the first proto-city -- 6/3/20

Today's selection -- from Cosmos: Possible Worlds by Ann Druyan. The first proto-city:

"Welcome to one of the mothers of all cities, Çatalhöyük, a community on the Anatolian plain that is now part of Turkey. ... [Nine thousand] years ago ... Çatalhöyük consisted of attached dwellings covering 33 acres. ... The city was so new back then, they hadn't invented the street yet -- or the window. So the only way you could get into your apartment was to walk over your neighbors' rooftops. A ladder was propped against the skylight opening of your apartment.

"Çatalhöyük lacked something much more significant than streets and windows. There was no palace here. The bitter price of inequality that the invention of agriculture cost human society had yet to be paid. Here, there was no dominance of the few over the many. There was no one percent attaining lavish wealth while most everyone else merely subsisted or failed to subsist. The ethos of sharing was still alive and well. There is evidence of violence against women and children, but the weakest ate the same food that the strongest ate. Scientific analyses of the nutrition of the women, men, and children who lived here show a remarkable similarity, and everyone lived in the same kind of home. ... Dominating [every] room was a giant head of an auroch with massive pointed horns, mounted on the richly painted wall. The walls were lavishly festooned with the teeth, bones, and skins of other animals.

Çatalhöyük after the first excavations

"The apartments at Çatalhöyük have a distinctly modern look. The floor plan is highly utilitarian and modular, uniform from dwelling to dwelling, with cubicles for work, dining, entertaining, and sleep. Bare wood beams support the ceiling. It was home for an extended family of seven to ten people.

"The ocher that our ancestors picked up in Africa about a hundred thousand years before was now the medium of choice for the interior decorators of Çatalhöyük. Murals abound of aurochs, leopards, a running man, vultures pecking the flesh from headless corpses, hunters taunting deer. And they didn't just use it to depict animals. It played an important ceremonial role in the way they honored their loved ones after death.

"A procession, bearing a corpse, would leave Çatalhöyük for a wide-open space on the Anatolian plain. A high platform awaited them. They would leave the corpse on the platform to be consumed by birds of prey and the elements. One person would remain to stand guard and assure that the bones would not be taken. ... The procession returned when nothing was left but the skeleton. Now, it was time to decorate it with red ocher and fold it into a fetal position before burying it beneath the living room floor of their apartment. From time to time, perhaps in the context of ritual, they would open the tombs beneath them and remove the skull of a loved one to keep with them where they lived."



Ann Druyan


Cosmos: Possible Worlds


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Copyright 2020 Ann Druyan


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