Çatalhöyük – The Shrine of the Hunters (F.V.I)

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

This post documents the research that was used to create the visualisation found on our gallery page. Before checking out this post you might want to familiarize yourself with the project historysite background & decorated structures at the site, and if you wish to know more about research at Çatalhöyük, you can find site reports from the current excavations here. 


The paintings of “the Shrine of the Hunters” (Or F.V.I)

The structure labelled by Mellaart as F.V.I and nicknamed, ‘the Shrine of the Hunters’ was found on the fifth layer of excavation during the final year of the Mellaart (1964) excavations at Çatalhöyük. It was situated directly above another decorated structure, also found in the same season, named shrine VI.80, or the ‘Southern Leopard Shrine’ (Mellaart 1965) and like many decorated rooms from the site, it bore a clear resemblance to its predecessor showing repeated patterns seen in many other decorated rooms, justifying its history house definition.

Whilst excavation on level five had previously been undertaken in the first two seasons of work (Mellaart 1962: 1962), until 1964 there was a severe lack in evidence for any structure from the period, “not a single building was standing to a height sufficient to ascertain its original function” (Mellaart 1966: 184). Critically, this also meant that it had been the only excavated area between layers X-II that had not produced a shrine, or decorated house. In 1964 this was drastically altered by the discovery of a series of houses and a magnificent decorated structure, F.V.I.

F.V.I’s Plan

F.V.I Floor PlanLayout of the excavated level V plan for the south-west section (Mellaart 1965: 184)

Standing freely on three walls, the shrine was flanked by an open courtyard (see map above) and filled all of the requirements necessary to be recognised by Mellaart as a major shrine. Whilst other levels had an array of decorated buildings (Levels VI and VII show examples), the hunting shrine of level V provided an insightful view into a period of Çatalhöyük that, until it’s discovery was heavily lacking in information with the discovery also providing artwork that was among the “most impressive found at Çatalhöyük” (Mellaart 1966: 186). Decorated on all four of its walls, the structure bore unusual traits even compared to other decorated rooms with illustrated remains preserved to around 1.35m high with paint applied to only a single layer of plaster, suggesting that the wall images had been contemporary with its use and installed within twenty years of the rooms construction, placing it in “the middle of the 59th century B.C , half a century earlier than the Hunting Shrine of Level III.” (below).

Shrine A.IIIIllustration of shrine A.III.I. Similarities clearly exist between both hunting shrines found

The Paintings

F.V.I Painting PlanIllustration of the paintings and their position in relation to each other within the shrine (Mellaart 1965: 187)

Excavation Slide 01Excavation Slide Looking West at F.V.I

The paintings themselves were documented on site during the original excavations by Miss Raymonde Enderle Ludovic (Haydaroglu 2007) and these illustrations can be seen following the original slides below from the excavation. The murals were split into four separate panels, with painting one beginning in the south-west corner of the room.

Painting One

Excavation Slide 02In situ image of the stag on the south-west wall of F.V.I (Mellaart 1965: Plate LII)

Paitning South WestPainting of the south-west wall of F.V.I by Miss Raymonde Enderle Ludovic (Haydaroglu 2007)

Painting one began in the south-west corner of the room and was an indented panel showing a large red stag surrounded by an assortment of men, of which seventeen survived. These were drawn in a very stylistic way, with each bearing unique features in seemingly jovial moods with their skin varying between pink and red tones. Painted with black hair, they also sported a variety of beards and black skins, assumed to be from goats and leopards. Below these figures sat three more of a smaller size and to the bottom right of the image was the figure of a naked woman and a dog (Mellaart 1966: 186).

An observation made by Mellaart was that none of the figures were armed and from this it was devised that the scene did not depict a hunt, but instead something more akin to a game, with the men baiting the stag by holding onto various parts of its anatomy including its tail, tongue, nose and antlers. A similar reflection is also made by Russell and Meece who stated that the, “humans interact with the animals in these paintings in various ways. They seem to be teasing several” (2005: 213) .

Painting Two

North West PanelIn Situ image of the north-west panel of F.V.I (Mellaart 1965: Plate III)

North West Panel PaintingPainting of the north-west wall of F.V.I by Miss Raymonde Enderle Ludovic (Haydaroglu 2007)

After a separation due to a plaster pillar, the next painting was a long frieze of wild asses below what was presumed by Mellaart to have been two deer (above). The left of these was large and missing its head whilst the other was much smaller and of different style, presenting perhaps a fallow deer (Mellaart 1966: 188). It also showed a man, painted in black standing on its back, a feature that can be paralleled in the later level III hunting shrine above. It is difficult to judge if the headless creature was definitely a deer as it does not match the other images drawn within the same frieze and its body is slightly fuller than that of the stag found on the first and third paintings in the room. Also, from its position in the northern end of the wall, it could have been be a bull or a cow, especially as this painting was connected to that of the larger bovine mural. With what appears to have been an appendage it also held a very clear stylistic difference in both appearance and colour through the unique orange pigment that outlined it. Because of this exclusivity, Mellaart suggested that its head was possibly modeled from relief and whilst no evidence of this existed, the act of removing body parts was a recurring trend at the site, “The practice of removing and circulating heads is something we have witnessed across media from the wall paintings and burials to the figurines corpus” (Nakamura 2006: 234). In trying to justify such a unique instance as a painting transitioning into a sculpture, an important design choice could have been overlooked in his original depiction, that the animal was painted intentionally without a head, “What we might be seeing, however, is the process of articulation or disarticulation” (Nakamura 2006: 234). In claiming such a trend, Nakamura specifically references F.V.I, “Heads of animals in the forms of skulls (bulls, vultures, goat, wild boar jaws) were attached to walls and embedded and ‘refleshed’ with wall plaster in houses and may be related to the practice, and there is one unclear example of a wall painting showing a headless animal in a hunting scene:” (Nakamura 2006: 234).

Surrounding the two animals were an assortment of humans painted in ochre or hematite and directly below them were two men attempting to net a boar that was painted in a red wash. One of the men was painted red, whilst the other a pink, that had faded over time, a style seen in a handful of other figures in the scene that is attributed by Mellaart to the use of ‘organic paint’ (1965:188), but other reasons, for example binding agents could also have been a factor. Specifically in relation to colour of the black figures, their difference was not attributed to tribe or race by Mellaart, but by occupation, with an ethnographic example of herdsman, who are still described today using black as a representative colour mentioned (Mellaart 1966: 188). A clear difference between the men in this image to the first painting is that they held objects that could be read as weapons, which highlights a potentially different temperament to the composition than the jovial mood suggested in the earlier mural. In regards to these in particular, it was argued that the boomerang-esque weapon presented a cheap alternative for perforated mace heads, potentially constructed of baked clay balls covered by a leather pouch and fixed to the end of a shaft or stick, “Shown frequently on the wall-paintings, it looks superficially like a boomerang or throwing stick, but its use in Neolithic Anatolia is not attested and its effect on wild cattle, boar or deer would have been negligible” (Mellaart 1966: 188). Consequently, it seems a strange representation to have a weapon that was seemingly unproven in use or efficiency to qualify in a hunting scene and whether these scenes definitely referred to a hunt is a curious question. To the casual observer it could be argued that the scene represented a celebratory affair, or elements of both, with the handheld objects showing resemblances to simple instruments. One curiosity though, for an illustration that referenced so many blood based colours, is why there were no solid depictions of ‘shedded blood’ and specifically in painting four, the men at the back legs of the pink animal looked to be holding hands, rather than carrying out a violent act.

North Wall Bull

In situ image of the great bull on the north wall, F.V.I (Mellaart 1965: Plate LIV)

North West Bull PaintingPainting of the great bull on the north wall, F.V.I (Miss Raymonde Enderle Ludovic (Haydaroglu 2007)

Moving clockwise towards the centre of the North wall, perhaps the most famous moniker of this room came into view, the large male bull, a majestic creature with large horns that dwarfed the figures around it in size. Various figures surrounded the animal in euphoria, losing their leopard skins through their movements with one in particular jumping on the creatures back, similar to the half black figure that was visible in painting one, perhaps furthering ideas related to profession, which could represent an interesting dualism. Below the bull another woman was represented, pregnant with spiked breasts, armpit hair and black soled feet.

Painting Three

North Wall DeerIn situ image of the east side of the north wall of F.V.I (Mellaart 1965: Plate LIX)

North Wall Deer PaintingPainting of the above image by Miss Raymonde Enderle Ludovic (Haydaroglu 2007)

North East BoarsIn Situ image of the north side of the east wall of F.V.I (Mellaart 1965: Plate LX)

The next painting was separated by another pillar and ran along the corner of the north-east side of the room, continuing along the east wall. It showed another large stag surrounded by more men in leopard skins, with a boar below. Mellaart noted that the number of people may have been more due to three leopard skins being found on particularly poorly preserved parts of the wall. It is also said that the “use of organic paint was wide-spread in this painting” (Mellaart 1966: 188) with two figures in a faint pink colour and others in a flesh colour that since being uncovered faded. Around the wild boar an assortment of figures pulled at its tail and tongue and at the base of this section, where an “enigmatic’ man can be seen pulling at the boars tail, the only suggested instance of over painting was found.


North East Boar PaintingPart 1 of the painting on the north side of the east wall by Miss Raymonde Enderle Ludovic (Haydaroglu 2007)

Second Half of Painting ThreePainting of the leopard on the south side of the east wall Miss Raymonde Enderle Ludovic (Haydaroglu 2007)

On the east wall another boar was outlined in black, with a bear below it. There was a similar pattern of men surrounding the animals, baiting and holding onto various parts of their anatomy and further along the east wall were more figures and what is described as a dog and a snarling wolf. Next to these animals, were a group of men performing around a richly decorated figure with one man carrying what could be seen as a musical instrument, but specific mention was made to the bad preservation of this area (Mellaart 1966: 188).

Painting Four

leopard paintingPainting of the leopard on the south side of the east wall Miss Raymonde Enderle Ludovic (Haydaroglu 2007)

South Wall CranesCrane scene at the east end of the south wall (Mellaart 1965: LXII)

South Wall Crane PaintingsGreyscale of painting on the south wall Miss Raymonde Enderle Ludovic (Haydaroglu 2007)

The fourth and final painting in the sequence began after the bench on the eastern wall of the shrine and continued until the ladder on the southern wall. It is mentioned that this area of painting was badly preserved with such faint traces that without the aid of colour photography, it would have been unable to have been recorded at all (Mellaart 1966: 190). In this scene a large pink feline animal was painted with black claws, surrounded once again by a series of individuals, all holding hands and it is presumed this was much part of a larger mural. Mellaart discussed the classification of this animal that was missing its back/head and although it was supposed to be a lion, other interpretations agree it could also have represented other variations of felid creatures, “despite a lack of spots, a leopard seems equally plausible” (Russel and Meece 2006: 213). Although it is specified that all representations of leopards were shown with spots and tails raised, an early image of such an animal was painted plain pink with spots added at a later date, suggesting a stage of painted life that could parallel what was found in F.V.I (Russel and Meece 2006: 213). The men that surround the animal were once more dressed in skins that are this time feathered, but like the first frieze they were unarmed. They faced another group of badly preserved animals and next to some fragmented remains of what was assumed to be a leopard skin, was another boar. It had lost part of its back and ears, but was painted in a similar fashion to the others already mentioned, only differing in the presentation of its legs. Below the boar were a group of cranes and two onagers with black outlines, bushy tails and black tipped ears and to finish the scene, further along the south wall a very fragmented image of two quadrupeds and some human figures was found.


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

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

Mellaart, J, Excavations at Çatal Hüyük, 1963, Third Preliminary Report, In Anatolian Studies, Vol. 14 (1964), pp. 39-119, British Institute at Ankara: Ankara

Mellaart, J, Excavations at Çatal Hüyük, 1965, Forth Preliminary Report, In Anatolian Studies, Vol. 16 (1966), pp. 165-191, British Institute at Ankara: Ankara

Nakamura, Carolyn 2006, Figurine Report in, ÇATALHÖYÜK 2006 ARCHIVE REPORT, www.catalhoyuk.com (Accessed 29/08/2010)

Russell, N, and Meece, Stephanie, 2005 Animal Representations and Animal Remains at Çatalhöyük, in, 2005 Çatalhöyük perspectives: themes from the 1995-1999 seasons. Monograph of the McDonald Institute and the British Institute of Archaeology at Ankara

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