Home to some of the world’s earliest mural art, this ancient site was thought to have a population of over 30,000 people, one of the world’s earliest and largest cities.
Where We Work
Çatalhöyük, a site dating back nearly 10,000 years, has been the focus of extensive archaeological investigation and conservation efforts since 1993. Home to some of the world’s earliest mural art, this ancient site was thought to have a population of over 30,000 people, one of the world’s earliest and largest cities. Global Heritage Fund began conservation and community development work at Çatalhöyük in 2006.
Many regard Çatalhöyük as being central to the origin of civilization in Turkey and the Middle East. In recent years, local, regional, and national interest in Turkey has increased regarding the development of the site for tourism and economic benefit for the local communities. In 2012 Çatalhöyük was inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List, making it the only Neolithic site on the list from the Middle East.
Çatalhöyük is a site that faces a number of natural threats, including high winds, heavy snow and exposure. Erosion is also a significant threat to the site’s remains as the buildings were largely constructed of unfired mudbrick, easily degraded by water action. Threatened by exposure to the elements and erosion, the construction of permanent protective shelters has been successful in keeping the damage to a minimum. GHF has focused its contributions to preserving this important site in the areas of conservation intervention and training, the improvement of site interpretation and increasing community involvement in the site. A dropping water table resulting from intensive irrigation in the area is also threatening the preservation of the site’s remains.
What We Do
The focus for GHF at Çatalhöyük has been on conservation training, site protection, preservation of the archaeological remains, and improving the visitor experience.
The Turkish Ministry of Culture and Tourism is working with the Çatalhöyük project to revise the existing site management plan, which is being used as a model for other sites in Turkey. On the basis of this plan, the Turkish government has put the site forward for World Heritage status.
Trained archaeologists worked with local labor to measure relative humidity and other variables in the shelter throughout the year, and to build a full visual documentation of the state of the mud-brick buildings beneath the shelter.
The focus in 2009 is on the maintenance and treatment of the walls of all 20 building under the newest shelter. There is also work to conserve the wall paintings in the area. The conservation of the area is dependent on having suitable covers and shelters, because the houses are made of unfired mud brick, and the paintings and sculptures are constructed with plaster and clay.
GHF has helped transform a mainly archaeological research project into a major regional site conservation and sustainable tourism development project around one of the oldest known cities in the world. Additionally, GHF has funded the design and construction of a state-of-the-art site conservation shelter structure, visitor center and interpretative panels to allow touristic access to the site. The new shelter allows the preservation of delicate remains and demonstrates how early mudbrick sites elsewhere in the Middle East can be placed on display as they have rarely been before; it also improves the tourist experience in the region by providing a comfortable shelter with informative panels, and it provides an opportunity for training and capacity building within the local community. A large amount of conservation work was done in the 4040 shelter, consolidating walls and plasters and putting buildings on display. For the first time in history, visitors are now able to explore a 9,000 year-old Neolithic archaeological site and see the art in context within the houses.
Local labor and contractors were used to replace the end panels on the 4040 shelter so that variation in relative humidity in the shelter could be more effectively controlled. In the same area in Building 49 several paintings were uncovered and have been recorded. Throughout the whole 4040 Area under the shelter 14 buildings were treated for permanent display. In the Team Poznan (TP) Area in the southern part of the mound a unique frieze excavated in 2007 was uncovered and removed for conservation in the onsite laboratory.
The careful excavation, lifting and treatment of a large number of horn cores, bucrania and other animal bones have taken place. Two important objects uncovered in one field season, a clay stamp seal representing a bear and the mother goddess figurine, required careful cleaning in order to reveal as much of the original shape as possible. An important treatment of the 2005 season was the conservation and the mounting of a wall painting to be displayed in Konya Archaeological Museum. This wall painting was discovered in the South Summit in 2003, in a niche on one of the walls which was slowly collapsing, but was lifted in two parts and semi conserved during the 2004 season.
Members of the local community have gained training in the conservation and treatment of wall paintings, and Turkish students from Istanbul University, Middle East Technical University (METU) and London University have participated in a series of conservation and site preservation tasks including cutting and lifting walls with plaster reliefs and paintings for display in Konya Museum.
Consultations and interviews with the whole village of Küçükköy at the site have enabled the development of plans for an integrated heritage park around the site, funded Turkish and local training and capacity building for complex house and mural conservation, community engagement that included guide training, site employment, school visitation and education and a view from the Village display in Visitor Center. Moreover, seeking to enhance the women’s own participation in the economy of the exhibition, their scarves have been integrated into the presentation.
One of the critical components of the community based research at Çatalhöyük is developing ways for the local communities around the site to take part in the research itself. The aim is to eventually move beyond education about the site to a point where local residents feel confident and interested in developing joint research projects collaboratively with archaeologists. There is increased income from tourism that has had an impact on the café by the site and in the local town of Çumra and in the village of Küçükköy. Members of the community sell craft products at the site.
- Stanford University
- The Turkish Cultural Foundation
Why It's Important
The site of Çatalhöyük has revealed some of the world’s earliest mural art and is often seen as central to the origin of civilization in Turkey and the Middle East. However, the houses at Çatalhöyük are made of unfired mud brick and so offer a major challenge for conservation and site presentation. Additionally there has also been much change in land management in the area over recent decades leading to a major drop in the water table and changes in runoff and erosion, factors which are also affecting the site negatively. Due to this and other factors, it is imperative that we maintain continued vigilance over the heritage assets at this site.
In 2009-2010, significant progress was made at Çatalhöyük, Turkey, including:
- GHF funded the second major shelter structure at the site, leading to its being opened to the public for the first time
- Monitoring relative humidity within the shelters is contributing to a greater understanding of intra-shelter micro-climate fluctuations and informing the most appropriate approaches to the site’s conservation
- 20 excavated buildings in the 4040 area were consolidated and stabilized in 2009 alone
- Exposed wall paintings have been treated to enable long-term conservation and to allow in situ display
- Community-based conservation training has resulted in over 60 local workers skilled in site conservation
- Community engagement also included guide training, site employment, school visitation and education.
- Signage has been improved to create a richer visitor experience
- Visitation has increased from zero to 6,000 visitors per year
- GHF enabled the first Conservation Program budget at the site, over $300,000 in total
- GHF funding also helped the project secure equal matching funding from in-country corporate and foundation donors of over $800,000 since 2004
Candemir Zoroglu joined us in 2002 as a student from Selcuk University and continued as part of the team and came until 2006. During that time he gradually gained in expertise and confidence and we were able to give him tasks with increasing degrees of responsibility. By the end of 2006 he was a well trained field archaeologist with a wide range of skills at his disposal. He went on to work for the Ministry of Culture and Tourism in Ankara and is now part of the team that deals with the illicit trade in antiquities from Turkey, often traveling to major museums and governments around the world to argue Turkey’s case.
Mavili Tokyasun worked as part of our kitchen and dig house staff from 1994 to 2007. She became a central part of all our lives and her keen sense of fun sustained us through many long summers. She came from the small village, Kucukkoy, near the site and had little income. The experience and financial independence she gained through working in the kitchen gave her the skills to set up her own business. She now supplies local shops in Konya with the Turkish pastry called borek. During the busy ramadan months she employs two helpers. Moving to Konya also means that her son is getting more and better education.
When Sadrettin came to us, he was a farmer from the village of Küçükköy near the site, although he had also worked other jobs, such as driving a taxi, to supplement his income. During the 1990s, he worked as one of the guards at the site. He did not speak English and felt frustrated by his inability to explain the site to tourists. He took it upon himself to learn English using tapes given to him by ourselves and tourists. He asked to know more about the site, and we spent several pleasant evenings explaining the details of the Neolithic period and Çatalhöyük to him. As Sadrettin got to know the site, he felt that he would like to write his own book about the site and project. We gave him a computer, and he sat down and wrote 50,000 words in Turkish, which were then edited and translated into English by Duygu Çamurcuoǧlu. In the United States, this book was published in 2006 by Left Coast Press as Protecting Çatalhöyük: Memoir of an Archaeological Site Guard. It has been favorably reviewed, including by American Anthropologist. Now Sadrettin can tell his story of going from local heritage site guard to international author.
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