How do archaeologists weave far-reaching events with details of everyday life to create a rich approach to history?
How and why do archaeologists study Çatalhöyük at many different scales?
How can archaeologists use “multi-scalar data” to create comprehensive descriptions of place
From galaxies to planets, from continents to cities, from people to atoms, the universe around us exists and changes over time at vastly different scales. People also interact and communicate with each other within different scales, and thus many anthropologists and archaeologists use a “multi-scalar” approach to study human culture.
Consider this example: Jose, born in Los Angeles, speaks English (national). He likes to watch Spanish telenovelas produced in Mexico and Argentina (ethnic), surfs the World Wide Web, and is concerned about global climate change (global). Elaborately decorated tiles remind him of his mother's cooking (family), and he greets his friends with a specific hand gesture (personal). All of these, and more, make up parts of Jose’s culture, and all of these things exist in different scales.
In archaeology, it is essential to observe and interpret a site at many different scales of resolution in order to reconstruct the past. Archaeologists have always made detailed observations of specific artifacts and finds. When archaeology was still a young science, however, the finds considered most important tended to be unique, exotic, elaborate, aesthetically pleasing, or chronologically diagnostic. Interpretation of these detailed observations was made at a very broad scale of resolution in terms of the Big Picture of history. This macro-scale approach defined cultural variation over large, often continental-wide, geographies, and took place over large swaths of time.
In the 1960s and 1970s, these analyses began to be broadened. Observations were made on statistically valid sets of artifacts from which variability was extrapolated at regional scales. The use of computers and other analytical and observational technologies increased the quantitative complexity with which archaeological data could be observed. Thus, a set of observations about a building at Çatalhöyük could “stand for” or “be typical of” all the buildings at the site, even those that had not yet been excavated, or the pattern of plant domestication observed at Çatalhöyük could be considered the model for the process of “neolithization” of all Anatolia. The focus here was more about regional, cultural ecology and cultural evolution, and understanding the relationships between culture and environment, than about the “noise” of the details of social practice.
During the last two decades, archaeological researchers have begun to interweave a more intimate or microscale understanding of individual households, and the people who made up these households, into broader scales of interpretation. The development of analytical and observational instrumentation and digitization at the micro-scale (including, for example, techniques for studying micromorphology and microstratigraphy, and for the analysis of DNA) has increased immensely the detail and complexity with which archaeologists can observe data.
The excavations at Çatalhöyük provide an important example of archaeology at multiple scales. Recent work done by different specialists has shown that the people of Çatalhöyük were part of a large social network of trade: date palm baskets may have come from as far away as the Levant (the southeast Mediterranean coast); obsidian used to make stone tools was brought in from Cappadocia (a region in central Turkey); some shells found at the site came all the way from the Red Sea. Although we know the site was part of a regional network system, it was made up of different households that participated in the system. What is very important in archaeological research is to connect smaller households’ intimate stories to larger systems. The individual stories of households are important because culture and social networks exist through combinations and interactions of these intimate histories.
At Çatalhöyük, we are able to connect these households and intimate stories through meticulous excavation and detailed analysis. For example, the baskets are known to exist because we find their imprints on the floors of the houses. By taking a small sample of the soil containing the imprint and analyzing it under a microscope, a specialist trained in identifying the silica remains of plants (called phytoliths) can identify the basket as having been woven from date-palm leaves not native to the area.
Careful excavation also reveals clues as to what people were doing within a space. While excavating Building 3, for example, Ruth Tringham and Mirjana Stevanovic identified a collapsed roof by its remains. However, they did not have any clues about what had actually happened on the roof in the past, as there were no activity remains. When a block of material from the roof was analyzed under a microscope, however, remains of a burnt surface showed that there had been a hearth on the roof. Microscopic bits of refuse from stone-tool production were found in the material as well, showing us that people also worked on top of their houses.
At the same time, the intimate events and histories of Çatalhöyük can also contribute to our understanding of the past at a larger scale. They allow us to interpret different paths of change within Anatolia, such as the processes of sedentism (settling down), for example, or the domestication of plants and animals, social transformation, urbanism, and so on, within the context of the Near East and Europe. These characteristics of change can be further interpreted as part of a larger evolutionary pattern, and even on a global scale. This multi-scalar approach ensures that the Big Picture is constructed on a solid framework of all the smaller events and processes from which it is constructed.
Senses of Place
How do archaeologists build on their discoveries to imagine the sights and sounds of the past?
How do archaeologists represent Çatalhöyük, both as it is today and as it once was?
What media and methods can archaeologists use
to communicate a sense of place to others
Wherever we live, we exist within landscapes that have been formed through natural processes and transformed through cultural practices. Although our modern and urban lifestyles, in many cases, inhibit our full appreciation of the landscape around us, we all manage some escape or another: going to the beach, for example, or hiking in the woods. In archaeology, understanding the landscape around a settlement is crucial in interpreting the activities and lives of people who live within that landscape. How landscapes have been modified and changed to create a built environment to accommodate a society, and how a society works within that built environment, are issues tackled by archaeologists interested in the concept of place.
In the concept and study of place as it has been developed by geographers and anthropologists, place is created through intricate networks constructed by people. According to these researchers, a place is lived in with both the mundane and festive social practices that form the different elements of society. Most importantly, a place is experienced differentially, where individuals have different impacts on the making and changing of their traditions. But how do archaeologists then use the concept of place in their archaeological interpretations?
Archaeologists can take an important step toward understanding how a place may have been constituted in the past by reconstructing that place. That is what Mirjana Stevanovic did at Çatalhöyük when she built a replica house. Once in the house, one can imagine how constricted people might have been in their space, with no windows, dark corners, and smoke lingering around the ceiling. One can imagine the poignant odors that may have drifted from the nearby middens, the household’s refuse heaps. Was incense burnt to conceal the smell? What were people hearing, and how did it affect their senses of place? How did they see their own walls? Were they as dark as we see them today?
In these small spaces, we know through micromorphological investigation that some areas were used for food preparation, and others for knapping obsidian, the glassy black stone used to make sharp-edged tools. Perhaps the elderly slept on the platforms found in the houses, with their ancestors buried below them. But whatever the people of Çatahöyük did at a given time, we know that their lives were changing as they were living: a little girl would ultimately become a mother; a family would abandon an old house and build a new one. For archaeologists who study senses of place, it’s important to be able to express these changes.
Using multimedia and the World Wide Web offers an excellent way of presenting place and promoting different experiences through audio and visual reconstructions. In 2001, for example, archaeologists from the BACH team presented a series of multimedia/live-action performances called RAVE (Real Archaeologists, Virtual Excavations), in which videos of the excavation process of Building 3 allowed non-archaeologists to see archaeological practice through different windows. These videos are currently available on the RAVE website at www.mactia.berkeley.edu/features/rave/default.html
. To facilitate explorations of the senses of place, site excavator Ruth Tringham, in collaboration with others in the Remediated Places project, developed video tours that guide users through the site based on different perspectives of fictional Çatalhöyük settlers. In these walks, not only can one see place, but one can also hear what it may have sounded like.
But it is also important for archaeologists to emphasize that “archaeological” places are still active places. The local people at Çatalhöyük today, for example, see the mound not only as a grazing ground and picnic spot, but also as a marker in the landscape that situates their village of Küçükköy, just two kilometers away. For the archaeologists who come to excavate at Çatalhöyük, it is a meeting point, a working environment, an intellectual challenge, a socialization sphere, and more. For a tourist, it may only be a curious memory, but it can also be a sacred place. Every person has a different experience at Çatalhöyük. And to make it even more complex, every person has changing experiences at Çatalhöyük.
Needless to say, it is difficult to express all of the meanings Çatalhöyük can have for all of the different people who visit or learn about it. Using this website, you can explore the site through different media, and “remix” them to create your own version of Çatalhöyük. The possibilities are endless.