Hasan Dag and Catal Huyuk

Mount Hasan (Turkish: Hasan Dağı) is an inactive stratovolcano in Aksaray province, Turkey. With an altitude of 3,253 m (10,672 ft.), it ranks as the second highest mountain of central Anatolia. A caldera 4-5 kilometres wide formed near the current summit around 7500 BC, in an eruption recorded in Neolithic paintings.

Hasan Dag rock painting

Hasan Dag rock painting

The ancient settlement of Catal Huyuk collected obsidian from the area of Hasan Dag, which was probably traded with other settlements for luxury goods. The importance of Hasan Dag to the people of Catal Huyuk may be shown by a wall painting, sometimes called the “first landscape” by art historians, which many believe is a depiction of Hasan Dağ towering over the settlement’s houses.

It is approximately a six hours’ walk is to climb to the top of the mountain from the highest point accessible by car. The summit offers a view over the central Anatolian plateau, including distant Cappadocia.

About obsidian

Thomas Holme writes this about the religious significance of obsidian to the people of Catal Huyuk:

Obsidian Arrowhead

Obsidian Arrowhead

An even older resource equally as important as salt to these people was obsidian, the volcanic material which made for blades sharper than modern surgeon’s scalples. The greatest source for obsidian was the base of Hasan Dag volcano which was visible from Catal Huyuk. This valuable stone became the source of perhaps the most significant trading that went on in the upper paleolithic and neolithic. Just as the first walls seem to have been formed in Jericho as a means of safeguarding stores of salt for trading purposes the first walls near Hasan Dag were probably formed to storehouse the valuable obsidian. The Hasan Dag stone was traded to the Lavant for lumber and Dead Sea bitumen.

Obsidian was a stone that required priests and priestesses. Because the obsidian blades and spearpoints must bear sacred incantations to insure their swiftness and true flight to bring down the kill, and to keep the hunter from harm. Half of all the buildings in Catal Huyuk were shrines. Not only was Catal Huyuk a major trade center but more importantly it was a religious center.

Catal Huyuk (Çatalhöyük)

Catal Huyuk (Çatalhöyük (Turkish pronunciation: [tʃaˈtaɫhøjyc]; also Çatal Höyük and Çatal Hüyük, or any of the three without diacritics; çatal is Turkish for “fork”, höyük for “mound”)) was a very large Neolithic and Chalcolithic settlement in southern Anatolia, which existed from approximately 7500 BC to 5700 BC. It is the largest and best-preserved Neolithic site found to date.

The Neolithic site of Catal Huyuk was first discovered in the late 1950s and excavated by James Mellaart in 4 excavation seasons between 1961 and 1965. The site quickly became famous internationally due to the large size and dense occupation of the settlement, as well as the spectacular wall paintings and other art that was uncovered inside the houses. Excavations continue at this site and data about the Çatalhöyük Excavations is available online. Since Mellaart’s excavations there has been continuing work at the site, more recently led by Ian Hodder.

The oldest layer of Catal Huyuk yet excavated is reliably carbon dated to 6,500 B.C, and reveals a thriving, completely developed and planned, city. Twelve successive layers of building, representing distinct stages of the city and reflecting different eras of its history, have been found. The top layers of the mound, containing the most recent buildings, are dated at 5,600 B.C.

The Great Mother of Catal Huyuk

It was first thought that Catal Huyuk provided evidence of worship of a mother goddess. A striking feature of Catal Huyuk are its female figurines. James Mellaart, argued that these figurines, carved and molded from marble, blue and brown limestone, schist, calcite, basalt, alabaster, and clay, represented a female deity of the Great Goddess type. Although a male deity existed as well, “…statues of a female deity far outnumber those of the male deity, who moreover, does not appear to be represented at all after Level VI”. (Mellaart)  To date, eighteen levels have been identified. The figurines were found primarily in areas Mellaart believed to be shrines. However – a stately goddess seated on a throne flanked by two female lions – was found in a grain bin, which Mellaart suggests might have been a means of ensuring the harvest or protecting the food supply. (Mellaart)

Whereas Mellaart excavated nearly two hundred buildings in four seasons, Ian Hodder, spent an entire season excavating one building alone.In 2004 and 2005, Hodder and team began to believe that the patterns suggested by Mellaart were false. They found one similar figurine, but the vast majority did not imitate the Mother Goddess style that Mellaart suggested. Instead of a Mother Goddess culture, Hodder points out that the site gives little indication of a matriarchy or patriarchy.

Great Mother of Catal Huyuk

Great Mother of Catal Huyuk seating with a lion

The above sculpture of the Great Mother of Catal Huyuk shows her seated with a tame lion on either side. Despite Hodder challenging Mellart’s opinion about the matriarchal society of Catal Huyik, there is still many who believe that there was a Goddess based religion.

For example, William Carl Eichman comments that:

Looking at the erupting volcano with the eyes of an art historian, several features suggest that the painting is not simply a landscape, but is an icon of the Volcano Goddess.

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The contours of the volcano are breast-like and the overall shape of the volcano closely matches schematized “bison-woman” paleolithic designs and other goddess representations; it looks distinctly like a body, much more so than like a mountain. The spots on the volcano’s flanks, described as “glowing firebombs of lava,” are very similar to the “leopard-skin spots” that are a characteristic sign of the Goddess of Catal Huyuk throughout the city’s artwork. The painting is a vivid, nearly naturalistic rendering, and the spouts of lava pouring from the cone shapes at its base accurately portray the tendency of volcanoes to erupt from vents at their base. But the painting is also a shrine mural, an expression of religion, and clearly a representation of the Mother Goddess of Obsidian, and the city which was built and consecrated by Her graces.

It is not surprising that the landscape influenced religious beliefs as both the lion/leopard and woman are part of the story about the land. I cannot help but think of comparisons in Australian Aboriginal artwork and stories, where the landscape is an intrinsic part of the spirituality and culture of the community.

Migration to Catal Huyuk

River valleys had always been ancient pathways for mesolithic peoples who followed herds with the seasons. Another ancient route in continual use was the Danube river to the Rhine river which they followed to the sea, and from the sea the same wanderers in turn made the trip east and arrived at the great freshwater Euxine Lake and south into Anatolia to Catal Huyuk.  We know this is so because a high percentage of the skulls unearthed at Catal Huyuk are of a type that come from western Europe.

Travel between the Danube and Catal Huyuk was easy in that age with no Bosporus channel to cross.

We look forward to continuing our research on Catal Huyuk and the importance of Hasan Dag over the coming months.

References

  • garden e danu by Thomas Holme who is a bicycle repairman, lecturer, and itinerant intransigent student of esoteric psychosophy and roadside cooking in Eugene, Oregon. The rest of this text is very interesting especially if you are interested in ancient religions and customs.
  • Gnosis Magazine Spring 1990 Catal Huyuk: The Temple City of Prehistoric Anatolia by William Carl Eichman. This essay is in three parts Part 2 and Part 3 Eichman also references Sufism in essay and well published Sufi proponent and thinker Idries Shah
  • Marija Gimbutas The Civilization of the Goddess
  • Çatalhöyük Research Project
  • Balter, Michael (2005). The Goddess and the Bull. New York: Free Press. pp. 127. ISBN 0-7432-4360-9.
  • Hodder, Ian (2005). “New finds and new interpretations at Çatalhöyük”. Çatalhöyük 2005 Archive Report. Catalhoyuk Research Project, Institute of Archaeology.
  • Mellaart, James (1967). Catal Huyuk: A Neolithic Town in Anatolia. McGraw-Hill. pp. 181.
  • Mellaart (1967), 180.
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