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Friday, May 9, 2008

Catalhoyuk, the Mother Goddess, and the dawn of civilization

While we are on archaeology today: the Web site of the Catalhoyuk Research Project has a new multimedia feature devoted to the figurines discovered at this 9,500 year-old Neolithic site in south-central Turkey. The figurine project is directed by Lynn Meskell, now a professor at Stanford University and a former graduate student of Ian Hodder, director of the spectacular dig at Catalhoyuk. The excavations, of course, are the subject of my first and (so far, at least) only book, published a few years ago by Free Press, which I wrote after several years of covering the site for Science (you can read some of my articles on my Web site, at this link.)

The original excavator of the site, James Mellaart, thought that the figurines represented a Mother Goddess who was worshipped at Catalhoyuk, a notion that still resonates today with Mother Goddess worshippers and some archaeologists. But the Hodder team doubts this interpretation--you can read more about it in my book...

The videos on the figurines page do not seem to have accompanying audio, but I have a message in to Lynn asking about that. Meanwhile, you can also view an 8 minute video about Catalhoyuk, with very nice music, at The Archaeology Channel, which I highly recommend (please click on the link and then search for Catalhoyuk on the alphabetical list you see.)

The photo you see above left is me at Catalhoyuk several years ago, interviewing archaeologist Ruth Tringham of University of California, Berkeley, who led a team of Berkeley archaeologist at the site.

Here are a few more photos from this fascinating excavation. These and hundreds more can be found on the Catalhoyuk Website:


A stamp seal found a few seasons ago.


A pot formed like a face found just last season.


Excavation overview.


Another view of the dig team at work.

More photos of the dig are available on this page of my Website.

Update: For those interested in Mother Goddess arcania, a link to this short article on the subject just came over the transom on the Ancient Near East listserve to which I subscribe. The author refers to the Mother Goddess at Catalhoyuk as a possible antecedent to later goddesses, although as he points out there is very limited evidence for this.

1 comment:

GM Roper said...

Fascinating photos Michael. The seal is particularly interesting, as when my grandfather was in the merchant marine in the early 1900's (1906 to 1912 I think) he bought (among many things) a seal made of metal that looked very like the seal you pictured. I have no idea what happened to it, but it was purchased from a street vendor who had multiple copies of it. I suspect that many of those things are rather generic, but your photograph brought back a nice memory of a wonderful man.