Day By Day

Monday, April 25, 2005

New Digging at Catal Huyuk [Gatalhvy|k]

Scripps Howard runs a nice piece on recent excavations at Catal Huyuk in Anatolia. This was a sizeable community of approximately 8,000 individuals that dates from more than 9,000 years ago -- the first city in the world. [The official website of the excavations is here.]

Over the years the site has generated a lot of speculation. Much of this has centered on the role of women in this early society.
[B]ecause of the spectacular female clay figures that the archaeologists have found in the excavated layers over the years, Gatalhvyk has become a draw for modern believers who hold to the idea that the neolithic people were ruled by a matriarchy whose central figure was a mother goddess.

Travel agents offer "goddess tours" of the site; groups of women _ some feminist, some religious _ go there to dance, to sing together in spiritual community, and to draw inspiration from what they hold to be a place where mothers were paramount in benign peacekeeping.
This belief seems to be impervious to contrary evidence, such as that found by the recent excavators. Previous scholars had found a, "dramatic statuette of a majestic woman seated on what might have been a throne with her arms resting on the heads of two animals that appeared to be leopards." This was considered by some enthusiasts as proof of a mother goddess cult.
But that mother goddess was found in a grain bin, and the [current] team's 3-inch figurine [pictured above] was found amid trash left in a grave, suggesting they were something less than figures of worship or power.
What is more:
Most of the human figures _ or fragments of human figures _ that have been found at Gatalhvyk appear sexless, Hodder [director of the current excavations] said, although he agrees that female depictions do outnumber the males.

"I find it difficult to link all the figures and the wall paintings with the idea of a goddess," Hodder said. "I see them more as depictions of daily life, and our evidence so far doesn't suggest anything else."
As so often happens with archaeological finds, they reflect a prosaic reality, but are glamourized by their antiquity. Most people seem to prefer the glamour.


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