In a recent study, researchers published new findings regarding the burial ritual used for certain burials in Çatalhöyük, Turkey, 9,000 years ago.
An international team of researchers has just revealed new information on how the inhabitants of the “oldest city in the world”, Çatalhöyük (Turkey), buried their dead.
Indeed, as detailed by the specialized site Phys.org, their bones would have been partially painted, dug up several times, then reburied. The findings provide insight into the burial rituals of this society, which lived 9,000 years ago.
Çatalhöyük : A Neolithic settlement of 13 hectares
Çatalhöyük is one of the most important archaeological sites in the Near East. This Neolithic settlement, known as the oldest city in the world, covers an area of 13 hectares. The houses of this city show traces of ritual activities. Burials found inside the city walls still show traces of dyes and paints.
A study recently published in the journal Scientific Reports by an international research team, with the participation of the University of Bern, provided the first analysis of the pigments used in this context in Çatalhöyük.
According to the lead author of the study, Marco Milella (Department of Physical Anthropology, Institute of Forensic Medicine, University of Bern), “these results reveal interesting insights into the association between the use of dyes, funeral rituals and living spaces in this fascinating society”.
Learn more about the remains that benefited from funeral rites
Marco Milella was part of the anthropological team that excavated and studied the human remains of Çatalhöyük. His job was to try to make these skeletons “speak”: establish the age and sex, investigate the injuries or the treatment suffered by the corpse. In the oldest city in the world, it would seem that only a selection of individuals were buried under this funeral ritual. “The criteria guiding the selection of these individuals are currently beyond our understanding, which makes these results even more interesting. Our study shows that this selection was not linked to age or sex”, thus advances the searcher.
As Phys.org reminds us, in the Near East, the use of pigments for funeral ceremonies was particularly common from the second half of the 9th and 8th millennia BC. Archaeological sites in the Near East dating from the Neolithic era have yielded a great deal of evidence of symbolic and mysterious activities.
A journey through time in a world of colors, houses and deaths
Marco Milella was part of the anthropological team that excavated and studied the human remains of Çatalhöyük. His job is to try to make ancient and modern skeletons “talk”. Establishing age and gender, investigating violent injuries or special treatment of the corpse, and solving skeletal puzzles are routine activities in the Department of Physical Anthropology.
The study shows that red ocher was most commonly used in Çatalhöyük, present on some adults of both sexes and on children, and that cinnabar and blue/green were associated with males and females respectively. Curiously, the number of burials in a building seems to be associated with the number of successive layers of architectural paint. This suggests a contextual association between funerary deposit and application of dyes in the domestic space. “That means: when they were burying someone, they were also painting on the walls of the house,” says Milella. Moreover, in Çatalhöyük, some individuals “remained” in the community: their skeletal elements were recovered and put into circulation for a while, before being buried again. This second burial of skeletal elements was also accompanied by wall paintings.
Only a selection of individuals were buried with dyes, and only a portion of individuals remained in the community with their bones in circulation. According to Marco Milella, “the criteria guiding the selection of these individuals are currently beyond our understanding, which makes these results even more interesting. Our study shows that this selection was not related to age or sex. What is clear, however, is that visual expression, ritual performance, and symbolic associations were elements of long-term shared sociocultural practices in this Neolithic society.