| 8 September 2011
The best preserved painting found at Catalhoyuk
A team of archaeologists are excavating a 9,000-year-old Neolithic village at Catalhoyuk (Turkey) and recently they found a painting on a wall with deep reds and reddish oranges thought to be made with red ochre and cinnabar. British archaeologist Ian Hodder, called the discovery 'very exciting' and 'particularly intriguing'. "The pattern initially didn't look like very much: We often find just specks of paint or a wall of all-red paint," Dr. Hodder said, "But this time it gradually emerged that this was a complete painting, and the best preserved painting that I've ever seen at Catalhoyuk, with wonderfully fresh, bright colors and very neat lines. It is by far the most intricate and elaborate painting we have found during our excavations here since the mid-90s," he added.
But Stone Age paintings don't come with labels explaining what they are. "The paintings at Catal are very enigmatic and full of ambiguity and difficult to read," Dr. Hodder commented, "But the two main contenders for what this new discovery might show are that it's simply a geometric design whose meaning is not clear," he said. "An alternative is that it's not just a geometric design, but that it is a representation of bricks, some sort of structure," maybe an early blueprint of some sort." Houses were "a very important symbol socially and a focus of life at Catal," he added. "Maybe they were trying to draw the relationship between them and the house but it's not easy to make sense of it. We have to do more work on it."
Another find this summer was a row of 11 handprints inside a house and above a burial platform. Still another was the discovery of a young calf's head that had been painted red and installed in a house, above a platform that covered nine burials. "One sort of pattern that we noticed is that the paintings seem to be concentrated around burial platforms," Dr. Hodder said. "We don't really understand what that relationship is. Is it a way to communicate with the dead? Another idea would be that the paintings are there to protect people from the dead, or to protect the dead from people."
"We are trying to understand why they chose this spot to live. We look at what we call their art," said Shahina Farid, the project's field director from University College London, "Why were they so interested in bulls? Why were they using certain geometric designs? What were daily activities and what were ritual activities? We try to define this," she said. "Are we looking at the beginnings of religion? And what is all this symbolism telling us about the beginnings of civilization?"
An international team of people from 22 countries worked on the site this year, led by experts based at Stanford University in California and University College London in Britain. The area was first excavated in the 1960s by another Briton, James Mellaart, now 85, who established that it had been home to an advanced culture of people transitioning from a nomadic hunter-gatherer lifestyle to a more settled farming life. "We've only excavated 4 percent of Catal," Dr. Hodder said. "What we've done is like digging a very small part of New York and then inferring from that what life was like."
Edited from The New York Times (7 September 2011)
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