An Eastern Perspective

Tracing the spread of ideas over large geographical areas is an activity involving risk, but encouraged by Hodder's wish to hear "many voices," I would like to point out some of the links between Neolithic communities of eastern and central Anatolia. Few would question the fact that at least two major cultural traditions are represented, as clearly argued by Mehmet Ozdogan (1995, 1997a). But at the same time, there is some material evidence for contact, especially during the tenth and ninth millennia bp. For example, in her recent study of chipped stone tools from Neolithic sites in eastern and central Anatolia, Nur Balkan-Alti concludes that there are clear

4The "new" wall paintings from Catal (Mellaart 1990; Mellaart et al. 1989) are not fully documented and should not be considered in a scholarly discussion of the evidence from that site (see Collon 1990; Voigt 1991; Eiland 1993 with additional refs.)

affinities between the lithic assemblage at Asikli and TPNB sites to the east (Balkin-Alti1994:143). Copper beads from Asikli and Cayonu are apparently made using copper from different sources (Esin 1995:66),but at both sites the same distinctive technique of manufacture was used (rolling flattened sheets cf copper to form tubular beads). Obsidian was apparently widely traded during this period (although the problem of distinguishing sources is farmore complex than had been thought; seeM. Ozdgan 1996),and when people meet to trade, an exchange of ideas and stories may well be part of the transaction. Among the most obvious nonmaterial links are the depiction of snakes, use of stone birds in ritual contexts, and the practice of secondary burials at Catal and eastern sites.

To return to the earlier Neolithic religion documented by Nevali Cori, Gobekli, and the lower excavated levels at Catal Hoyuk, does the fact that pregnancy is not (or is rarely) explicitly represented mean that fertility and reproduction were not matters for concern, recognized by myth and alleviated by ritual?Information on this topic can perhaps be derived by another group of sculptures from Catal: on the walls of buildings assigned to levels VI and below are sculpted figures with arms and legs raised (Mellaart 1963:Pl. IXa, XIII; 1964:Pl. IIIa, c, IV; 1967:Pl. 24-26VI). The heads ofthese sculptures are always destroyed, and in many cases hands and feet have also been damaged. Mellaart and others have interpreted these sculptures as goddesses (Mellaart 1967:84-130;Forest 1993,1994).Mellaart'sown highly imaginative reconstructions of these figures show femaleswith small rounded breasts (e.g., 1967:Figures23, 26), but the photographs all show flat torsos with no indication of sex. Those who see these figures as recording birth rest their argument on the swollen(?)bull's-eye navel of one well-preserved example (Mellaart 1967:Pl.VII) and the position of the spread-legged figures above (or next to) animal skulls in some (but not all) cases. The deliberate and systematic destruction of these sculptures links them to the figurine, and again suggests representation of a powerful spirit. But there is no evidence that this spirit is specifically female, and the form of the figures (scars for heads, position of the limbs) suggests animals rather than hu-mans-an interpretation that Mellaart himself must have shared since most ofthe restored images have cat's heads (1967:Figures 23, 26-2838).

In order to propose another interpretation of these wall sculptures, I would like to return to the issue of ambiguity. At Neolithic sites from central Anatolia to eastern Iran, there are a series of explicitly male/female images. From the sites discussed here, there is the phallic/large thighed figure from Gritille, a male/female relief from Nevali Cori, and from Catal Hoyuk a phallic stone (cylindrical with a line incised around its circumference below the rounded tip) that is also carved to represent a female with pendulous breasts (Kulagoglu 1992, cat no. 15;Mellaart 1963:Figure 19). The posture and prominent navels of the Catal wall reliefs with upraised arms link them to the reptile sculptures from Gobekli Tepe, but more significantly to the plaque from Nevali Cori, which depicts a reptile flanked by two humans, arguably a male and a female. Whether we see the message as a concern with "fertility" or more generally as a concern with abundance and food, males and females as well as animals are involved. During the seventh millennium, the spirit world of sedentary communities in Anatolia was gender balanced. An emphasis on females and pregnancy is a later, but long-lasting, element in the religion of Anatolia and in the rest of the Middle East as well.

0 0

Post a comment