I thought we were an autonomous collective…


Situated above southern Anatolia’s Konya Plain, the ruined proto-city of Çatal Höyük is the best-preserved neolithic site discovered to date. With an estimated population of roughly 3,000, it may have been the largest city in the 60th Century BCE.

By 5700 BCE, the city had been abandoned, but the people who had lived there left plenty of trinkets behind for modern archaeologists. Idols, pottery, grindstones–even the heads of ancient aurochs–have been pulled from the ruins. By studying these heirlooms, archaeologists are able to determine a great deal about this ancient people, from their religion to their diet to their social organization.

Archaeologist Katherine I. Wright of University College London believes Çatal Höyük began as an egalitarian cooperative, wherein specialized groups performed specific tasks (such as farming, pottery, etc.) for the betterment of the community. Prior to its collapse, however, it showed showed signs of increasing social stratification, and perhaps factional violence[1].

Analysis of 2429 ground stone artefacts from 20 buildings and 9 yards reveals private household property and a broad equality of access to cooking features and some ground stone tools, but ground stone toolkits do not indicate self-sufficiency. Lorenz curves for features and ground stone artefacts suggest that storage units, unbroken querns and unfinished quern roughouts were the most unequally distributed food preparation facilities. Elaborate buildings have more diverse artefacts and concentrations of unbroken, large querns and quern roughouts, which may mean unusual status, specialization or hosting of task groups. From food processing tools we detect hints of a form of agricultural intensification (post-harvest) but also constraints on wealth transmission within domestic groups. It is suggested that corporate groups held substantial power and that decorated buildings were “host houses” for cooperative, multi-household activities, comparable to the Near Eastern mudhif. At Çatalhöyük, these were also residences.

However, some artefact types (e.g. maceheads, special trays) suggest rising tensions and factional competition through time.

Wright also suggests the Çatal Höyük culture had not developed the concept of inherited wealth. If they had, social inequality would have been forever solidified, and more distinct in the artifacts they left behind.

[1] Katherine I. (Karen) Wright, Domestication and inequality? Households, corporate groups and food processing tools at Neolithic Çatalhöyük, Journal of Anthropological Archaeology, Volume 33, March 2014, Pages 1-33, ISSN 0278-4165, http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jaa.2013.09.007.(http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S027841651300055X)