Macro Botanical Remains

Makro – Botanik Buluntuları


Meltem Agcabay, Katy Killackey, Aylan Erkal, Christine Hastorf


    The Çatalhöyük botanical team processed over 400 flotation samples during the 2001 excavation season. There were also 38 flotation samples analyzed, 35 from Building 3 and three from Byzantine graves on the West mound. The Polish samples were not analyzed this year. The priority samples analyzed from Building 3 came from burials, ovens and fire installations, one bin, floors, occupation debris and pits. The ovens studied were especially clean with evidence of fuel primarily. Floors had very low plant densities and were eroded, except in space 158 where unit 8309 had a high density of wild seeds. This is assumed to have been a storage and processing area. The floor samples reflect a range of uses across space providing an interesting view of use of space. Pits were dominated by Cyperaceae rhizomes. All burials had secondary or tertiary plant matter.


    2001 kazı mevsiminde Çatalhöyük botanı ekibi 400'ün üzerinde flotasyon örneği işlemiştir. 35'i Bina 3 ve 3'ü Batı höyükteki Bizans mezarlarından olmak üzere, 38 flotasyon örneği analiz edilmiştir. Polonya ekibi tarafından alınan örnekler bu sene analiz edilmemiştir. Bina 3'ten analiz edilen öncelikli örnekler fırın ve ateş yerleri, bir depo, tabanlar, yerleşim kalıntıları ve çukurlardan gelmiştir. İncelenen fırınlar oldukça temiz olup temel olarak yakıt kalıntıları göstermektedir. 158 nolu alandan gelen 8309 nolu birimde bulunan yüksek yoğunluktaki vahşi bitki tohumları dışında tabanlar düşük bitki kalıntıları vermiştir. Sözü geçen alanın bir işleme ve depo yeri olduğu düşünülmektedir. Tabanlardan gelen örnekler alanlar arasında değişik kullanımlar yansıtarak alan kullanımı hakkında ilginç bir bakış göstermektedir. Çukurlar Cyperaceae kalıntıları ortaya çıkarmıştır. Bütün mezarlarda ikincil veya üçüncül bitki kalıntıları bulunmuştur.


This year the flotation team, under the attendance of Riza Buyuktemiz and Mevlut Sivas water floated a total of 413 sediment samples from the West, the Polish area and building 3 of the BACH area using both water flotation machines that the Çatalhöyük project has built at the site (see previous botanical archive 1996 report for the details on the machines). The vast majority of these flotation samples were from the BACH area and all the priority samples were also from BACH. We continued to use the processing procedures that have been set up in 1996 by Hastorf and Near and refined through the 1999 field season by Fairbairn and Kennedy. In addition, we had flotation help from Marek Polcyn and Ryszard Mikura of the Polish team.

While we still prefer to have 30 litres of sediment from each unit sampled, this did not often happen this year , especially in the BACH area. This was due to the fact that they were concentrating on floors and ovens this year. Over all the average size of a flotation sample this field season was 10.5 litres, with largest being 60 litres from a burial with the smallest being 200 cc. from a floor.

While the team focused on keeping the samples moving through the processing sequence, they also completed 38 field sorts this season, 35 from the BACH area and 3 from the West mound Late Roman/Byzantine graves. This analysis is designed to take about 2-3 hours, enabling 4-6 samples to be studied for every priority tour. In this procedure, we sort, identify to category, weigh and count plant part categories, like cereal grains, chaff, pulses, herbaceous material, rhizomes, wood, seeds for the greater than 4 and 2 mm sub-samples. The smaller, greater than 1 and .5 mm fractions we scan under an 8-15 power Stacie microscope that resides at the site. For these we comment on our forms. When the heavy residue is processed in time, we also count and weigh the plant parts and write that also on the form. We also note the diversity, density and abundance scores for each sample to help make these rough sorts comparable as developed by Fairbarin and Kennedy in 1999. Once done, a summary is written in the priority book, which is synthesised if the sample group suggests this. On the day of the tour these results are presented along with other data sets which are also summarised in the book. The remaindered of the samples will be analysed by different team members off site during the year, with he light and the heavy residues being exported with permission from the Ministry of Culture from the Konya Museum of Archaeology. The West material will be taken to Meltem Agcabay for her PhD dissertation work. Space 158 of Building 3 in the BACH area will be analysed by Aylan Erkal at the BIAA in Ankara. All priority tour samples as well as a cross section of 64 the BACH cultural contexts are to be exported to UC Berkeley where the archaeobotany laboratory will process these, some being sent to Katy Killackey for analysis.

In addition the team also oversaw the heavy residue sorting with the help of women from Kuccukoy, including Hatice Yasli, Fadimana Yasli, Suna Yasli, Rabia Yasli, Saliha Yasli, Fatma, Yasli and Saliha Sivas. The number of sorters varied throughout the season, but included; . The rotation of archaeologists beyond the botanical team included Arek Klimowicz, David Meiggs, and Slobodon Mitrovic. Slobodon kindly helped us retrain the participants, having overseen the heavy residue completely over the past two field seasons. As described in previous archive reports and in Slobodon's own reports, we continued implementing the adjusted system of 1999, updated by Fairbairn and Kennedy, based on the what was developed in 1996-7 by Hastorf and Near. This includes weighing all fractions of artefacts uncovered as well as distributing them to the specialists. This is helpful for the priority tours.


The 35 BACH samples that we looked at fall into the following cultural categories: burials; ovens and fire installations; floors, "packing", and occupation debris; and pits. Because this year's excavations were focused on the earliest phases of house use, called phases I and II, samples came from both the more recent phase III as well as the earlier phase I and II levels. The excavation archive report has plans of these areas, and their evolution, so we will focus here on contexts and what we have learned of phases I and II this year. In general however in the later phases, there were two alternating cooking "dirty" areas in the south western corner of the building which always remained dirty and the middle of the western wall, called space 158. The remaining areas of the building were made up of slightly different platform and floor levels, with large burial pits along the northern side.


All the burials that were excavated this year are associated with phases III and IV. These were located in two areas of building 3. One baby burial from the central floor and three skeletons under the northern platform were sampled.

Overall, the botanical remains from the burial were similar. They seem to be midden derived from the earlier midden under building 3, rather than botanicals included in the burials. For the most part, they had high densities with wood and moderate densities without wood. All samples were dominated by wood with cereal and chaff less commonly but present. There is also some herbaceous matter (reeds), a few pulses, nutshells and tubers, along with a variety of wild seeds. There is some variation in wild seed types and other material such as tubers/rhizomes and nutshells, but this may be due to different dumping events in the midden. The unit 8151, the fill in the phytolith basket we had hoped would include special offerings, but it too also seems midden-like, sadly, and similar to the other units rather than material that was included in the basket with the burial. Thus these samples probably should be considered fill and packing of the earlier building. The other material in the burial units, the obsidian and animal bones also support the midden category for this fill. The animal bone remains include sheep/goat and cattle and much of it has been digested, indicating an exterior midden or one in an abandoned building. There is some obsidian debris as well.

The flotation samples that were looked at from these burials are:

8183, s. 2 and 4- baby burial
the multiple burial in the northern platform:
8931-burial fill
8136, 8147- under skeletons 8115 and 8114
8151- fill with phytolith basket.

Ovens and fire installations:

The fire installations are from phases III, II and I, and cover three ovens and their associated spill in front of their openings. In general, these units all had low botanical densities as well as low diversities. For the most part they were dominated by wood, cereal and chaff, much of these were in degraded condition, suggesting that they were exposed for a while or reworked after the burning event. The floors looked like their associated ovens as well. These units had the odd pulse, herbaceous matter and wild seeds, suggesting that we have evidence primarily of fuel remains. All samples had very little to no other material such as obsidian or bone. This patterning indicated that the fire installations and surrounding floors were kept very clean of both organic and other material and the organic material that we left became very fragmented and burnt from the reuse of the ovens. Further they seem to be different from the earlier south fire installations where some had quite dense obsidian debitage. Katy Killackey pointed out that there was one unit that is an exception to this description, unit 6694. From feature 642 in the middle of space 158. This unit stood out form the other oven samples because of its better cereal preservation as well as higher diversity of wild seeds. In addition, unit 8398 from the southwestern kitchen area stood out because of its moderate density and purity of wood. This looks like a single event hearth rake out.

Units analysed:

8231 s.2- baked floor
8227-dirty floor
8298- floor and packing from the side of the oven
8160-baked floor
8210-fire installation, 6694-oven, and 8105, floor by oven.

Bin feature from Space 158:

The botanical material from three samples taken from one bin was almost identical. These are from the earlier phases I and II. This included the matrix of the bin as well as the floor contexts surrounding the bin. These three samples are almost completely cereal and chaff in equal proportions. However they occurred in different states of preservation, some low fire and some hot and/or direct. At least some of these remains were burnt under open heat. The bin walls itself has no evidence of burning, suggesting that the material within was not burned in situ. Therefore, it seems unlikely that this cereal and chaff was being stored in the bin. Perhaps the matrix was used to fill in the bin before it was sealed off, for either practical or symbolic reasons, as yet know by the archaeologists. The main difference between the samples from this context are seen in the densities. The bin contexts, 8293 has a high density, unit 8218 s4 has a low density whilst sample 3 has a moderate one., suggesting that what was scattered around the bin varied. Unit 8293 seems to be the actual deposited material at the time of closure.

Units analysed:

space 158, feature 780: 8218 samples 3 and 4- black material around bin,
8218 s. 4- floor scraping around bin.
8293-bin contents.

Floors, packing, and occupation debris:

This year we looked at samples taken from plaster floors, packing and occupation debris in several areas of building 3, including three platforms, the central floor and space 158, the central floor and surfaces in space 158. Packing still seems to be debated within the excavation teams, but it is either a thin layer of material that was laid down in preparation of the next replastering, or was itself a floor surface, but not plastered and or a different matrix, brown or greyish sediments. Therefore these three classifications are most likely the closest to primary activity related deposition we have.

The common thread among all of these different surfaces is their low plant density. They all have a low density with and without wood. Large or dense plant remains do not seem to be included in the packing or left on the surfaces which seem to have been cleaned regularly of all larger material. Most of the plant remains from these samples are also not in very good condition, being highly eroded, further indicating their exposure to foot traffic and daily life. There do seem to be some differences between the samples from different areas, suggesting some evidence for differential activity deposition across these floors.

The samples from space 158 overall seem to have a higher diversity of material than the other floors we sampled this year. Unit 8309 in particular has a high density of wild seeds. This might have to do with the probability that space 158 was a storage and processing area over much of its earlier life, supported by the bins and ovens. The diversity of plant remains most likely reflects the catchment in the floors and packing (brownish occupation zones) of the food processing activities.

The central floor sample, 8200, from space 86 seems to be the result of multiple activities as it has a high diversity of taxa. This is as expected. On the other hand, these platform samples from space 86 have a low density and are mostly wood, chaff and cereal in poor conditions with no to low amounts of obsidian and bone. This indicates that the platforms, especially the central portion of the building were kept especially clean or were made so by foot traffic and use. Alternatively perhaps a different matrix was used in their construction.

The only samples among the packing that most reflects one event are the two occupation debris samples from the north platform in space 86, units 8286 and 8310. Like the other platform samples, they have a low diversity and density, but they also suggest that the area was less trampled, with good -to-moderate condition of the preserved material throughout the samples. This could indicate that they might have each come from one burning event.

In conclusion, this year's analysed priority samples from use surfaces seem to indicate that while there is some variation in use and life-history of the different areas within building 3, overall these surfaces are very clean but can represent a hint of activities that occurred throughout the building's occupation.

The analysed units are:

Space 158: 6695, 8351, 3309
Platforms in space 86: 81191, 8217, 8225, 8263, 8286, 8310, 8200.

Pit/cut fills:

The four pit and cut fills that were chosen to be analysed this year were each different from each other. The samples from units 8120 and 8126, while neighbouring pits in the kitchen area, were very different from each other. Unit 8120 has a high density of wood and a variety of botanical remains. While unit 8126 had a low density and diversity with no one taxon dominating the sample. Unit 8142 had a low density but was very diverse with an unusual mix of seed taxa, being dominated by food remains. Finally, unit 8188 had a low density and diversity of plant remains as well, with little to suggest its use. It is unclear how these samples we analysed relate to the actual purpose of the pits from these results. Unit 8359 displayed a completely different view, with extremely dense charred material that was almost exclusively from Scirpus or some Cyperaceae. Not only was the sample dominated by rhizomes, but of the few wild seeds these too were dominated by Cyperaceae. The complete rhizomes were between 5 and 8 cm and the fragments that size or less, suggesting that these were the remains after processing of the reeds and or the larger more edible rhizomes. Like the other pit fills, the sample seems to have been burnt elsewhere.

The analysed units are:

Phase III-IV: 8120, 8126
Space 158: 8142, 8259
Phase II-I, space 201: 8188.

The West Mound

Only three samples have been processed in the field this summer due to the major focus of the excavations on the Byzantine graves. The goal is to clear this material away to expose the Chalcolithic architecture to begin in earnest next year with these earlier levels. The excavators were curious about finding even one pure Byzantine context and thus wanted Meltem to look at 7236 which was the most likely pure Byz. context. This is the material just below the wood coffin. Using tomb fill and a nearby pit as comparisons it was hoped to see something of the Byz material.. Most notable is that both the below coffin and within the coffin had uncharred wood. It was clearly decomposing, being a honey color, but still it was identifiable. Both samples were dominated by wood but also included some cereal. Unique to these two samples is that below the coffin sample included lots of cereal grains but also nut shell, some parenchyma, one hackberry, and one lentil. This is different within the coffin with no chaff whatsoever, but it contained nutmeat, nut shell-pistachio and almond, parenchyma and a few bones. These two contexts do seem to be slightly different, with more nuts within the coffin and the usually ubiquitous chaff outside only. Is the inside specially linked to the burial, perhaps, if this era included lots of nuts with the dead. The associated pit was very unassuming and of a different source with very few items, only a little bit of charred wood, cereal grains almost no chaff and 4 seeds. Much less diverse and deposited from a different source.

Units analysed:

7236 s.2, flot 4719-layer below the Byz. burial coffin
7221 s.2, fl. 4633- same burial fill
7248 s.2-fl 4724.


Over all we have spent our time looking closely at the use of the middle and early use life of Building 3, which is a late building on the north mound. This will be completed hopefully in the next field season. While site wide comparisons are only at a general level still in the field, this year's Neolithic data from the BACH building 3 continue to support the suggestion we have that through time, cereals increase in usage. The site data suggest that this was a shift from the earlier mix of wild nuts, fruit and seeds in addition to the domestic grains and pulses in the overall annual diet. These data will form part of the growing detailed analyses that in ongoing on the macrobotanical material.


© Çatalhöyük Research Project and individual authors, 2001