Rebecca Daly, who works on faunal analysis at Çatalhöyük, spent some time durring the 2004 feild season to provide insight into dig life, lab life and more.
Doru's area turned up another figurine! This one also has its head attached, and was found in a pit, just like the one from Gareth's area turns out to have been (it had apparently landed in that burial by turning up while they were digging the grave, instead of being put in there on purpose). There have been some unkind suggestions that perhaps the reason Mellaart's figurines were missing their heads is because they were being bashed off by the relatively unsupervised workmen, but I'll make no comment on that! It's a lovely little thing, not specifically male or female although it does have a large behind. It appears to be crossing its arms in front of its body, and it has eyes carved on as little slits.
We watched Fahrenheit 9/11 this evening. It was for sale in Konya, and someone bought it. I'm not entirely sure, but I believe it was probably a completely illegal copy, and I wonder how it got here. It is topical for hte area, but the smuggling must be massive to get it here so fast-- it's been around since the day after it opened! It is such a good movie, and it was wonderful to watch it on the terrace under the moon with a whole group of Turkish students who will now have a difficult time entering the country, despite their years of study and good intentions.
Today was our day off, the final one for most of the excavators, because this is the last week of excavation-- only five days of digging to go, and some of the areas are finishing today. Many of the lab staff are staying longer to finish processing the data that was collected this year, but we're going to be down fifty or so people by the next day off. It's nice to think of the dig house being less crowded, but it's also sad that the season is ending and very, very hectic because there are so many things everyone wanted to get done this season that haven't been, and they're all trying to finish them now. Both Gareth and Simon's area and Richard and Roddy's area, in the south shelter, were hoping to get down to the house below the one they started on. Bleda wanted to reach the floor of his building, Serdar wanted to define his walls and figure out all of his hearths, and most of the 40x40 wanted to have a really clear understanding of what was happening in their areas. It's almost never possible to finish everything you plan to during an excavation, because you always find things you weren't expecting that slow you down, like a bunch of burials or a Byzantine floor. And obviously, the lab staff all want to catch up with everything that came in this year and do a little work on the backlog from pervious years--but the mere fact that there is backlog from previous years indicates our likely lack of success. I went into Konya and had dinner at what I'm told is the nicest restaurant in town, Ku¼k. It was amazing. Even more amazing was the fact that a full meal at the nicest restaurant in town added up to less than 30 dollars for three of us! Food in Turkey is amazingly inexpensive and surprisingly good. You can get a kebab at a corner shop for less than two dollars, and it's all fresh ingredients from the flatbread to the lettuce, tomatoes and of course the meat. Returning to dinner, two of us went in with one of the Turkish students who lives in Konya, and he picked out a traditional Konya meal. We had meat wrapped in grape-leaves, flatbread, garlic yoghurt to dip in, and brek (which is a sort of pastry with meat and sometimes cheese in it) as appetizers, and then this incredible dish called ali nazin, which is lamb meat cooked as a kebab and then cooked some more in a mix of tomatoes, chilis, garlic, butter and yoghurt. Incredible.
Being here on the site, the Turks we meet are academics, students, the middle or upper classes, and thus similar in expectations to the rest of us--I at least usually don't think about Turkey being very different form home in terms of standards of living. But there are some areas of Turkey that are desperately poor, and at the site we are actually living in one of them. The reason the nearby town of Kuukkoy is so picturesque, with its mudbrick buildings and wood-burning ovens and farm fowl running through the streets is not because they want it that way but because they can't afford it any other way. The thing that really makes that clear is a long stretch along the road between the dig site and Konya that smells absolutely horrible. It comes from a factory where they make fuel to burn during the winter--dung bricks. Farmers from all around sell their animal wastes, which are shaped and dried to make dense bricks that burn well. It's difficult to imagine the kind of life where you have no choice but to heat your house, or your water, or even to cook your food, with fuel made from dung, but people do it every day.
The much discussed press day has arrived at last! We're all currently locked into our labs with cameras peering through the windows, cleaned earlier in anticipation. It feels rather like what I imagine living in a zoo must, as though you have absolutely no privacy. You start to feel vaguely paranoid, because everyone is in fact watching you. There is a very nice exhibit set up in the museum with all of the most spectacular looking items we've found this year set up beautifully, and after the journalists and officials went around the site, they all went in there to see them. But because they're journalists, they're all hoping to scoop each other and find something more exciting and unusual hidden in one of the labs. Or possibly to find one of us doing something horrible, I'm not entirely sure. Probably it doesn't matter! The poor excavators up in the South shelter are not having the best of days, especially having to stay up on site until the tour has gone through. It was 42 Celsius in there by lunch (about 105 Fahrenheit), and climbing, so they're just dying. Because of the press, we didn't have off from 3-5 for tea as we usually do, so they've been stuck up there in the hottest part of the day. I figure they'll be pretty well dead by the time they get down here. I think that kind of heat can't be good for the artefacts, and they actually have one of the conservators studying that, which means they may decide they need to raise funds for some sort of cooling system next year. That's going to be hard, it's one thing to say we need ten thousand dollars to pay for food for the excavators, and another to say we need to buy a giant air conditioner. But we have found some very Mellaartian things this year, so the money may come.
Another big day here! First, Stringy turned up the first obsidian mirror from the new excavations. It came out of the 40x40, from a midden, and is fairly small. It's still amazing. I have no idea how you would go about making such a thing, but it has to be really difficult. Obsidian doesn't polish well, and it's very, very sharp--so sharp that when you cut yourself you don't even feel it because the edge doesn't rip or tear, it simply slices the cells. There is actually a small industry of people who make obsidian surgical tools, because it's many times sharper than the best surgical steel so the wound heals more quickly. Obsidian is also similar to glass, in that if you rub rough things on it it will scratch. So, trying to grind it down to make a flat surface is both dangerous and difficult, and it's impressive that the people here managed to do it?and interesting that they cared enough. They've also turned up a cache of figurines in the Stanford area, with several different animals. But the most exciting thing, though, is the skull. Up in Simon and Gareth's area, they've been trying desperately to finish this building, and they keep finding burials and other things that slow them down. They found another burial cut yesterday, and today Basak turned up a plastered, painted skull. This is huge! There are two skulls in the burial, one as part of a complete skeleton, and the other apparently sitting on the chest of the body, buried with it. No other plastered skull has been found here, and they aren't associated with this time period in this area. They are occasionally found in earlier sites in the area, and the most famous example is from Jericho. But this is a huge thing, it indicates a completely new aspect of their beliefs about life and death and suggests some new possibilities for what they were worshipping. AND, it makes a good connection to the cultures at some other sites.
Bleda is beginning the burial that was next to the sheep today, which thrills both of us, because we both suspect that there is some incredible stuff in that burial. There are a lot of burials coming out now, the human remains lab are tearing their hair out trying to get everything done. Just when they think they're going to catch up, more things appear! Sure enough, Bleda has come up with an interesting bird bone thing that both he and Lori, who's from the human remains lab doing the burial, think is a flute. It's certainly the right shape, and it has had both of the ends knocked off which suggests they wanted to use the inside for something. I have high hopes, Bleda seems to attract the interesting objects. It would be really amazing if this is actually a flute of some sort, it would be the earliest musical instrument. The burial was sprinkled with ochre both under and over it, which suggests that it was a really important part of the burial process in this case. This was obviously a very significant burial anyway, what with the whole lamb, but this makes it even more so-- there is some suggestion of the order in which the burial activities took place..
The antler from Bleda's burial looks like it was intended to be a pressure flaker but didn't actually get used. The shape is perfect, the size is right, the location is extremely suggestive, everything is right, except there are absolutely no signs of use on the thing itself. It's a little frustrating! While I can say it was probably a pressure flaker, that is in no way as nice as being able to say it was definitely a pressure flaker. Rar! This is one of the frustrating things about archaeology, the fact that sometimes things that are just blindingly obvious can't be proved conclusively. On the other hand, it's a good thing about archaeology, that we can't rely on anything that isn't proved conclusively.
The other interesting thing in the lab today was our pig skull, the one that came out of Lisa's area in the 40x40 on the 20. We've only just gotten around to looking at it. The conservators came over in the morning and discussed it with us, and then came back after lunch and coated the bottom (which was the up side) with magic disappearing wax, saran wrap and plaster, let it set, and then flipped it over. There was a huge clump of phytoliths (plant remains) stuck to the bottom of it, and so we had the phytolith analysist come and collect that. Then, because it's so fragile, the conservators came over again and showed us how to consolidate it (or make sure it won't fall further apart by judicious use of really fancy glue-like chemicals). With more cleaning, it got to be pretty mysterious. There were two huge boar canines from the upper jaw removed from the sockets before it came down here, but it is in fact not an upper jaw at all, it's a mandible, or lower jaw. This is really crazy! The people had knocked out the side teeth and the canines from the mandible, hollowed out the sockets, and then stuck the upper canines in their place! So they were obviously doing something with it that required large canines, and the really interesting question is what? The best theory so far (or possibly the most fun, but it does explain everything) is that it was some sort of headdress. It's a fabulous image, of some Neolithic person wearing a big boar jaw on their head with huge (fake) teeth jutting out. What could it have meant?
We've also just learned that because the press day is scheduled for Friday, we're going to have Saturday off instead. This throws the whole week off, seven days in a row working, and then a party on an actual weekend night. I wonder if people might try to go into Konya to see the nightlife...if there is a nightlife in Konya. It's also unclear as to whether everything is open on Saturday, because Turkey is a resolutely secular country, which is why the weekend is Saturday and Sunday and everything is still open on Friday even though it's a holy day.
This was originally intended to be something in the way of a final update, but I thought it might be more interesting to mention some of the things we have been doing in the off-season to prepare for this summer's trip to the site. I, of course, moved myself and all of my belongings to California at the end of the summer, to begin my program at Stanford. I've spent the year there, studying many things, and working on a variety of papers on topics related to Çatal (and on other things, but I won't go into those here!). We had a large reading group in the fall, going over the literature on other sites in the area of a similar age. We did this because not enough of the people who work on the site had had time to read them previously, so Ian wanted to get a large group together to both read and discuss these sites and their relationship to Çatal. This means that we will all be coming from a relatively similar perspective, and will be familiar with the same literature, instead of having read completely different things and getting different ideas from them.
I also spent several days preparing the final archive report for the bone tools. A couple of things turned up after I left, so I had to get their records from Nerissa, and then do the write-up. This is posted on the website, and is basically a short summary of what we found this summer and how that changes the overall picture of the site. I did learn that incorporating pictures is not as easy as it looks, because apparently mine were too large to transfer easily, and I still haven't managed to figure out how to change them to the correct format. This seems like a simple little task, but it's actually really important- because we can only publish things periodically, this archive report is the only resource someone interested in the bone tools at Çatal will have for this year's work until the next set of publications comes out. It will also help me when I get around to doing the analysis for those publications, because by then I will not have such an intimate memory of every single item as I do now, and I'll want to check through the short summary before going to the specific records only for those things I need more detail on.
Michael Bolter's book The Goddess and the Bull was published this spring, and got a lot of publicity for the site here in the US. I'm still a little surprised that so many people wanted to read it, because so much of it IS basically site gossip, but I really enjoyed it- I don't always want to ask the people I work with their personal histories, and now I don't have to! The next volume of the site series came out early this summer, and the next two are due in the next several months, so there is a lot to catch up on reading-wise. It's wonderful though, that Ian is publishing so much while the site is still being excavated. A lot of people don't like to do that, because they know their interpretations will change with time and evidence, but given how long this project is going to take, it's really the only option. It also means that the specialists who work on the site produce their work in a single place instead of spread across many different journals, so it's easier for researchers as well.
The visa applications were due in October, which seems to me to be excessively early, but I'm not familiar with the ways of government! This summer the dig is going to be very different than it has been in the past. The project got less funding than I an had planned, so there will be relatively few paid excavators, which means a smaller group on the site. But in addition, this will be the first year that a Turkish team will be on site, which will bring the numbers back up again. Part of Ian's agreement with the government was that he would prepare Çatalhyk to be transferred to a completely Turkish excavation team after his 25 year commitment ended. He has gone about this in several ways, first by encouraging the participation of Turkish students on the dig, and by providing scholarship support should they choose to pursue archaeology as a career, and now by adding a large contingent from one of the universities in Istanbul. It will make the atmosphere very different, because for the first time most of the people on site will be Turkish speakers instead of English speakers. I've been studying Turkish all this year, so I'm hoping I will be ok, but most of the people I know at the site don't speak much Turkish, and it may be difficult for them.
This is pretty much all I have to say, I'm frantically trying to get ready to head off this summer. Packing is difficult as always, and made more so by my determination not to buy ANY carpets this summer. We'll see how long THAT lasts! This summer, I've managed to book some time to travel in Turkey this time, so I will actually see more of the country than just the site and Konya, which is kind of exciting. I'm not sure if I'll be writing another journal, so if I do, you'll hear more from me soon, and if I don't, I hope you've enjoyed this!