Catalhoyuk is the site of a Neolithic town in Turkey dating back to between 7400 and 6000 BC.
Catalhoyuk is of particular archaeological significance as it sheds light on the time when humanity began to reject nomadic life.
Containing some of the earliest ever known mural art, Catalhoyuk is considered to be vital in learning about the country’s origins. Catalhoyuk also has a visitor centre with exhibits, although most of these are replicas, the originals having gone to museums around Turkey.
Near the village of Çumra, about 33 kilometres northwest of Konya, the fascinating World Heritage-listed site of Çatalhöyük is one of the world’s oldest Neolithic sites. During the 1960s, the excavations here, led by archaeologist James Mellaart, created worldwide headlines when the team announced the discovery of a large 9,000-year-old Neolithic settlement.
Today the site is regarded by UNESCO as the most significant human settlement documenting early settled agricultural life.
The date of the very earliest settlement here is claimed to be 6250 BC, while traces of fire suggest that the last of the 10 settlements uncovered was abandoned around 5400 BC.
The Çatalhöyük mound is just one of many places on the vast plains near Konya known to have been occupied between the 7th and 3rd millennia BC. More recent sedimentation has since rendered many settlement mounds unrecognizable, and virtually the entire plains area has been brought under the plow. The earliest levels at Çatalhöyük now lie buried more than two meters below the surface of the surrounding plain.
Mellaart’s permit for excavation was revoked after 4 years, during which he documented 14 different occupations in the eastern mound and many houses. After this, between 1993 and 2018 British archaeologist Ian Hodder developed an international research project at Çatalhöyük. The renewed attention that this garnered let to the ancient town being declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2012.
No larger constructions such as temples or grand communal buildings have been found to date. Archaeologists believe this lack suggests a remarkably egalitarian society, at least in its earlier stages.
There are also many mysteries surrounding why the site was eventually abandoned. Evidence suggests that the social system gradually broke down due to cultural shifts and climate change. In the later period, archaeologists detected an increase in the differences dividing social classes.
If you visit between June and September, when the digs mostly take place, you might find an expert to chat to. At other times, the museum does a good job of explaining the site and the excavations.
The lowest level of excavation, begun by Mellaart, is the deepest at Çatalhöyük and holds deposits left more than 9000 years ago. There are information panels on the viewing platforms of both excavation areas that help you decipher the site.
Only 4 percent of the entire surface area of Çatalhöyük has been studied, which means that there are thousands of unexcavated buildings that perhaps hold the answers to these and many other questions about the people who lived here.
Getting to Catalhoyuk
The site is accessible by public transport from Konya, 33km northwest, get the Karkın minibus, which leaves the Karatay Terminal (also called Eski Garaj) at 7am, 9.30am and 4.50pm on weekdays. The nearest stop is the village of Küçük Köy. Getting there by bus at the weekend is much harder: there are buses at 9am and midday on Saturdays and none on Sundays. Some visitors choose to take a taxi from Konya to the site and back.