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The World's First City Volume 51 Number 2, March/April 1998
by Orrin C. Shane III, and Mine Küçük

[image] Micromorphologist removes a sample from a wall in the old excavation area. (Orrin C. Shane, III/Science Museum of Minnesota) [LARGER IMAGE]

Nine thousand years ago, visitors approaching Çatalhöyük from across a vast marshy plain would have seen hundreds of mud-brick dwellings on the slopes of an enormous settlement mound. The site's several thousand inhabitants would have been herding sheep or goats; hunting wild cattle (aurochs), horse, and deer; tending crops of peas, lentils, and cereals; or collecting wild plant foods such as tubers from the marshes. Some would have been bringing valuable raw materials to the site, such as obsidian from volcanic peaks to the northeast. In size and complexity, Çatalhöyük was unlike any other site in the world. The American archaeologist Walter Fairservis, Jr., writing in 1975, described it as a community "at the threshold of civilization."

[image] Lifting rig facilitates removal of walls with preserved frescoes to an on-site conservation lab. (Tim Ready/Science Museum of Minnesota) [LARGER IMAGE]

Çatalhöyük was first brought to worldwide attention by James Mellaart, whose excavations between 1961 and 1965 revealed more than 150 dwellings and rooms, many decorated with murals, plaster reliefs, and sculpture. Mellaart excavated less than four percent of the eastern mound at Çatalhöyük, but it was enough to indicate the settlement's size and architectural complexity as well as the sophistication of its art. In doing so, he established Çatalhöyük as an important site for studying the origins of settled farming life and the rise of the first cities. Some scholars consider Çatalhöyük to be the world's first city, and its murals are unique.

After 1965, the site lay idle until 1993, when Ian Hodder of the University of Cambridge launched the Çatalhöyük Research Project. Working in collaboration with the McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research at Cambridge and the British Institute for Archaeology at Ankara, Hodder has now completed five years of excavation and study as part of a 25-year program. The project's three principal aims are archaeological investigation of the site; conservation of architecture, murals, artifacts, and human remains; and management of the site, including interpretive programs for visitors.

Remains of 67 people have been found in building 1 at Çatalhöyük. The site's inhabitants buried their dead in pits beneath platforms and floors (Çatalhöyük Project) [LARGER IMAGE][image]

The University of Cambridge Çatalhöyük website ( carries annually updated summaries and specialized preliminary reports. Computer animations of some Çatalhöyük building interiors may be seen at The Science Museum of Minnesota is developing a web site that will present educational themes developed from the first excavations at Çatalhöyük and provide students and teachers access to new discoveries at the site and to archaeologists in Europe and America involved in the project.

Orrin C. Shane III, curator for archaeology at the Science Museum of Minnesota, and Mine Küçük, an archaeologist and exhibit developer living in Istanbul, head the public programming team of the Çatalhöyük Research Project. To become part of the project, please write The Friends of Çatalhöyük, Department of Archaeology, Downing Street, Cambridge CB2 3DZ, England.

© 1998 by the Archaeological Institute of America