Report on sampling strategies, microstratigraphy and micromorphology of depositional sequences, and associated ethnoarchaeology at Çatalhöyük, 1998

Wendy Matthews


The principal objective in studying depositional sequences is to contribute to interpretation of human uses of space and behaviour at Çatalhöyük in collaboration with analyses of architectural layout and internal features, burials, and the distribution of artefacts and bioarchaeological remains. The type, thickness and frequency of floors and occupation deposits within buildings at Çatalhöyük vary both spatially in different areas within rooms, and through time during the life-history of each building, in both their physical and chemical characteristics (Matthews et al. 1996). As observed in previous studies of uses of space at this and other archaeological sites, variation in floors and overlying residues can furnish new information on socio-cultural behaviour, spatial conventions, and conceptual schemes, as well as micro-environment (Middleton and Price 1996; Matthews 1997, 282-3). 

This year there were exciting projects and discussions relating to study and interpretation of archaeological materials, deposits and phytoliths. A wide ranging programme of collaboration with the Department of Archaeometry, Middle East Technical University (METU), Ankara, was initiated. This collaboration included several visits to the site by Professor Dr Ay Melek Özer (Department of Physics), Professor Dr O. Yavuz Ataman (Department of Analytical Chemistry), Professor Dr Sahinde Demirci (Department of Chemistry), Professor Dr Vedat Toprak, Associate Professor Dr Asuman Türkmenoglu and Associate Professor Dr Tamer Topal (Department of Geology), and MSc student Ali Akin Akyol (Department of Archaeometry). Professor T. Douglas Price, Dr William D. Middleton (Laboratory for Archaeological Chemistry, University of Wisconsin) and Dr Arlene Rosen (Ben Gurion University) joined the project this year to study deposits and phytoliths. 

In the 1998 season we studied and sampled occupational sequences within buildings and open areas in the North, BACH and Mellaart Areas on E Mound, and Trenches I and II on West Mound. 

In addition, this year preliminary ethnoarchaeological reconnaissance was undertaken in collaboration with Dr Begumsen Ergenkon, Department of Social Anthropology, METU. The aim in this research is to study the nature and meaning of variation in types of floor plasters, surfaces and coverings, and accumulated deposits in contemporary settlements immediately surrounding Çatalhöyük. An ethnoarchaeological discussion group met weekly to discuss emerging research interests related to understanding diverse apsects of Neolithic landscape, settlement and life. We enjoyed discussions with Professor Patty Jo Watson and Dr Fusun Ertug, when they visited the site at the end of July. 

Sampling Strategies

As in previous seasons, sampling strategies were designed to enable study of depositional components at a range of scales of analytical focus, and in different sample types and sizes (Table 1). In order to study spatial and temporal variation in the nature of floor sequences, from each unit of excavation, samples were collected at 50cm intervals for organic and inorganic analyses and archive storage. Sections through floor sequences were studied in strategic baulks set at 1-2 metre intervals. All of these sequences for microstratigraphic analysis were photographed, drawn at a scale of 1:5 and described in detail. 

Types of samples collected for scientific analysis are listed in Appendix 1with details of co-ordinating Universities. Samples collected include: 

1) archive samples of c. 250-500 grams of deposit from each excavation unit for future reference and sub-sampling 

2) large block samples c. 30-50 cm3 for micro-excavation, screening and sampling in the laboratory. Several blocks were lifted from different areas of collapsed roof in BACH Area. One of these blocks was micro-excavated this year by Professor Christine Hastorf and Dr Wendy Matthews. 

3) block samples for botanical analysis, including charred and siliceous plant remains (phytoliths) from selected plant rich contexts, such as the open area in Space 115. 

4) small block samples c. 8-10 cm3 for sub-sampling in specialist analytical laboratories for organic and inorganic analyses. These experiments in sub-sampling are vital for accurate sampling and analyses of specific floors and occupation deposits, which are often less than 5 mm thick, and difficult and time-consuming to sample in the field. These were principally collected from collapsed roofing in Building 5, BACH area. 

5) small block samples for micromorphological analysis in large resin impregnated thin sections at c. one metre intervals across floors, and 50cm intervals from collapsed roof fragments. 

6) 10-50 g of deposit were individually collected for elemental (ICP AES) analyses, phosphate analysis and organic residue (GC/MS) analyses at 50 cm intervals across floors 

7) small spot samples of deposit for microscopic analysis in the field, mounted in clove oil on glass thin sections, in order to furnish observations for discussion during Priority Tours. 

Samples collected for analyses of materials and technology include: 

  1. stone fragments for analysis of source materials used in groundstone technology 
  2. sediments scraped from surfaces of groundstone for organic residue analysis 
  3. pottery and clay ball fragments for 
i) thin section and mineralogical analyses of composition and technology 

ii) organic residue analysis (GC/MS) for indications of use. 

  1. obsidian for source analysis 
Samples collected for dating include: 
  1. Charred plant remains for C-14 AMS dating 
  2. Charred plant remains for dendrochronolgy 
  3. Burnt plaster lining from fire-installations for archaeomagnetic dating 
  4. Brick and mortar for optically stimulated luminescence dating 
  5. Sequences of wall plaster for micro-stratigraphic analysis 
In addition samples of human and animal bone were collected by the faunal and anthropological teams. Lists of all of these samples for analysis were submitted to the Konya Museum, Directorate General of Antiquities and Heritage, and are summarised in Appendix 1. Separate reports on ICP AES and phytolith analysis are presented in this report (Middleton this report; Rosen this report). 

The excavators collected many of the samples within the excavation areas, except the block samples for micro-excavation and micromorphology, as: 

  1. many specialists are only at the excavation for 1 day - 4 weeks 
  2. it proved easier for the excavators to keep track of sample number allocation and 3-D recording if they collected the samples themselves 
  3. space within the trenches could be crowded. 
This season, the burden of sampling therefore was even greater than it has been in the past. 

Microstratigraphic Field Observations and Micromorphological Sample Contexts for Thin Section Analysis.

The following report refers only to samples collected for microscopic analysis in large resin-impregnated thin sections, and study of their microstratigraphic context in the field. 

The principal focuses of microstratigraphic and micromorphological sampling in 1998 were floors and occupation deposits, room fills, probable collapsed roofing and open area deposits. Floor and occupation deposits were photographed, recorded and drawn at 1:5, and occasionally 1:1, often by the excavators. The scale of excavations is now such that I was not able to do all of these field recordings myself, as I had done in 1993-96. 

Floors and occupation deposits

East Mound North Area Building 5 

The latest surviving sequences of floors and occupation deposits in Building 5 were excavated in strategic sample locations to a depth of c. 3-10 cm, in different areas of each of the three rooms (Cessford this report). Some of the spatial variations in microstratigraphic sequences observed in this report are listed in Table 2, and are compared to those observed in the overlying later building, Building 1. Sections through entire occupation sequences were exposed in the edges of Neolithic post and ?ladder/staircase retreaval pits in Space 154. Sections through the NW platform and next to oven on S wall were drawn at 1:1 by Sharon Webb. Sharon was able macroscopically to detect at least 59 different depositional episodes on top of NW platform. 

There are both similarities and differences in microstratigraphic sequences in Building 5 and Building 1. Some of the observed similarities include: 

  1. Thick white plasters with few visible residues laid on NW platforms 
  2. Irregular sequences of white and mud plasters, and dark grey occupation deposits on SW platforms which are situated between probable food storage areas in western room and oven in main room in the southern parts of buildings. 
  3. White plaster applied on features such as basins (B5 Space 155 and B1 Space 70 Feature 34), and low small platforms (B1 Space 70 Feature 16) 
  4. Thick mud packing to line the base of storage bins in B5 W room, and B1 N area of Space 70, which was interpreted as an area probably for storage (Matthews, R. 1996 Excavation archive report; Matthews, W. 1996 Microstratigraphy archive report. 
  5. Fewer white plasters and more mud plasters were laid in low central areas of each main room. 
  6. Lenses of ash tended to be left to accumulate adjacent to fire-installations. The sequence of ash in B5, however, includes fewer laid plaster floors, and is deeper than that in Building 1. The sequence in B5 more closely resembles layers of ash in NE corner of Building 4, Space 151. 
These similarities in contextual variations in surface features, treatment and residues suggest existence of shared socio-cultural behaviour, concepts and spatial conventions, which may be more fully understood after more detailed study of thin sections and other multidisciplinary data. 

Repeated layers of thick reddish orange plaster were laid on floors in B5, Space 155. These floors do not resemble any of the plasters selected for use in Building 1, nor any observed elsewhere at Çatalhöyük during investigations from 1993-98. The only other slightly reddish building materials identified include: 

  1. material used to form the core of moulded features collapsed onto the last floor of southern building in Field Section 3, Level V/VI. It is perhaps possible that the colour of the material for these mouldings may have been selected for symbolic reasons to represent blood and flesh. 
  2. mudbricks in southern ?partition wall of Shrine 8, Mellaart Area, which were laid with alternating layers of white mortar. 
Whereas the reddish colour of floors in B5, Space 155, would have been visible if there were no coverings on the floor, the reddish colour of the moulding cores and mudbricks would have only been visible during preparation, not during use. 

Areas of reworked floor layers, probably homogenised by trampling and wear, were detected in the low central area in Building 5 Space 154, and in front of the storage bins in Space 157, by Mark Knight.

Floor sequences in Mellaart Area 

In the Mellaart Area, microstratigraphic study and sampling of floors and occupation deposits focused on the following buildings and spaces: 

  1. Building 2, Space 117. The programme of sampling started in 1997 was continued. Samples collected this year included examples of: a well constructed oven and bin in SW corner, lenses of ash in the south of building (some of which included flecks of red-ochre), and cleaner floors along the northern half of the building which were on a raised step/platform. Similar spatial conventions associated with dirtier, less frequently plastered southern areas of rooms/buildings, were prevalent throughout the settlement. 
  2. Building 2, Space 116. A sample of unusual dark reddish brown deposits was collected for thin section analysis. 
  3. Building 4. Sampling in this building focused principally on study of two ovens and adjacent ashy deposits. 
  4. 'Shrine 10', Space 159. The mud plaster floors laid in this narrow room were comparatively thick and orange brown and brown in colour, with few residues visible macroscopically in the field. No white plaster floors were laid in this room. These floors appear to be twice as thick (c. 1cm) as mud plaster floors (c. 0.5cm) generally encountered within buildings. It is possible thick floors may be associated with storage related activities (Matthews et al. 1997, 294). These floors were subsequently covered by a lens of ash, discontinuous layer of brown and aggregates, and a thicker layer of ash which also contained articulated bear claws. All of these deposits were sampled. 
Floor sequences in West Mound 

In Trench 1 two samples of floors and occupational deposits were collected, one within a building, the other in an external area. The surface encountered during excavation within the room does not lie on top of a deliberately laid plaster floor, but on top of unoriented building material aggregates. This depositional context may suggest that either a) there were no prepared surfaces in this room or b) this surface represents a later phase in the use of the building, earlier phases of which may be exposed by future excavation. In the external area, depositional sequences include multiple lenses of ash and sediment. 

Interfaces between latest floors and room fills within buildings 

In Building 5, narrow baulks at 1m intervals were left during excavation of the last 10-20cm of room fill on top of all floors surfaces. These baulks were left to enable study and sampling of the last phases of use of the building and subsequent episodes of infilling. In this particular building much of the room fill appeared macroscopically to lie directly on top of the latest floor or lens of accumulated deposits. Observable spatial variation in the character of deposits and overlying room-fill at this critical interface include in: 
  1. Space 154: higher concentrations of large fragments of white plaster (some painted monochrome red) on top of latest floor surfaces. These fragments of plaster may perhaps be derived from dismantling of ?plaster coated wooden posts, and ?ladder/staircase. 
  2. Space 155: an irregular lens of grey ashy deposits on top of the latest floor 
  3. Space 156: an irregular lens of dark brown deposits, < 1cm thick 
  4. Space 157: fragments of storage bin walls 
It has been estimated that excavation and recording of these baulks may have increased the time taken to excavate this large and well preserved building by up to four days (Cessford pers comm.). The character of latest deposits and infilling of buildings, however, can furnish vital information on the nature of lastest use and activities and abandonment, which may not have been the same as earlier life-history of the building. Ethnoarchaeological research in Iran revealed that less than half of rooms originally built as living rooms, were used as such at the time of investigation (Horne 1994, 181). Many living rooms were re-used as storerooms or stables. As a consequence, Horne suggests that in an archaeological context: 

"when excavation is not meticulous enough to identify which are the most recent functions of a structure, then a conflation of what were actually chronologically discrete activities will be recorded. Furthermore, inferences based on these identifications, such as population estimates or the relative importance of animal husbandry at a site, will also be subject to error' (1994, 179-80). 

Some variation in deposits at this interface in Building 5 has been detected (points 1-4 above). These differences would have been detected during excavation, but the baulks enabled study and sampling of these interfaces. It is hoped that microscopic and other studies may help to elucidate what these changes in deposit meant with regard to behaviour. Sampling of these deposits and interfaces in other buildings, has identified an number of unusual deposits and events which include: 

  1. herbivore pellets on top of latest floor in Mellaart Area A-E, Field Section 3, Level VI/V (Matthews et al. 1996) 
  2. irregular cutting and levelling of latest deposits in Building 2, Space 117 and dismantling of structural timbers on walls during abandonment, followed by use of building for deposition of highly organic yellow deposits with digested bone fragments, perhaps from omnivore dung, mixed with irregular white plaster fragments 
  3. burnt lenses on Building 1 floors after destruction of southern half of the building by fire, which include retted grasses 
The nature and distribution of these deposits and interfaces cannot be predicted prior to excavation, when underlying deposits are not visible. The current solution has been to set out baulks at one metre intervals, although other options are always being considered. 

In the BACH Area, Building 3, there is some evidence to suggest there may have been a change in the use and maintenance of surfaces during the last phases of occupation in the NE of Space 86, which is likely to correspond with changing socio-cultural circumstances and behaviour. There appears to be a change: 

  1. on the large N platform from sequences of white plaster to brown mud plaster 
  2. in NE corner from well prepared plaster floors to mud plaster floors, covered by thick irregular layers of a) ash (which include a neonate ovicaprid) and b) unoriented heterogeneous aggregates and larger bone fragments. 
  3. in S where floors are truncated by irregular shallow pits, and filled with ash and large cattle scapulae 
These changes are currently only visible within the sections at the edge of small pits and disturbances, and need investigation by future excavation before they can more fully understood. There does, however, appear to be a degeneration in the quality of surface finishes and maintenance, which may coincide 'with decreasing requirements of structural soundness…taking place over a period of up to 100 years in the case of qal'as' (Horne 1994, 182). Horne suggests that: 

'Accompanied by other kinds of evidence, how recycling occurs may help in the understanding of the role that architecture and space play in social interaction and cultural thought.' (1994, 183). 

These latest floors and deposits are sealed by large fragments of collapsed roofing, in the north of room Space 86, which are discussed later in this report. In the south of this room, there is a complex sequence of infill deposits, also discussed below. 

Collapsed roofing

In the BACH Area, spatial variation in the character of microstratigraphic sequences of collapsed roofing emerged as more large segments were uncovered. These variations included multiple sequences of: 
  1. compacted plasters with very few lenses of accumulated deposits. These plasters appear to be made from dense brown to yellowish brown silt loam and sandy silt loam. 
  2. compacted well prepared plasters with regular thin lenses of dark grey 'ash' 
  3. moderately thick layers of ash, with fewer deliberately laid plasters. Some of these plasters included reddish scorching from heat on the surfaces 
  1. one large fragment of a fire-installation base (c. 50cm x 30 cm in size)which had been baked orange during use, and constructed on top of thick packing 
The consistent repetition in the character of plasters and overlying deposits within any one of these sequences argues for continuity and/or cyclicity in the use of any one area of the roof. Variation in the character of deposits from different segments of roofing, suggest different areas of the roof were used for different activities. Initial macroscopic observations suggest these activities may have ranged from use of a) an FI, to b) an area for ashy rake-out, and c) an area for cleaner activities. Microscopic evidence may help to suggest whether some areas of the roof were covered or uncovered (see below). 

In the North Area, the thick room fill in Building 5 included moderately dense concentrations of sub-rounded and sub-angular aggregates, c. 2-15 cm in size. Many of these aggregates were fragments of surfaces which had been plastered successively. These sequences of plasters most closely resemble the segments of 'clean roof' identified in the BACH area. Several of these aggregates were sampled for thin section analysis. One lens in an aggregate sampled, included sand and fine gravel. The small size of these aggregates in comparison to those in the BACH Area, may suggest they were shoveled into the room as deliberate infill, rather than collapsed in-situ. 

These two contexts in the BACH and North Area contain the only samples of possible collapsed and/or redistributed roofing yet encountered from study of room fills both in Mellaart's old sections, and in more than five different excavation areas from 1993-98. 

Room fill

East Mound North Area 

A range of different types of room fill was sampled in the North Area Buildings 1 and 5, representing complex variation in conceptions and histories of different buildings after use. These room fills comprised: 

  1. mottled packing at the very base of Building 1 
  2. highly burnt orange and black deposits to the south of Building 1 
  3. massive infill of Building 5, which included aggregates of possible roofing or redistributed floors (see above). Some tip lines in the fill were discernible in the central baulks left during excavation of this fill. 
In the BACH Area, the infill of Building 3 was more varied and complex. Some of the fills sampled in include: 
  1. very dark grey ash in the SE of Space 86 
  2. ashy deposits in the S of Space 86 associated with the scapulae deposit 
  3. pale grey ash dump in SW of Space 158 
  4. amorphous grey and whitish deposits in SW of Space 86 
  5. mound of building aggregates in the centre of Space 86 which included aggregates of platform bases and plasters, and ?grave fill (mottled orange and white as in Building 1 grave fills), with scattered human bones 
  6. collapsed roofing in centre and N of Space 86 
  7. lenses of ash and aggregates in NE of Space 86 
In the Mellaart Area room fills were only sampled where they sealed underlying floors. The differences in types of room fills are discussed by Shahina Farid in this report. 

West Mound 

Unoriented building aggregates in room fill in Trench 1 included fragments of painted plaster and mudbrick. Some of the unoriented fill was included in the top of the floor sample. 

Open Areas/middens

East Mound 

The only open area excavated and sampled on the East Mound was in the Mellaart Area in Space 115. The microstratigraphic sequence within this area was complex, but included distributions of strips of siliceous plant remains across much of the area, as discernible and occasionally interbedded surfaces. These lenses included moderately dense distributions of yellowish organic lenses which require chemical characterisation and identification to try and ascertain whether they represent remains of food or coprolites. These surfaces included areas of in-situ burning and scorching. The depositional sequences excavated this year,are quite different in character from the sequences excavated in previous years, which included more charred remains in apparently finer depositional layers. 

West Mound 

Samples were collected from the large pit in Trench II. They include green stained deposits. Some of this green staining has tentatively been identified as coprolitic on the basis of spherulite content and possible digested phytoliths identified in loose samples studied under the microscope in the field. Depositional layers rich in a) ash and b) sediment were also sampled. 

Micromorphological Analysis of Samples Collected in 1997

Manufacture of thin sections from 1997 season was completed in August 1998. These samples were studied during the 1998 field season at Çatalhöyük. The microscopes this year were heavily used in the field for palaeoethnobotanical, phytolith, obsidian, conservation, groundstone and micromorphological analyses. A brief summary of results from three specific contexts is presented here, a) possible collapsed roofing in the BACH Area, b) wall plasters in Building 5 and c) KOPAL Trench 2. The remaining samples collected in 1997 are being studied as part of the detailed study programme for publication of Building 1 and comparative contexts. 

Sequences from earlier Aceramic Neolithic site of Asikli Höyük have also been studied, and are being compared to those at Çatalhöyük in order to study variation in concepts of space and behaviour. Preliminary results from this comparative study are presented in Appendix 2. 


Two samples were collected from segments of possible collpased roofing in the BACH Area in 1997, at a distance of c. 50 cm apart. 

BACH 2238 S1 (E end of segment). This sequence is characterised by the presence of water-laid crusts in many of the accumulated deposits. In some instances these crusts are unoriented, from reworking by activities such as trampling and deposition of FI rake-out. In other layers, up to three successive lenses of undisturbed water-sorted deposits have been identified, each with graded coarse-fine deposits and surface crusts (Figure 31). The origin of these water-laid deposits is likely to be rain, particularly given the extent and sorting of the three superimposed lenses. These crusts may add further weight to the suggestion that these sequences are from uncovered roof deposits. The possibility that the water-laid deposits were formed by human activities such as extensive use of water cannot be entirely ruled out, perhaps until furrther research is conducted on study of effects of water from both natural and anthropogenic agencies within the built environment. 

Deposit types in this sequence include: 

  1. silt loam-sandy silt loam plaster floors, some of which have reddened surfaces from heat scorching 
  2. layer of aggregates with water-laid crusts and abraded fragment of chaff pottery <7mm. 
  3. thick layers of fire-installation rake-out rich in charred and siliceous plant remains and dung (20-30%) and burnt oven plaster fragments (10%), mixed with unburnt rounded and subrounded aggregates of plaster perhaps from sweeping, and water-laid crust fragments, oaccasional fragments of bone, and yellowish organic staining 
  4. multiple lenses of water-laid deposits in-situ (3 maximum). Each lens is <0.75mm thick. 
  5. Reworked water-laid crusts in trampled sediments. 
BACH 2248 Sample 3 (W end of roof segment). This sample included a much thicker layer of deposits rich in charred and siliceous plant remains (40% and 20% respectively). The charred plant remains include an exploded cereal grain, and reed fragments. Some of the silica has melted, sugesting some temperatures exceeded 600C. 10% burnt aggregates and sparse unburnt aggregates were also deposited in these layers, probably from rake-out of an oven, similar to or the same as the large block of collapsed oven found during excavation. 

Wall plaster 

A fragment of collapsed wall plasters adjacent to the eastern wall of Space 71 was sampled in 1997. The sequence of plasterings or 'washes' observed in this sample differ from those studied in Building 1 (Kopelson MAThesis, Çatal Archive Report 1996) and in the Mellaart area (Matthews et al. 1996, 304-6, Plates 15.3-4, ). Instead of comprising couplets of wall plaster laid as alternate preparatory and finishing coats, the sample from Building 5 includes a sequence of at least 70 layers of comparatively thick white plaster (c. 200-700 um thick, counted by Anne-Marie Vandendriesch) separated by clusters of c. 3-9 layers of very thin plaster/wash (c. 10-50 ìm thick) which are frequently coated in soot (c. 2 ìm thick). The cyclicity represented in this sample is remarkable (Figure 32 and Figure 33). It is possible that the timescales attested by thicker layers represent more or less annual replasterings (at least 70), whilst the thinner lenses of plaster and soot represent somewhere in the order of monthly replasterings. This suggestion is perhaps supported by a) dendrochronological and C14 analyses which suggests that 10 of Mellaart's building phases may have spanned in the order of 800 years, representing an average building life of 80 years (Mellaart 1967,52; Newton 1996, Figure 10) b) ethnoarchaeological analyses which observe that mudbrick buildings in semi-arid climates tend to last between 50-100 years (Horne 1994, 180; Watson 1979). 

Occasional layers of thin plaster or wash are not coated with soot. Variation in the number of soot-coated layers may suggest variation in the period (n=3-9 months?) or intensity of use of fires within buildings in any one year. Given the emerging evidence for use of fires on roof fragments in Building 3 in the BACH area, there may have been seasonal variation in indoor and outdoor activities related to use of fire. Ethnoarchaeological observations suggest that the frequency of replastering and presence of soot layers may also be affected by the presence/absence or type of coverings on walls. Study of wall plasters could hold a powerful key to micro-reconstructions of the chronology, uses and conceptions of buildings, particularly if the wall plasters can be linked to the floor plasters and features such as burials, platforms, fire-installations during excavation and sampling. 

During excavation considerable variation was observed in the character of wall plasters in each of the Spaces in Building 1 (Cessford this report), further suggesting that studies of the treatment of walls, floors and ceilings are good indicators of both the range of and changes in activities in each area, in ancient and ethnoarchaeological contexts. Samples of wall plaster were collected from each of these rooms in Building 5 by the conservators for studies of these and other technological questions (Myers pers comm.).' 

Room fill

BACH 2229 Sample 4 Midden-like deposits. 

These deposits were not burnt in-situ and are from heterogeneous sources, perhaps fire-installation rake-out mixed with other unburnt debris or sweepings. Yellowish organic aggregates are also present. 


The seven samples from KOPAL Trench 2 are particularly interesting and include information on the composition, deposition and post-depositional alterations of : sand interbedded with marl at the base of the sequence, early ditch fill, backswamp clays, organic lenses, several buried soil horizons, and orange ?colluvial/leached lenses. The organic lens close to the base of the sequence, in thin section comprises charred and siliceous remains of grasses (Figure 34). This lens and overlying deposits include thick coatings from translocation of sediments by water, and non-charred perhaps water-logged plant remains (Figure 35). 


Dr Wendy Matthews and Dr Begümsen Ergenekon 

A preliminary ethnoarchaeological study of villages surrounding Çatalhöyük was conducted between 15th and the 21st of August 1998 in collaboration with Dr Beümsen Ergenkon, Departments of Archaeometry and Modern Languages, Middle East Technical University, Ankara. The aim in this research is to study the nature and meaning of variation in types of floor plasters, surfaces and coverings, and accumulated deposits in contemporary settlements immediately surrounding Çatalhöyük. An additional objective emerged during the course of research to determine the effects of present ecological change due to disappearance of wetlands in the Konya Basin. 

The villages visited were Küçükköy, and Turkmencamili (steppe environment), Hamidiye (at the edge of the old lake of Sola), Adakale (at the edge of the old lake of Hotamis), Emirler (by Mt. Karadag), Binbirkilise (on Mt. Karadag). 

Some of the observations of note are listed briefly below. 

Architectural source materials: selection, location and procurement 

Ranges of specific sources of architectural materials have been pointed out to us, some of which are communal. Women tend to collect sediments for replastering as part of maintenance and cleaning of houses, whilst men tend to collect sediments for preparing mud bricks and mortars. 

Juniper tree timber is used more rarely today in the Konya Plain, but used to be collected from the foothills to the West, near Bozkýr and floated down waterways as cut logs. Bozkýr is located at the headwaters of the Çarþamba Çay, a branch of which flows between the two mounds at Çatalhöyük. This practice may also have occurred in the past, for whilst large Juniper timbers have been found within buildings at Çatalhöyük, only sparse fine fragments of Juniper wood have been identified in thin section, in contrast to more abundant dicotyledonous woods (Matthews et al. 1996). 

The scar left from removal of a wooden staircase in an abandoned house in Türkmencamili closely resembles the scar in the southern wall of Building 5 at Çatalhöyük. The shape of this scar, and the presence of a large pit at its base which may represent a robber pit for re-use of wooden structure, may suggest Building 5 was entered by a wooden staircase, rather than by ladder. 

Surface textures selected and used in different behavioural contexts and micro-environment 

One of the principal observations during ethnoarchaeological research was that, not only were different floor surfaces and coverings selected as a contextual medium for different behavioural, socioeconomic and micro-environmental situations, but also the texture of and residues accumulating on walls and ceilings varied. Similar variations have been observed during other ethnoarchaeological research in Turkey (Aurenche et al. 1997) and Iran (Horne 1994). Some of the considerations affecting these decisions include aesthetic, sensual, functional, economic, and in some cases symbolic perceptions and reasons. The following lists give some indication of the range of materials and contextual associations observed: 

Roofing timbers visible as lowest members of ceiling 

Juniper wood is the most valued timber, and is the preferred choice for use in reception rooms, but is increasingly rare. Poplar trunks stripped of bark are widely used in a range of rooms. Irregular trunks of currently unidentified trees with bark tend to occur in some kitchens, many storerooms and stables, and less wealthy houses. 

Ceiling lining 

Loose reeds often covered in soot frequently occur in kitchens or entrances, whilst woven mats are often selected to line ceilings in living and reception rooms. The ceiling lining within some single rooms particularly in smaller houses varies from area to area according to the nature of specific activities enacted below. 

Wall surfaces 

Stable walls are often unplastered. Kitchen and store-room walls tend to be coated in brown mud plaster, living, sleeping and reception rooms in white plaster and wall hangings of rugs or plastic sheets. Wall hangings protect both the underlying wall surfaces from abrasion and dirt such as soot or finger marks, and the person leaning against the wall from being covered in white dust. 

Floor surfaces 

Courtyard surfaces are rarely plastered, occasionally currently in cement, and are frequently swept. Kitchens are often plastered in brown mud plaster, and covered in rugs or material cloths. Wash areas are often plastered in quicklime. Living, sleeping and sitting rooms tend to be covered by rugs and carpets on top of an underlay currently often of woven Scirpus leaves which remain soft and flexible even when dry, or of unfolded cardboard boxes. In the past felt was also selected as an underlay. The underlay is reported both to protect underlying surface, and to stop dust and/or moisture from spoiling the overlying rugs or carpets. 

Renewal and repair of surfaces 

One of the focuses of investigation this year was the impetus, timing, frequency, and organisation of replastering. The answers given varied considerably, ranging from: 

Holy/festive days (bayrams) 



After harvest, when sometimes last years straw and chaff is used, reportedly because it makes better plaster, but perhaps also because straw and chaff are vital sources of fuel and fodder which need to be kept in reserve until the new harvest is collected and stored. 

Outdoor ovens may be plastered after every firing. 

Women often collect sediments for plastering, and replastered floors as part of household maintenance and cleaning. Many of the plasters re-applied to floors, walls and ovens are very thin, and comprise a watery mix of sediment (brown or white) in suspension in water. Some of these plasters appear to be even thinner than those applied at Çatalhöyük. Two women separately mentioned the wonderful clean and fresh smell which fills house after plastering with white sediments, ak toprak. 


Few residues are permitted to accumulate on floors within houses. This is principally due to use of underlays, rugs, and large cloths which are laid out below low wooden bread making tables in food preparation and cooking areas for example, or below low metal trays in living and reception rooms and pulled over the knees and lap of those eating. 

Ash from fire-installations in some houses is discarded onto specific dumps outside the compound walls, for later use as fertiliser in fields. Approximately 5 buckets of ash are generated after burning of dung fuel in large outdoor ovens for bread-making. 


In some villages elsewhere different areas of houses are endowed with symbolic meanings and associations which influence perceptions of these areas and the range of activities and behaviour in these contexts. 

Settlement structure 

Houses built adjacent to one another, forming block complexes 

The villages of Adakale and Hamidiye, include single storied mudbricks houses with flat roofs which are built shoulder to shoulder adjacent to one another in complexes of seven or eight houses. These complexes each present what appears to be a common outer wall, and distinct quarters within the village. Narrow streets allow for circulation of people and animals. 

Building location and abandonment, and villages as modern mound (höyük) formations 

A range of interesting information on location, abandonment, rebuilding and inheritance of houses is also being reported. Vertical profiles through villages are being studied, documenting instances of building decay, destruction and reconstruction on specific lots of land. Research on organic settlement development is being conducted more intensively by Nurcan Yalman, at the village of Türkmencamili, south of Çatalhöyük. 

Ecological change 

There is currently on going ecological change in the Konya basin due to extinction of wet lands. Lake Soðla has recently completely disappeared, and Lake Hotamiþ is on its way to extinction due to shrinking water volume and surface area. As a consequence, the villages of Hamidiye, by Lake Soðla, and Adakale, by Lake Hotamiþ, are today being deprived of their former wet landscape, water, fish, reed harvest, duck hunting and humidity. The villagers are having to adapt to a new ecology and find economical and social ways to compensate their loss. A study of ecological change and its impact on housing, local economy, social relations and production of artefacts, would furnish revealing information in consideration of the implications of ecological changes in the past. Recent palaeoecological research around the site of Çatalhöyük, has identified some evidence to suggest that the Neolithic backswamp deposits to the south of the site were heavier and wetter than the soils which exist today, suggesting drying out during the Holocene (Roberts et al. 1996,37-9). 

Future research 

This initial pilot study has established that there is sufficient contextual variation in the texture of surfaces and accumulations of residues within houses to enable future research to explore the sociocultural and micro-environmental contexts of these variations and their meanings. 

The village of Küçükköy is likely to be one of the most rewarding villages for future study of potential indications of uses of space, behaviour and micro-environment by contextual analysis of surface textures and traces of human activities as: 

  1. the architecture in this village will be studied and recorded by a joint team of architects and conservators from the Universities of Istanbul and Philadelphia, and will provide an important documented contextual framework for study of surface textures and traces of human activities 
  2. the village is located in an area with access to a diverse range of sediments suitable for architectural materials and plasters, and will provide a good case-study for analysis of variation in decision-making for selection, manufacture, application and renewal of materials intended for use in different socio-cultural contexts and micro-environments within the settlement. Küçükköy is located on a modern alluvial fan on the bed of a Pleistocene lake. Other villages, by contrast, are located in areas with less diverse sedimentary facies. Turkmencamlii for example is located in a region which only comprises calcareous deposits with a weakly developed topsoil. 
  3. Küçükköy is the village closest to Çatalhöyük. Some of the sediments currently accessible to villagers from the edges of cuts for canals, ditches or pits were present and used in the Neolithic, including Pleistocene deposits of white soft lime, ak toprak (Matthews et al. 1996) and will enable direct study of ancient and modern variation in uses and applications of these materials. The close proximity of the village to Çatalhöyük will also help with logistics of ethnoarchaeological visits, and enable these to correlate with the study of microstratigraphy on site. 
Comparisons will be made with other villages, one of which has flat roofed buildings clustered in tight groups, with blank exterior walls. Ethnoarchaeological research will consider highly symbolic cultural contexts, such as in American South West. 


We would like to thank the Turkish Directorate General of Monuments and Museums for permission to export samples for scientific analysis. We are very grateful to the Department of Archaeology, University of Cambridge for loan of a transmitted light polarising microscope for the season. I would like to thank Julie Boast and Dr Charly French for manufacture of the thin sections and all their technical and personal support during this research; Amanda Cox, Gülgün Kazan and Jessica Rippengal for help in arranging supplies, and our government representatives. 

Bibliographic References

Aurenche, O., Bazin, M. and Sadler, S. 1997. Villages engloutis: enquête ethnoarchéologique à Cafer Höyük (vallée de l'Euphrate). Maison de l'Orient Méditerranéen, Lyon. 

Eighmy, J. L. 1981. The archaeological significance of counting houses: ethnoarchaeological evidence. In Modern material culture: the archaeology of us (Eds Gould, R. A. and Schiffer, M. B.). Academic Press, New York, pp. 225-33. 

Horne, L. 1994. Village spaces: settlement and society in northeastern Iran. Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington. 

Matthews, W., French, C. A. I., Lawrence, T. and Cutler, D. 1996. Multiple surfaces: the micromorphology. In On the surface: Çatalhöyük 1993-95(Ed. Hodder, I.). McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research and British Institute of Archaeology at Ankara, Cambridge, pp. 301-342. 

Matthews, W., French, C. A. I., Lawrence, T., Cutler, D. F. and Jones, M. K. 1997. Microstratigraphic traces of site formation processes and human activities. World Archaeology, 29, 281-308. 

Mellaart, J. 1967. Çatal Hüyük: A Neolithic town in Anatolia. Thames and Hudson, London. 

Middleton, W. D. and Price, D. T. 1996. Identification of activity areas by multi-element characterization of sediments from modern and archaeological house floors using inductively coupled plasma-atomic emission spectroscopy. Journal of Archaeological Science, 23, 637-687. 

Newton, M. W. (1996) Dendrochronology at Çatal Höyük: a 576 tree-ring chronology for the early Neolithic of Anatolia. MA Thesis. Graduate SchoolCornell. 

Roberts, N., Boyer, P. and Parish, R. 1996. Preliminary results of geoarchaeological investigations at Çatalhöyük. In On the surface: Çatalhöyük 1993-95 (Ed. Hodder, I.). McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research and British Institute of Archaeology at Ankara, Cambridge, pp. 19-41. 

Watson, P. J. 1979. Archaeological ethnography in Western Iran. Univeristy of Arizona Press for the Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research Inc., Tuscon. 

Appendix 1: Co-ordinating Institutions

Appendix 2: Micromorphological analysis of occupation sequences at the Aceramic Neolithic settlement of Asikli Höyük


Figure 31 Series of water-laid surface crusts within sequence of probable roofing collapsed in BACH Area, Space 86. Frame width = 3.5 mm. PPL.

Figure 32 Thin section through wall plasters in Building 5, North Area.  There appears to have been considerable cyclicity in [1] application of thicker plaster layers, [2] intervening accumulations of soot and subsequent replasterings with thin plaster coats/washes (n = c. 3-9), and [3] occasional lenses of plaster with no soot-coatings. One fragment of collapsed wall plaster sampled in 1997 included c. 70 episodes of plastering, each series of which perhaps represents annual events (from left to right). Small truncations and repairs are also evident. Frame width = 3.5 mm. PPL. 

Figure 33 Detail of the basal view of Figure 32, from the same thin section sample of wall plasters , at higher magnification. Frame width = 1.37 mm. PPL.

Figure 34 Lens of charred and siliceous plant remains in buried landscape deposits  above the Pleistocene Lake Marl. This lens and overlying deposits include coatings of void spaces from translocation of sediments by water. KOPAL Trench 2. Frame width = 3.5 mm. PPL.

Figure 35 Non-charred, perhaps water-logged plant remains within lens illustrated in Figure 34. KOPAL Trench 2. Frame width = 1.37 mm. PPL.



© Çatalhöyük Research Project and individual authors, 1998