Archaeobotany at Ҫatalhöyük


Ҫatalhöyük is a 9000 year old Neolithic settlement located on what is now the Konya plain in Turkey.  The settlement was active for around 1500 years and during this time the inhabitants built new houses directly on top of the remains of old ones,  eventually creating a large mound or ‘tell’.  The subject of archaeological investigations since the 1960’s, Ҫatalhöyük was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2010.

 

Archaeobotanists study ancient plant material in soil samples collected from archaeological dig sites.  The process is very meticulous and each sample taken can be traced back to the exact spot in the dig that it originated from and even to the particular field archaeologist who dug it.  This allows for cross-checking of information and incredibly detailed analysis of the site.

The infographic below illustrates the journey a Ҫatalhöyük  soil sample takes from the dig site to analysis in a laboratory.  Ҫatalhöyük is pretty unique in that the specialist laboratories are on the same site as the dig, enabling the quick processing of samples.  Results are then shared and discussed with colleagues, building up a more complete picture of what life was like for the inhabitants of Ҫatalhöyük  around 9000 years ago.

 

A graphic flow chart showing soil from a dig site going through flotation tanks, collecting ancient plant material and this being analysed in the laboratory.

 

Using the process illustrated above, plant remains including tubers, nuts, fruit and grain have been identified at Ҫatalhöyük, the latter being stored in large, earthenware pots inside the home.  Analysing the charcoal remains from hearth areas provides information on the type and size of the fuelwood burnt – in this case mostly elm, oak and juniper.  This information can be used to tell us about the kind of diets enjoyed by the people and animals living at Ҫatalhöyük, the type of environment that surrounded the settlement and any changes that took place to these over time.

Working as part of a team of experts including specialists in human remains, animal remains, lithics (stone), clay and object conservation, archaeobotanists help to create a rich and detailed picture of a site’s past inhabitants and the lives they led.


About Izzy Bartley

A freelance Heritage Education and Interpretation Consultant with 12 years teaching experience, Izzy gained a Distinction for her Masters degree in Cultural Heritage Management, winning the York Civic Trust Education prize for her dissertation, which focused on using the internet and digital media to explore stored museum collections.

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