Archaeology Magazine Archive

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Deep Probe at Çatal Volume 52 Number 3, May/June 1999
by Orrin Shane and Mine Küçük

Excavation of a 75-foot-deep trench to the base of the eastern mound at Çatalhöyük began this April. Fears that the site, near the city of Konya in central Turkey, is drying out prompted the probe. Çatalhöyük is a key site in the study of early farming and the rise of cities (see "The World's First City," March/April 1998).

The high water table under the Konya Plain has kept the mound's lower levels saturated for the last 9,000 years, preserving organic materials that otherwise might be lost to decomposition and decay. As a result of increased pumping of water for agriculture, industrial, and city use in the early 1990s, the water table has been lowered, drying out the oldest levels near the base of the mound. This drying may cause artifacts preserved for millennia to deteriorate rapidly, resulting in the loss of environmental, economic, and dating evidence, and, possibly, complete examples of wooden containers, baskets, textiles, and incised wooden tablets, all known from fragmentary remains found in the 1960s.

The World Bank has brought in hydrological experts to assist the Turkish government in devising a technologically simple and cost-effective solution: irrigation ditches near the site will be filled, creating a moat around it and raising the water table locally. This will make it possible to maintain the water level within the mound at any given point. Because the mound has already begun drying out, archaeologists will assess any damage that has occurred and determine at what level the water table should be maintained. In a six-month campaign, they will extend a 1965 trench, carrying it through the mound's lowest levels, recording and conserving organic remains and artifacts and installing monitors to measure the water table.

© 1999 by the Archaeological Institute of America