Animal Bone Report

Louise Martin and Nerissa Russell

During the 1997 field season, detailed recording of animal bone material from all areas of excavation was undertaken. Most of the material was recorded in full onto the specially-designed Çatalhöyük Faunal Database (integrated with the rest of the site database), which attempts to document each fragment of bone/tooth to some level, therefore providing a rich source of data for both subsistence studies, contextual analyses and taphonomic considerations. It became clear during the fieldseason, however, that the large quantities of faunal remains produced by excavation, enhanced by excellent retrieval (all deposits are sieved through a 0.4mm mesh; a selection of deposits undergo wet-sieving through a 1mm mesh), would require either a quicker method of recording or a form of sub-sampling.

The reponse was firstly to create a 'Short Form' for recording only selected elements. This was tested on contexts from the Summit area and results of this sampling method will be discussed at a later date (Symmons n.d.). A second strategy was to record only certain contexts as a means of sub-sampling. These contexts were selected through negotiation with field-staff and other specialists and were termed 'priority units'; choice of priorities took into account stratigraphic integrity, comparability with other contexts, and suitability for approaching desired archaeological questions. The results presented here are primarily from these priority units.

Zooarchaeological study focused on three main areas: the Mellaart area, the Summit and the North area, where completion of House 1 (discussed in 1996 report) allowed for examination of underlying deposits. The BACH area also yielded a quantity of animal bones, but most units close to the surface appeared disturbed, and time did not permit close study of the more securely-stratified material. In all, 22,412 fragments of bone/teeth were recorded during the season (making a total of 34,051 for both 1996 and 1997 seasons), and most of these (21,901, from the two years combined) derive from the Mellaart area.

Analysis is still at an early stage and results remain tentative, but certain trends are apparent. A broad range of taxa appear at the site: sheep, goat, cattle, equids, pig, deer, dog, wolf, fox, and small numbers of various wild carnviores. Sheep and goat dominate in all areas, with more sheep than goat. The sheep:goat ratio for the Mellaart area is 6:1, for the Summit area is 11:1, and for the North area is 1:2. The North area ratio is skewed by a high goat horn core count, largely attributable to a pile of morphologically wild goat horn cores on top of the lentil bin (see 1996 report). Postcranially, sheep predominate. Cattle form 24% of the bone so far studied from Mellaart; 13% from North, and 23% from Summit. This confirms the results reported last year that Perkinsí (1969) high count of cattle (ca. 90%) was flawed. Both red and roe deer have been recovered from Mellaart; only red deer from North, and neither from Summit. Fallow deer remains a possibility, given several fragments of antler that are somewhat flattened but too small to be clearly diagnostic. The cervids are represented almost entirely by antler, much of it worked. Thus their presence at the site may be largely due to the acquisition of antler by collection or exchange, rather than procurement and consumption of the whole body. This pattern is particularly interesting given the well-known depictions of deer being hunted or captured in the wall art. In combination with the relatively high numbers of equids at the site, it may indicate that the immediate surroundings were more steppic than forested. This is also supported by the low proportions of pigs/boar in all areas studied.

This season we have clarified the taxonomic distribution of the equids, following Davis (1980). Three species of equids are represented at Çatalhöyük: the most numerous is Equus hydruntinus, while E. hemionus and E. caballus are present in small quantities (see Table 1). The equids seem to be composed disproportionately of older age groups, perhaps indicating that prime adults were too hard to capture. The Summit area has only larger equids, probably E. caballus. Elsewhere, there are both larger and smaller equids. E. caballus was thus still present in the area at least through the period of the occupation of the North area.

A central question of our research involves the question of domestication. We are not yet at a stage where this can be addressed satisfactorily. Due to the high degree of fragmentation of the bone at Çatalhöyük, the number of measured specimens is still too low to assess domestication status metrically. There are some intriguing observations that we will be pursuing in future work, however. The cattle appear to sort visually into two sizes (see the discussion of unit 1873 in the Mellaart below), and we have recovered several morphologically wild horncores. As yet there are no clearly domestic horn cores, but some from the North house do show considerable variation in size and shape that may exceed that attributable to sexual and individual variation within a wild population. Similarly, sheep seem to sort into two distinct sizes, seen most clearly in the Summit area: most are medium-size, but a few are very large, probably beyond expected sexual dimorphism. One morphologically wild sheep horn core has been recovered from unit 1873 in the Mellaart area. So far, the limited number of pig remains appear morphologically wild.

Mellaart area

Selected 'priority' units were analysed from the Mellaart area, and the results in Table 2 and Table 3 represent totals from the spaces excavated (105, 109,113, 115, 116, 117).

In general, the sheep and goat remains dominate in the area, with this category totalling over 40% (Figure 35). The ratio of sheep:goat is approximately 6:1. Cattle consitute 24%, while equids are c.16%, and dog, fox, boar/pig and hare have much lower representations. Both red deer and roe deer have been identified, but are in small numbers.

The only areas with adequate samples (by DZ count) for taxonomic comparison are spaces 105, 115 and 117 (Table 4). Space 105 is an open area ('courtyard'?); below this, an area bounded by structure walls was termed 115; space 117 describes the area once the walls of building 2 are clearly defined. Variations in the character of the faunal material were noted through this sequence.

The open area (105) has a higher proportion of equid bone than any other (26%), which fits somewhat with the results from the middens excavated in 1996 (Russell and Martin n.d.). Space 115 fill (unit 1668) also contains a relatively high percentage of equids (18%), and both these and the cattle show several feet still in articulation, suggesting discard after initial butchery, or an early stage of carcass-processing. Rib heads from both large and medium sized animals (cattle/equid and sheep/goat size) frequently have transverse cuts, interpreted as 'consumption' marks, where meat has been carved from the bone. There are very few dismemberment marks, but cattle phalanges are sometimes broken open, as if for marrow extraction. In fact, most bone is highly fragmented. In sum, this fill contains material which appears to derive from various activities - both butchery/processing and consumption - mixed together.

The underlying fill (space 117) is rich in bone, and in contrast to those above has larger pieces and some complete elements, such as large animal ribs. There is nothing suggestive of an early stage of butchery/processing; most seems to have been discarded post-consumption, and a lack of weathered bone suggests fairly rapid burial. A tentative interpretation of these deposits is that material was dumped into the abandonned structure from surrounding buildings, and while there is some coherence between certain carcass parts (e.g. articulated lower limbs, vertebrae), the assemblages generally represent mixed activities.

Unit 1873, the orange bricky fill directly overlying the house floor, is particularly interesting. In this, large pieces of a cattle and boar maxilla were found, the latter cleaved in half; segments of a cattle's vertebral column were still in articulation; a wild sheep horncore and a pair of domestic-looking sheep horncores were found nearby, and a large fragment of cattle horn core lay close to the southern wall. Although there is a "background" of bone material which appears to derive from consumption activities, some of these elements (horncores and jaws?) might represent structural installations, and hence an early phase of building collapse/destruction. Another observation of unit 1873 is the presence of two sizes of cattle. Most Bos sp. bones are of an approximately similar size to others found in the Mellaart area, while there are a few elements of a much larger individual (perhaps Bos primigenius?). These larger bones could potentially derive from one individual, although if this were the case, it is interesting that they are not anatomically adjoining bones. This begs questions about the butchery, preparation, division, distribution and consumption of carcasses which only further excavation of surrounding structures might shed light on.

Relatively little bone was found on the floor of building 2 (unit 2761), although a complete cattle horncore (2375x1) near the west wall is an exception. This horncore was lying on its side, dorsal face up, as if fallen from part of the surrounding structure. The surface was well-preserved, and this and the attached parts of the skull (frontal, parietal and occipital) were examined for traces of plastering, although none were found. Surface texture suggests the core came from an adult animal (following Armitage and Clutton-Brock 1976) although not an old adult, and the curvature and size indicate that it is from a morphologically wild male. Along the corpus of the horncore were numerous cut and chop marks which do not immediately suggest horn-removal since their positioning is haphazard; they remain intruiging. It seems that the horncore was not part of a larger bucranium installation, since neither the greater part of the skull, nor the opposite horncore were found. Instead, it may have been a single core placed in the west wall of the building.

The following approximate measurements were taken (following von den Dreisch 1976):

Total length: 580mm

Length of the outer curvature: 730mm

Length of the interior curvature: 595mm

Greatest diameter of the base: 113.6mm

Least (dorso-basal) diameter of the base: 62mm

Circumference of the base 299mm

North area

Excavation here centred on the sub-floor burials which were found after the lowest House 1 floors were removed. An attempt was made to compare animal bone finds from the burial fills, although there was generally too little material for patterning to be apparent, and 'deliberate' inclusions, in the form of unmodified animal bones, were absent.

The fill of grave 30 (unit 1372), a complex multiple burial, was found to have very small fragments of burnt bone inclusions. These perhaps entered into the fill from house floor deposits when the grave was re-dug for additional burials. This contrasts the fill of grave 36 (unit 1486), which has several vertebrae of a small reptile (probably intrusive) but little else, which may fit the interpretation of a single burial cut into clean packing material. Grave 28, a single burial, was cut into midden, and its fill (unit 1380) could be seen to resemble midden material in terms of animal bone inclusion.

The sub-floor packing of House 1 (unit 2120) contained very little bone, and in small pieces. It resembles the fill of House 1 in character and seems washed in, or redeposited from such sediments, rather than deposited through direct trash dumping. Thus either there was a hiatus in the use of the area before House 1 was built, or more likely given the excavators' interpretation of these deposits as deliberate fill, the builders chose relatively sterile soil for their levelling deposits. The small amount of bone from unit 1990, a plaster sample, consisted mainly of fish bone fragments. This is intriguing, and again (as with the fish bones from the plaster platform in space 71 of House 1) raises the question of whether these small fish bones arrive on site within imported sediments, or whether they result from human use.

Summit area

In general, the Summit area produced high percentages of sheep/goat and cattle remains, and much lower proportions of pig/boar, equid, dog, fox and hare. It is notable that are no deer remains from this area (Table 5, Figure 36).

If sheep and goat and the joint 'sheep/goat' category are counted together, they constitute 45% (NISP), and cattle 48% (NISP). If, however, DZ counts are used, which are generally considered a more accurate representation of taxonomic proportions (since they eliminate potential effects of duplicated counts due to fragmentation of body parts), then the sheep/goat category becomes dominant (70%) and cattle constitute a lower 23%. Within the sheep/goat category there is a preponderance of sheep: they outnumber goats by 11:1.

Table 6 compares the fill of a pit (pit 101 in building 10) and fills from the floor levels of the structures in the area. Taxonomic proportions show little difference between these two context types: there are slightly more cattle remains from the pit than from the floors (30% as opposed to 19%), and sheep and goat decrease accordingly, but the percentage differences are not great enough to argue for differential deposition.

It was noted, though, that the pit contained bones from several pair of cattle feet (metapodia and phalanges) (Figure 37). Size variation (beyond that expected between anterior and posterior limbs) showed these to derive from at least three different animals. The foot bones would have been in articulation when deposited, since the bones of whole feet fitted together and even the sesamoids were present. Although the condition of bones from the pit suggests that the material derives from diverse sources (ie. some is more weathered than other), the accumulation of these whole feet suggests that we may be seeing evidence of early stages of butchery and processing here, where relatively freshly butchered cattle feet were being deposited in the pit. Interestingly, pot-sherds were found to join across stratigraphic units (e.g. between 1714 and 1741), meaning perhaps that the various pit units were not laid down as discrete events.

BACH area

No units from the BACH area have yet been completely recorded. We can offer some preliminary remarks based on field observations. The fill of House 3, as so far revealed, seems quite different from that of the nearby and roughly contemporary House 1 (North). Unlike the relatively sterile House 1 fills, the House 3 fill at least superficially, in terms of abundant material, resembles the fills in the Mellaart area. Thus we can tentatively suggest that the faunal differences between the two areas result more from differences in the life histories of individual houses than from temporal distinctions.

House 3 is notable for several large, probably morphologically wild, cattle horn cores. The best preserved, although much fragmented from burning and proximity to the surface, is a large bucranium (2210.X11) found in a small room on the south end of the house. It consists of both horns and a small portion of connecting skull. It was lying upside-down, and seems to have fallen from either the north or south wall, although it might also have been attached to an as-yet-unrevealed bench. Just to the north of this were the jumbled remains of at least two other burnt cattle horn cores, suggesting the possibility that there was originally a stack of several bucrania on the wall or a series along a bench. Just to the south lay burned fragments of a human skull and a flint dagger with a carved bone handle. Another nearly complete cattle horn core, missing the base, was found in a different part of the house, near the east wall.

Reference collection

In 1995 fieldseason, the creation of an on-site animal bone reference collection was begun, to aid laboratory identification of archaeological remains. Until the 1997 season, this was done on a rather opportunistic basis. Collection and preparation of mammalian skeletal material became more systematic in the 1997 season, and was greatly aided by a donation from the Kingsley Murphy Junior Fund (administered by Orin Shane III, Science Museum of Minnesota) which allowed for the purchase of caprine (sheep and goat) skeletons.

At present, the collection contains specimens (mostly partial but with some complete skeletons) of many of the larger mammalian taxa found at Çatalhöyük (cattle, equids, sheep, goat, dog, fox), although several important taxa are still lacking (red deer, roe deer, pig/boar).


We would like to thank the following people for assistance with identification and recording in the field: Robert Symmons, Kathy Twiss, Afroditi Konstantinidou, Denise Carruthers, Dusan Boric and Banu.


Armitage, P. and Clutton-Brock, J. 1976. A system for classification and description of the horncores of cattle from archaeological sites, Journal of Archaeological Science, 3, 329-348.

Davis, S. 1980. Late Pleistocene and Holocene equid remains from Israel, Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society, 70, 289-312.

Perkins, D. 1969. Fauna of Çatal Hüyük: Evidence for Early Cattle Domestication in Anatolia, Science, 164, 177-179.

Russell, N. and Martin, L. n.d. Trashing Rubbish. Paper presented at the Theoretical Archaeology Group (TAG) conference, University of Liverpool, December 1996.

Symmons, R. n.d. A comparison of two methods of zoooarchaeological recording used at Çatalhöyük 1997, unpublished manuscript.

von den Driesch, A. 1976. A Guide to the Measurement of Animal Bones from Archaeological Sites. Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, Harvard University: Peabody Museum Bulletin 1.

Figure 37. The number of identified body parts of different taxa from Summit area (counts have not been corrected for varying numbers in the body).


© Çatalhöyük Research Project and individual authors, 1997