Episode 17: Ceramic Neolithic Anatolia

Now that we have finished off the Pre-Pottery Neolithic, we can start to look at how the different regions of the Near East changed afterwards during the Pottery or Ceramic Neolithic. Today we can have a look at central and western Anatolia (mostly modern-day Turkey).

Contrary to the idea of a ‘Pre-Pottery Neolithic Collapse’, Anatolia expands at the end of the Pre-Pottery Neolithic. Farming villages turn up all over central and eastern Anatolia at the beginning of the Pre-Pottery Neolithic, but they seem to stop at central Anatolia. This spread of farming villages pauses here in the highlands of central Anatolia for over a thousand years, and only starts to move westwards towards the Aegean (and, eventually, into and across Europe) after about 7000 cal BCE.

Asia Minor and the different geographic regions of Anatolia. Map taken from During 2000.

This wasn’t the post-PPN expansion either. One of the best known sites for the late Pre-Pottery Neolithic and Ceramic Neolithic in central Anatolia is Çatalhöyük (höyük essentially means ‘tell’). While a lot of the Pre-Pottery Neolithic ‘megasites’ either significantly contracted in size or were abandoned in other parts of the Near East, here in central Anatolia Çatalhöyük does the opposite. Over the course of the Early Ceramic Neolithic (about 7000 to 6500 cal BCE) Çatalhöyük grows, getting up to about 13 hectares in size. This growth seems to have come from swallowing up the other villages in it’s part of the Konya plain, as despite a lot of looking we don’t have evidence for other Early Ceramic Neolithic villages nearby.

The people at Çatalhöyük lived in what was called a clustered neighbourhood village, which is something that we see in central Anatolia during the Pre-Pottery Neolithic as well as throughout the Early Ceramic Neolithic (and beyond at some sites). This was community living at the level of the neighbourhood, with streets winding through the villages in between neighbourhood blocks of houses, but with no streets in between the houses of a neighbourhood. Instead, the houses were built directly next to one another with no space in between. The houses did not even have doors – at least not at ground level. Instead, all of the clustered-together houses had flat, open roofs. So if you wanted to get into your house from the street, you would need to climb up a ladder and walk across the rooftops of several of your neighbours to get to your own. These roofs also served as open communal spaces for activities, and visiting with neighbours.

Artists reconstruction of daily life in the neighbourhoods at Çatalhöyük. Image taken from the Çatalhöyük excavation website here.

Inside the houses, the walls would have been carefully plastered in fine loamy mud, as well as the floors. In some parts of the walls people might have used stamps to make decorative mouldings in geometric shapes. Or they might have painted the walls with colourful geometric patterns. These are not limited to Çatalhöyük either, but are found at houses in other sites across central Anatolia during the Early Ceramic Neolithic. Thus, life has continued here in Anatolia pretty much as it was in the Pre-Pottery Neolithic, except now with communities using a bit of pottery.

The inside of a house from Ceramic Neolithic Çatalhöyük, showing the geometric shapes painted on the walls. Image from the Çatalhöyük excavation Flickr archive here.
A stamp seal in the shape of a bear excavated from Çatalhöyük in 2005. Image taken from the Çatalhöyük excavation Flickr archive here.
Female figurine from Late Ceramic Neolithic Çatalhöyük. Image from the Çatalhöyük excavation Flickr archive here.

It isn’t really until the Late Ceramic Neolithic (about 6500-6000 cal BCE) that we really start to see changes to societies. We get some changes in which colours or shapes of pottery were fashionable, and it also changes from being pretty rare to a lot more common. The villages themselves also change. Some keep the clustered neighbourhoods of earlier centuries, but many others changes to a more open layout of houses grouped together around courtyards or streets, each with their own front door. The painting and decoration inside the houses also gets more intricate, with geometric shapes joined by depictions of animals and even intricate hunting scenes. Sone tool production also changes, with more use of pressure-flaking of flakes and blades from ‘bullet’ shaped cores.

In western Anatolia, the first Neolithic villages come from the Ceramic Neolithic (that is, after 7000 cal BCE). Pottery is also either not very common (like at Çatalhöyük) or really rare here until about 6500 cal BCE. After 6500 cal BCE though, it becomes common everywhere. There is some evidence here to suggest that this change might be due to pottery starting to be used more in everyday cooking, making it a more common part of household goods. Some parts of western Anatolia (to the north) also share the use of pressure-flaking and bullet cores in the way that stone tools were made. Other parts of western Anatolia, though (the south) had less interest in this style. In both areas, the way that stone tools were made formed its own local tradition, rather than being a twin or a descendant of the way that tools were made in central Anatolia.

The Ceramic Neolithic village of Bademağaci in the Lakes region of western Anatolia. House foundations excavated in the foreground of this picture are covered in protective plaster during conservation, making it easier to see the layout of houses along one of the streets of the village. Image taken from Umurtak 2008.
Some of the early pottery recovered from excavations at Bademağaci in the Lakes region of Western Anatolia. The crenulation-type scale a the bottom of each drawing is in centimetres. Image taken from Umurtak 2008.

Households in western Anatolia also seem to share some patterns with those of central Anatolia after about 6500 cal BCE. This isn’t necessarily in how the houses were built, as that varies with a range of house-building methods including mudbrick, earthen/mud slabs and wattle-and daub (wooden posts with a woven wooden frame covered in mud plaster). What is common is the less tightly packed layout of houses, mostly opening out onto streets with spaces between the houses rather than all tightly packed together like central Anatolia before 6500 cal BCE. While we see a lot of regional and even individual variation in the way that people arranged their houses in western Anatolia, both of here and central Anatolia seem to share a greater focus of interest on the role of the household (rather than the neighbourhood or the whole village) in daily life and decision-making.

Episode Bibliography:

Arbuckle, B.S. 2013. The late adoption of cattle and pig husbandry in Neolithic Central Turkey. Journal of Archaeological Science 40: 1805-1815.

Bayliss, A., Brock, F., Farid, S., Hodder, I., Southon, J. and Taylor, R.E. 2015. Getting to the bottom of it all: a Bayesian approach to dating the start of Çatalhöyük. Journal of World Prehistory 28(1): 1-26.

Brami, M.N. 2014. A graphical simulation of the 2,000-year lag in Neolithic occupation between Central Anatolia and the Aegean basin. Journal of Archaeological and Anthropological Sciences 7: 319-327.

Carter, T., Conolly, J. and Spasojevic, A. 2006. The chipped stone.  In I. Hodder (ed.), Changing Materialities at Çatalhöyük: reports from the 1995- 1999 Seasons. Cambridge: McDonald Institute Monographs: 221-83.

Çevik, Ö. 2019. Chaingin ideologies and community-making through the Neolithic period at Ulucak. In A. Marciniak (ed.), Concluding the Neolithic: the Near East in the Second Half of the Seventh Millennium BC. Atlanta, GA: Lockwood Press: 219-239.

Çevik, Ö. and Vuruskan, O. 2020. Ulucak Höyük: the pottery emergence in Western Anatolia. Documenta Praehistorica 47: 96-109.

Çilingiroğlu, Ç. 2009. Of stamps, loom weights and spindle whorls: contextual evidence on the function(s) of Neolithic stamps from Ulucak, Izmir, Turkey. Journal of Mediterranean Archaeology 22(1): 3-27.

Düring, B.S. 2000. The Prehistory of Asia Minor: From Complex Hunter-Gatherers to Early Urban Societies. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Düring, B.S. 2006. Constructing Communities: Clustered Neighbourhood Settlements of the Central Anatolian Neolithic ca. 8500-5500 cal BCE. Leiden: Nederlands Institut Vor Het Nabije Oosten.

Düring, B.S. 2013. Breaking the bond: investigating the Neolithic expansion in Asia Minor in the seventh millennium BC. Journal of World Prehistory 26: 75-100.

Fletcher, A., Baird, D., Spataro, M. and Fairbairn, A. 2017. Early ceramics in Anatolia: implications for the production and use of the earliest pottery. Cambridge Archaeological Journal 27(2): 351-369.

Gerritsen,. A.F., Özbal, R. and Thissen, L.C. 2013. The earliest Neolithic levels at Barcin Höyük, northwestern Turkey. Anatolica 39: 53-92.

Guilbeau, D., Kayacan, N., Altınbilek-Algül, Ç., Erdoğu, B. and Çevik, Ö. 2019. A comparative study of the Initial Neolithic chipped-stone assemblages of Ulucak and Uğurlu. Anatolian Studies 69: 1-20.

Karul, N. 2019. Early farmers in northwestern Anatolia in the seventh millennium BC. In A. Marciniak (ed.), Concluding the Neolithic: the Near East in the Second Half of the Seventh Millennium BC. Atlanta, GA: Lockwood Press: 269-286.

Thissen, L. 2010. The Neolithic-Chalcolithic sequence in the SW Anatolian Lakes region. Documenta Prehistorica 37: 269-282.

Umurtak, G. 2008. Some observations on a group of buildings and their finds from the Early Neolithic II/2 settlement at Bademağaci. Adalya 11: 1-23.

Vandam, R. 2019. Exploring the culture landscape of Neolithic Hacilar (6500-6100 cal BCE), southwestern Turkey. In A. Marciniak (ed.), Concluding the Neolithic: the Near East in the Second Half of the Seventh Millennium BC. Atlanta, GA: Lockwood Press: 193-217.

One thought on “Episode 17: Ceramic Neolithic Anatolia

  1. Thank you so much for this outstanding series! You bring complex topics and detailed scholarship to life. I have enjoyed it and learned so much. Thank you for your great work!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: