The Neolithic Revolution and the Earliest Human Settlements

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Excavation site of Çatalhöyük

The large Neolithic town of Çatalhöyük located on the Konya Plain in Turkey lasted for almost two millennia. It was discovered in 1958 by English archaeologist James Mellaart (1925-2012), and went on to become one of the most famous archaeological sites in the world due to its size, density, wall painting, and evidence of complex religious and ritualistic practices.

Following Çatalhöyük, several other settlements discovered across West Asia have shown significant growth in the size of human communities during the shift from foraging into agricultural life. This major shift is referred to as the “Neolithic revolution” which occurred between 10 000 and 7000 BC.

It was largely due to the establishment of farming allowing for a stable long-term source of food that human population grew so rapidly. Both farming and population growth did, however, result in negative consequences. For example, farmers tended to work much harder than the hunter-gatherers ever did, and their diets were far more limited (consisting of a few crops and animal species) which led to nutritional deficiencies. Population growth occurred common as when settlements grew and became more permanent which brought its own issues too. For example, because human beings and animals were living in close proximity to one another, more so than ever before, some animal diseases spread to humans resulting in smallpox, anthrax, tuberculosis, and the flu. This was a problem especially because of densely populated settlements which allowed room for diseases to grow and spread in the population. As settlements became largely the more the people discovered new issues relating to the disposing of human and animal waste, which led to intestinal problems as well as waterborne diseases such as cholera and typhoid. There were also new social stresses to deal with. People were living in far more dense environments in which contact with fellow humans were far more invasive. As a result, new ways to solve social stresses and disputes between people became necessary.

As archaeological finds in Çatalhöyük during the 20th century have discovered, formal religious organization and group practices likely helped with community cohesion, and many sites and buildings were evidently set aside for these purposes. They were larger than domestic structures and possessed unusual features such as lime plaster benches and symbolic and representational arts. Further discoveries of murals, sculptures, and figurines of wild animals such as vultures, bulls, and leopards were discovered. At other sites figurines of animals and humans being have also been found with the figurines mostly being female.

Archaeological finds have also discovered that some some inhabitants of other Neolithic sites, such as Ain Ghazal in Jordan, buried their dead under the floors of their houses, and were sometimes later dug up and the skulls removed. It is not fully known why the people did this but it is possible that it was an act of ancestor worship or veneration of the dead. Often the facial features would be molded in plaster and painted with ochre for display. The decorated decorated skulls, statues, and figurines also function as common communal ideologies, rituals, and social practices which helped to cultivate relations between the people and social cohesion. There is also evidence of economics involved in long-distance trade and in the exchange of goods. As such, it is possible that Çatalhöyük was successful because its people were able to trade items made from volcanic glass (obsidian) which they obtained from the mountain Hasan Dağ,

For historians it seems lear that the many dramatic social and economic changes which came about due to the Neolithic revolution helped shaped both human society and the world’s ecosystems ever since.

References and Recommended Readings

Çatalhöyük Research Project. Available.

Grant, R. et al. 2016. The History Book. p. 30-31

Mazur, S. 2017. Ian Hodder: Çatalhöyük, Religion & Templeton’s 25%. Available.


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