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12 September 2009
Stone figurine unearthed at Çatalhöyük

A reclining man with a bushy beard and big nose is the latest to join a haul of stone figurines unearthed at the ancient site of Çatalhöyük in Turkey. The sculpture, which measures around six inches high, was uncovered at the Neolithic site last week.
     Çatalhöyük was the final resting place of some of the world's first farmers. Other figurines representing farmyard animals and people in sitting and standing positions have already been excavated at the site, which dates back to the dawn of farming some 9,000 years ago. Archaeologists working on the site have discovered primitive houses with rooms decorated with vulture skulls, wild boar tusks and teeth from weasels and foxes. Some of the buildings are believed to have humans buried beneath them.
     The discovery of female figurines at Çatalhöyük has led anthropologists to speculate that the community worshipped 'mother goddesses'. But other experts say these astonishing Stone Age statues could have been the world's first educational toys. They say the 'mother goddess' figures - which were buried among the rubbish of the Stone Age town - are unlikely to be have been religious icons. Many of the figures thought to have been women in the 1960s, are just as likely to be men.
     Archaeologist Prof Lynn Meskell, of Stanford University, said: "The majority are cattle or sheep and goats. They could be representatives of animals they were dealing with - and they could have been teaching aides. All were found in the trash - and they were not in niches or platforms or placed in burials." Out of the 2,000 figurines dug up at the site, less than five per cent are female, she told the British science Festival in Surrey University, Guildford. "These are things that were made and used on a daily basis," she said. "People carried them around and discarded them."
     Çatalhöyük survived for around 2,000 years. It is not known what happened to its inhabitants, but they may have been killed by invaders or driven away by the loss of nearby farmland.

Sources: The Guardian, Daily Mail (10 September 2009)

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