ARCHAEOLOGICAL CASE STUDIES Ancient Anatolia

Anatolia (now the modern state of Turkey) has an incredibly rich archaeological past and was witness to the first agricultural (Neolithic) revolution around ten thousand years ago, referred to as the Pre-Pottery Neolithic. Anatolia mirrors the transitions seen across the Levant during this period, as traditional hunter-gatherer societies start accumulating in greater numbers and start building architecture using stone. These hunter-gatherer societies relied on wild foods: wild goats and gazelle, wild cereals, fruits, and tubers (Dietrich et al. 2012, 690). Pottery post-dates these societies. Archaeologists know relatively less from this period; hunting and domestic camps seem transitory and as such leave less impact on the landscape—there are no cemeteries, just occasional burials.

Beginning around nine thousand years ago, however, various changes in the archaeological record indicate that fundamental aspects of social life were changing in Anatolia and across greater Southwest Asia. Research at the sites of ?atalhoyuk (Atalay and Hastorf 2006; Bogaard et al. 2009; Carter et al. 2006; Hodder and Cessford 2004) and Gobekli Tepe (Dietrich et al. 2012) have revolutionized archaeologists’ understanding of the origins of complex societies.

Gobekli Tepe is a ritual tell (mound) site dated between nine thousand and twelve thousand years ago (Schmidt 2000). The site is considered the world’s first temple, with exquisitely carved anthropomorphic features. Similarly, ?atalhoyuk is a tell site dated between nine thousand and seven thousand seven hundred years BP, which held between three thousand five hundred and eight thousand people (Hodder 2007, 2014). The site is one of the first urban settlements worldwide. Both of these sites have given insights into the expanding economic network of the Neolithic through the expansion of feasting regimes.

?atalhoyuk and Gobekli Tepe have left considerable records of the feasting activities that occurred at these sites through the preservation of extensive middens (trash pits or deposits). These deposits indicate that even before the domestication of grains or animals humans were gathering in fairly large numbers to consume large amounts of specialized foods (Atalay and Hastorf 2006; Bogaard et al. 2009; Dietrich et al. 2012). Evidence for food preparation at ?atalhoyuk occurred within individual residences (Atalay and Hastorf 2006), though extensive middens throughout the site, as well as installations of animal bones, indicate that public feasting was an integral part of the social life of these people (Bogaard et al. 2009). Stable isotope analyses of human burials indicate that cattle was unlikely to have been the majority source of protein for individuals (Richards et al. 2003), yet the preponderance of bovine bones at the site indicate their prolonged use and social importance (Russell and Martin 2007). Individual rooms at ?atalhoyuk, likely from slightly later periods, have built-in cubbies for food storage in some of the earliest examples of private storage of goods (Bogaard et al. 2009); most hunter- gatherers do not store food for an extended period of time, nor do they keep food in one place. Bogaard et al. (2009, 663) estimate that storage capacity in buildings indicates modest surpluses of 50-100 percent of the estimated requirement; this level of food storage is extremely rare for foraging societies (Testart et al. 1982; Ingold 1983). As a ritual site, Gobekli Tepe has evidence for the production of relatively large amounts of beer, in support of the interpretation of feasting events that were occurring all over Anatolia in the pre-pottery Neolithic (Dietrich et al. 2012). The difference in storage and consumption patterns can be interpreted to be one of the first indications of inequality (Wright 2014).

Feasting and permanent architecture emerge in Anatolia prior to the domestication of pack/food animals and plants. It is evident that these feasts would have attracted visitors from the wider interaction sphere. Although the vast majority of goods (textiles, wooden objects, perishable foods) decay, recent lithic sourcing studies of obsidian, an extremely valuable type of volcanic rock that can produce incredibly sharp stone tools, have shown that obsidian from Anatolia made its way down into the southern Levant during this period, before the use of any pack animals (Carter et al. 2006)! This traded obsidian is not treated the same as locally available lithic raw material; most of the obsidian evidence comes from high-prestige burials, indicating they were of particular importance.

 
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