Art History: Prehistory Catal Huyuk

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First you have to look at the time line. You'll see that in various textbooks they give you different timelines for areas and sometimes they will refer to things as the Iron Age was the Copper Age or the Stone Age.

In this instance we're going to be studying and you let the culture that existed in Europe. And as a blanket term we can refer to the regions that were studying as the ancient Near East.

The first place we're going to visit is a Neolithic settlement. The name of the place is Catal Huyuk.

The geography of this area is really important. So we'll start with the context to analysis by talking about geography.

In this instance cattle how you look with located on Asia Minor which today is Turkey. Villager settlement itself is located at the base of a series of volcanoes which probably allowed for some very fertile or arable lands and also provided a lot of irrigation because water runs down hill.

The population of Catal Huyuk was approximately 6,000 people. They lived in mud brick interior homes with plastered walls and their major food sources were wheat barley sheep and goats.

The physical circumstances and somewhat lack of extensive resources made them focus on working with the materials that they had on hand to make clothing art objects vessels and other things that they would need for survival. This also meant, that they were sedentary people who lived in a close-knit community and had a divided set of labor and possibly even districts to their town.

In terms of the material culture or types of things that they created jewelry was made of stone, bone, and shell. They crafted baskets of reeds and used clay pots craftsman made dishes of wood and carved wooden boxes for storage. They cut things with the obsidian knives and flint knives.

They did not use metals so this is a Neolithic town. In essence they are in the new Stone Age called the Neolithic period.


Context: The city of Catal Huyuk is located at the base of a series of volcanoes which contributed alluvial soil and silt and also provided a water source nearby. The cities were overcrowded and a person entered the houses through openings on the flat rooftops of the buildings. Their trash was disposed of between the walls and according to some sources it must have smelled terrible. In fact we make the assumption that people lived in cities protection and to live longer lives but it turns out that people who lived in cities at that time live the shorter life and died very often from diseases.

This is a wall painting from inside one of the homes at this Neolithic site. Its interpretation is open and people are not really sure what it depicts.

Formal analysis:

This wall painting was made by painting some sort of watercolor on a dry plaster wall. Behind the walls are brick. And this is located inside the main room of one of the apartments that one entered do a ladder to the top.

There are several forms that are rectangular and one form that looks organic or loosely shaping and it has several dots around it. The loose form at the top is painted with an orange paint which is probably made from some sort of Earth color probably a mineral such as yellow ochre or red ochre.

There is some outline used to define the forms and some forms are defined by black shapes and spots.

There are two possible interpretations for what this wall painting represents. The first interpretation calls for assuming that the yellow ochre mass at the top with the spots is a volcano that is located above the town. Therefore the black boxes with white centers are probably a representation of the town itself and the architecture in the town.
A second interpretation, is that it might be an animal skin and some sort of boxes underneath it. This does not account for some of the spots around it as well and no one is quite sure what the wall painting represents.

Historians have reconstructed what they believe is one of the rooms that might have been used for worship or as a throne room at Catal Huyuk.

Formal Analysis:
The rooms are made out of brick mud and plastered walls. There does not seem to be a lot of painting on the walls. There are a few flat silhouette graphic images that depict bulls. They also found on site some skulls that were from cows or bulls. There is one creature that is on the wall that has several skulls descending from its lower portion.


Historians, based on the context and the material circumstances in which these people lived have made the assumption that this room is probably a sanctuary or some sort of Temple and that the Bulls are given a place of honor in this room.

It's possible that bulls were symbols of “plenty,” physical strength, and even virility.  A single bull could be a formidable opponent and a captured bull, or a livestock such as a large cow or bull could provide a lot of food for a lot of people and might have been a luxury.


Most historians agree that this large space is either a room for worship or a space that was considered to be honorific.  (Possibly it is a temple or a throne room.) More evidence that this room was a sacred space includes the multiple depictions of bulls, the skulls, and the wall paintings of bulls displayed in the space.


Formal Analysis

The figure is probably about 12 inches tall; it appears to be unpainted reddish clay which was fired in a kiln.  The figure is anthropomorphic (shaped like a human).  The figure appears to be a nude heavy female, with large breasts and a large stomach. She is seated on a large chair (probably a throne) and on her arms seems to be end or flow into two cat-like creatures.

The figure was found in 1961 in a green bin or a site where grain was stored by an archaeologist. At the time that it was found its head and part of the right side were missing. The head and part of the right hand side of the body have been restored and may not be completely accurate.

This was not the only figure found at the site there are many others it is now in a museum in Turkey. It is however one of the largest of the group. Most historians date it from around 6000 BCE.


The representation of a heavy well fed female with large breasts, combined with the fact that the work was found in a grain storage area, makes it reasonable to conclude that this a representation of a mother goddess (a kind of “Mother Earth” figure).  This conclusion is further supported by the representations of the earth as a female goddess in a similar manner by the ancient Romans and Greeks.

Popular theories of the function and or use of the Venus of Willendorf and other similar female figurines, influence historians to believe that these figurines may be a symbol of fertility or of Mother Earth or of wealth. The reasoning or evidence for this belief is somewhat transcendent to many cultures even today.  Fertility is often represented by a pregnant woman.  Also a large or heavy woman who would have an easier time giving birth and also is the source of food for children, note the breasts, this is not a proven fact it's a theory.

The feline forms which could be panthers or leopards, also have similar cognates in other cultures. For example, kingship is often associated with lions or large cats. However, sometimes sexuality is attributed to cats as well. So there is no conclusive data that would lead to a firm establishment of the identity of the figure and its purpose.

Furthermore, the fact that the figure is seated on some sort of chair, indicates that the figure is located on a prestige or some sort of object of wealth that could be a type of throne. We see this in many cultures of the seated female figure who often represents well or a type of Goddess. The Catholic Saint Mary is often represented on a throne which is often referred to as "The Throne of Wisdom. "

Based on the previous analysis it safe to assume that this figure probably represents a fertility or goddess figurine was presiding over the grain and represents well and bounty.

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