithic site of Çatalhöyük was discovered during a survey in November 1958 and immediately it showed the world its importance. Originally excavated to reveal cultural information on Hacilar, another Turkish Neolithic site, in 1960 focus shifted to Çatalhöyük when upon inspection, the site revealed a wealth of remains covering 32 acres of space on the Konya plain (Mellaart 1962: 42). The first series of excavations, headed by James Mellaart during the early nineteen sixties produced a great deal of publicity due to the variety of incredible finds, that included well-preserved structures with wall paintings spread throughout differing layers of habitation over a period of 1800 years. These not only provided an exciting insight into the culture of its Neolithic inhabitants, but also on a wider scale, the emergence of human sedentary society, “The spectacular art provides a direct window into life 9000 years ago, and the site is an internationally important key for our understanding of the origins of agriculture and civilisation” (www.catalhoyuk.com), an example of which can be seen below.

Image of the duel peaked Volcano Hasan Dag from Shrine VII.14 (Haydaroglu 2007)

With this excitement came controversy and in 1965 Mellaart was forced to abandon his excavations due to his involvement in the Dorak affair, where he was expelled for suspected antiquities smuggling, leaving the archaeological community with not just a multitude of unanswered questions, but also suspicions over his work. In the years following its discovery, this curiosity fostered a great deal of positive debate, highlighted by an extensive bibliography from the time, but throughout the decades following his expulsion, heated discussion frequently arose regarding Mellaart’s claims from the site, a particularly tarnished example of which can be seen in the outrage emitted from the weaving community in response to his 1989 publication, “The Goddess from Anatolia” regarding supposed ‘never before seen’ kilim designs from the site and their claimed influence on fabric patterns, where allegations abounded regarding the ‘reconstructions’ and their lack of empirical evidence.

This fierce emotional response to information disseminated by Mellaart betrays how Çatalhöyük has not only been critically important to archaeologists, but also to many invested communities and individuals who connected with the archaeology and who continue to do so today. In fact, the site is a clear example of the delicate political, social and cultural relationships that are closely entwined within archaeology. One thing that cannot be disputed however, is that James Mellaart and his wife Arlette uncovered material that would fascinate the world, captivating the imagination of many different audiences with finds such as, “plastered bull skulls (bucrania), plaster reliefs, and wonderful paintings, both non-figurative and with complex narrative content.” (Hodder 2008:1).

Post Mellaart excavation

Since the early nineties, physical work at the site has continued in the form of extensive excavation headed by Ian Hodder (1993-Ongoing) and crucially for the context of this project, one of the key ambitions of the contemporary strategy has been to present Çatalhöyük’s archaeological content in an accessible and exciting way to the public.

“Initial planning of the Çatalhöyük Research Project included heritage management with public presentation as one of the three central concerns of the project. Along with investigating the beginnings of farming and town life in Anatolia and interpreting the magnificent mural art of Çatalhöyük, bringing these discoveries and stories before a global public is one of the project’s core programs.” (Shane and Kucuk 1998)

Therefore, following successful 3D visualisation work on an existing physically reconstructed structure from the site, interest rose in applying similar techniques and skills in a constructive way to benefit the site in conjunction with these interests.

Choosing the case study

Taking the results of the study above and applying them to the site, the most desired and relevant archaeological material for reconstruction were a series of “shrines” found during the original Mellaart excavations that now either lay back-filled, or conserved in the Museum of Anatolian Civilisations at Ankara. This was not just down to their heavily visual nature, but also because they frequently attract significant attention from the public, “Many visitors came to the site specifically to see wall paintings” (Shane and Kucuk 1998), as they represent a heavily empathetic part of the site.

Within this broad group of decorated buildings, there was one structure in particular that not only highlighted the beauty of the painting culture found within Çatalhöyük but also provided a distinct challenge to test the ability to use the artistic tools available (3DS Max, Mental Ray etc) in a productive way. This self contained project was a level V shrine found in the fourth season of excavation by Mellaart in 1965 and describing it, he commented upon its importance, noting it as, “a structure sporting an unusual arrangement of paintings on all four of its walls” that boasted some of the most impressive artwork ever found at the site. Consequently, the stage was set to explore heavily visual content that had not been examined in detail before from the Mellaart era, using contemporary Hodder theory to produce a series of images and an animation at a commercial level of quality.

Important note: The History House

In recent years the idea of a separate religious architectural style at Çatalhöyük has been challenged and the buildings that were once labelled as shrines by Mellaart have been replaced by the concept of a “history house” (Hodder 2007). This idea breaks away from interpretations that the buildings were used, “as household chapels for the practice of a Neolithic cult” (Mellaart 1962: 78) and instead links them to a more domestic identity. For the purpose of this project and to reduce confusion, the structure will retain its label of the Level V hunting shrine, or alternatively shrine F.V.I to keep continuity with their description. However, please be aware that this is simply to keep context with the original publications and it does not represent a weighted theoretical terminology as adopted by Mellaart.

In the next part of this project breakdown, this idea will be expanded and more focus will be placed upon understanding patterns at the site and the background theoretical trends that influenced the core parts of the final model.


M. Haydaroglu (ed.), 2007. Çatalhöyük: From Earth to Eternity. Yapi ve Kredi Ban- kasi.

Hodder, I, 2007 Season Review, in ÇATALHÖYÜK 2007 ARCHIVE REPORT,
http://www.catalhoyuk.com (Accessed 10/02/2015)

Hodder, I, 2008, Review, In ÇATALHÖYÜK 2008 ARCHIVE REPORT, http://www.catalhoyuk.com
(Accessed 10/02/2015)

Mallet, M, The Goddess from Anatolia An Updated View of the Çatal Hüyük Controversy, in
http://www.marlamallet.com (Acessed 10/02/2015)

Mellaart, J, Excavations at Çatal Hüyük: First Preliminary Report, 1961, In, Anatolian Studies,
Vol. 12 (1962), pp. 41-65, British Institute at Ankara: Ankara

Shane, O and Kucuk, M. 1998 Public Presentation at Çatalhöyük, in ÇATALHÖYÜK 1998
ARCHIVE REPORT, http://www.catalhoyuk.com (Accessed 26/08/2010)

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