Friday, March 9, 2007

Turkey from the Paleolithic to the Early Bronze Age

We have decided to kick off this blog with a brief overview of the Turkish archaeological record. As an anthropological archaeologist focusing primarily on prehistoric cultures, I have taken on the task of surveying the majority of Turkey’s prehistory from the Paleolithic up through the Early Bronze Age.

One of the benefits of starting the documentation of the project this early in the game is that visitors to this blog will witness, and also hopefully come to appreciate, all the steps in the archaeological process. These historical summaries represent the earliest attempts archaeologists make towards getting a handle on the relevant research that has already been conducted. As our familiarity with this literature grows, we will refine and add to the narrative presented in these first posts.

I have found Martha Sharp Joukowsky’s book Early Turkey: Anatolian Archaeology from Prehistory through the Lydian Period an adequate introduction to Turkish prehistory. Unless stated otherwise, this book is the source for the information contained in this post. The archaeologically recognized time periods (e.g. Paleolithic, Early Bronze Age, etc.) with a more detailed focus on Cilician sites when possible will provide the structure for this post. In addition I will provide a brief description of a few of the more well-known Turkish sites.

Within the broader discipline of anthropology, the period encompassing the earliest development of anatomically modern humans and our closest relatives is called the Paleolithic (Greek for “old stone”). This period extends from around 2,000,000 years ago to around 13,000 years ago. The Paleolithic is further subdivided into the Upper (2,000,000—120,000 Before Present), the Middle (300,000—30,000 BP), and the Lower (30,000—13,000BP). Despite such a long expanse of time (1.9 million years), archaeologists and hominid paleontologists know relatively little about this period, which in turn leaves plenty of room for contentious speculation.

In general, the recovery of stone tools provides the primary marker of this period. Archaeologists found the earliest evidence for human existence in Turkey at the site of Yarımburgaz near İstanbul, which dates to between 700,000 and 350,000 years ago. Yarımburgaz contained over 1200 stone tools and the butchered remains of several animals ranging from rabbits to wild bovids.

During the Middle Paleolithic, Turkey witnessed the arrival of Homo sapiens neanderthalis around 60,000 BP and Homo sapiens sapiens (anatomically modern humans) around 40,000 BP. The evolutionary relationship of these two species or subspecies currently constitutes a hot debate and could possibly change several times before we even arrive in Turkey.

Wrapping up the Paleolithic, the caves at Karain and Beldibi near Turkey’s southwest coast have produced some of Turkey’s earliest cave paintings and rock carvings of men and animals dating to the Upper Paleolithic.

The next period is called the Mesolithic (Greek for “middle stone”) or Epipaleolithic which lasts from around 12,000—8,000 BCE. Archaeologists know very little about the Turkish Mesolithic at this point. However it is apparent that stone tools became more and more specialized, a trend which began in the Lower Paleolithic.

During the Mesolithic, the glaciers of the latest ice age began to retreat. This led to a slow, yet steady, environmental change. Around the same time, the human population of Turkey began a transition from hunting and gathering toward a more settled, horticultural lifestyle, which wild variants of barley, emmer, einkorn, deer, cattle, pig, gazelle and goat supported.

Whatever the precise relationships between changing environmental conditions and human behavior, these developments set the stage for the Neolithic Revolution, which many archaeologists consider to be one of the most significant events in human history. The Neolithic (unsurprisingly Greek for “new stone”) lasted from 10,000—5500 BCE.

By around 9000 BCE, the area around the Taurus Mountains south to the Mediterranean had taken on its present climate, making the region much more hospitable to humans. Archaeologists divide the Neolithic period into the earlier Prepottery Neolithic (PPN) and the later Pottery Neolithic (PN), divisions which Mesopotamian and Levant archaeologists have similarly applied. However, the Turkish PPN differed from these other areas by possessing intense sedentism but with little to no reliance on domesticates.

Located in eastern Turkey along a tributary to the Tigris River, the site of Çayönü Tepe (tepe is Turkish for “hill”), dating to around 9000 BCE, represents the first evidence of wattle and daub architecture in Turkey, and the earliest use of metal tools anywhere (at least by the time of the publication of Joukowsky’s book). In addition, archaeologists have recovered evidence for the initial stages of the domestication of flora and fauna.

The PN period witnessed the development of Çatal Höyük (höyük is the Turkish word for “Tel”) one of the most well-known sites in the field of archaeology. Located on the Konya Plain just to the northeast of the Cilician plain, Çatal Höyük is the largest Neolithic site found anywhere in the Middle East. Aside from its size and status as a proto-city, Çatal Höyük is also notable due to the evidence found there for the elaboration of ritual behavior.

On the Cilician plain, the sites of Tarsus and Mersin begin to provide us with information more specifically relevant to our upcoming survey. The earliest levels of Mersin (Yümük Tepe in Turkish) date to around 6000 BCE. It is a 12 acre mound which provides a record for the transition from foraging to cultivation and the earliest evidence that sheep, goat, cattle, and pigs had been domesticated and butchered. Ceramics found at Tarsus (Gözlü Kule in Turkish) link the site to Mersin, but a high water table prevents the detailed exploration of earlier levels. Artifacts found at Mersin and Tarsus demonstrate more interaction with Syria and Mesopotamia than to closer sites in Anatolia—a trait which will come to characterize Cilicia for the ensuing millenia.

The Chalcolithic period (Greek for “copper stone”) from 5500—3000 BCE followed the Neolithic. An increase in the use of metal characterizes this period, but stone tools still predominated. New forms of ceramics and new architectural features such as fortifications begin to appear. Settlement studies provide evidence for population growth and stylistic changes suggest migrations into Turkey from Thrace and Iran.

On the Cilician plain, Mersin and Tarsus continue to show links to Syria and the Mesopotamian Halaf, Ubaid, and Uruk cultures. At around 4500 BCE, Mersin’s ceramic styles change dramatically which may mark the arrival of a new population which also brought copper tools with them. After about 4400 BCE, the residents of Mersin began gearing their architecture more towards defense by constructing thick outer walls built with an accompanying glacis, which is a slope leading down from the outer fortifications. Inside the settlement, excavators exposed at least three major monuments. By the end of the Chalcolithic period, archaeological evidence indicates that a group from the Konya plain (where Çatal Höyük is located) migrated to Cilicia.

The Early Bronze Age (3000—1900 BCE) is the last period this post will cover. Unsurprisingly, this period is marked by the widespread replacement of stone tools with bronze, which is an alloy of tin and copper. However, several other technological innovations occurred during this period: the plow, the sailing ship, and both the horizontal and vertical wheel.

Around 2300 to 2200 BCE urbanization began to take hold in Turkey. This led to the emergence of the urban city-state with its reliance on agriculture, a specialized labor force. It has been hypothesized that Mesopotamian and Aegean demand for Anatolian mineral resources spurred the urbanization process. This demand would have led to the spread of trade networks and a growing interdependence between city-states.

Also around 2300 BCE, a wave of destruction spread across Turkey and the larger Middle East, but hit particularly hard on the Konya plain, in Cilicia and in the Anatolian southwest. The resulting period of rebuilding led to the development of a larger sociopolitical entity consisting of unified city-states in the southwest, but also the abandonment of other long-occupied sites.

During the Early Bronze Age Turkey’s most famous site, Troy, was established. At its founding around 2950 BCE, little to distinguished Troy from other Turkish sites aside from its commanding location on the Dardanelles. Presently, Troy is located several kilometers from the water, but coastal morphology studies have revealed that during the Early Bronze Age the coast was much closer.

Down on the Cilician plain, Tarsus and Mersin experienced the same wave of destruction described above. However, the developing city-states there maintained greater autonomy than those in the southwest. In addition, the region continued to show a greater affiliation to cultures in the east as opposed to the rest of Turkey.

This brings us to the conclusion of my portion of our “quick” survey of Turkish and Cilician history. Amanda will pick up next time beginning with the Middle Bronze Age.


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