Çatalhöyük ‘Map’ Mural May Depict Volcanic Eruption 8,900 Years Ago

Jan 13, 2014 by Sci-News.com

A new study published in the journal PLOS ONE suggests a mural excavated at the Neolithic site of Çatalhöyük in Central Anatolia, Turkey, may be based on the eruption of the nearby twin-coned volcano Mount Hasan around 6900 BC.

This is an artist's impression of Çatalhöyük. Image credit: Dan Lewandowski.

This is an artist’s impression of Çatalhöyük. Image credit: Dan Lewandowski.

One of the largest and best preserved Neolithic sites in the world, Çatalhöyük is located southeast of the modern city of Konya, about 90 miles from Mount Hasan (Hasan Dagi).

The ancient settlement was built around 7500 BC, flourished around 7000 BC, and was inhabited for more than two millennia. It was discovered in the early 1960s by British archaeologist James Mellaart from the University of Istanbul.

From 1961 to 1965, excavations at the site produced a huge number of artifacts and ancient structures including a 10-foot-wide wall painting of the town and two peaks, sometimes referred to as the world’s oldest map. Some scientists question this interpretation and argue that the mural, dating to around 6600 BC, is more likely a decorative geometric design instead of a map and a painting of a leopard skin instead of two peaks.

Neolithic mural in Çatalhöyük, Turkey, and its interpretive drawing. Image credit: Ataman Hotel / John Swogger.

Neolithic mural in Çatalhöyük, Turkey, and its interpretive drawing. Image credit: Ataman Hotel / John Swogger.

“The lower register of the mural contains about 80 square-shaped patterns tightly arranged like cells in a honeycomb, and its upper register depicts an object that its discoverers initially identified either as a rendering of a mountain with two peaks with the cell-like patterns representing a plan view of a village with a general layout of the houses similar to that of Çatalhöyük and other nearby Neolithic settlements, or a leopard skin with its extremities cut off,” a team of scientists led by Dr Axel Schmitt from the University of California Los Angeles wrote in the PLoS ONE paper.

“In the ‘map’ interpretation, the volcano and its violent eruption are posited to have been significant for the inhabitants of Çatalhöyük because they procured obsidian in the vicinity of Mount Hasan.”

In 2013, the team analyzed volcanic rocks from Mount Hasan (stratovolcano with two characteristic peaks, about 2 and 1.9 miles high, forming Big and Small Mount Hasan) in order to determine whether it was the volcano depicted in the mural.

Top left: locations of Çatalhöyük, Mount Hasan and other Holocene volcanoes in Anatolia. Top right: Mount Hasan volcano and sampling location of pumice dated in the study. Center: 3D rendering of Mount Hasan twin peaks volcano as seen from the north. Bottom: rendering of the wall painting. Image credit: Schmitt AK et al.

Top left: locations of Çatalhöyük, Mount Hasan and other Holocene volcanoes in Anatolia. Top right: Mount Hasan volcano and sampling location of pumice dated in the study. Center: 3D rendering of Mount Hasan twin peaks volcano as seen from the north. Bottom: rendering of the wall painting. Image credit: Schmitt AK et al.

The scientists collected and analyzed samples from the summit and flanks of Mount Hasan using U-Th/He zircon geochronology. Volcanic rock textures and ages support the interpretation that Çatalhöyük people may have recorded an explosive eruption of the volcano.

The dating of the volcanic rock indicated an eruption about 8,900 years ago, which closely overlaps with the time the wall painting was estimated to have been created. The overlapping timeframes indicate humans in the region may have witnessed this eruption.

“We tested the hypothesis that the Çatalhöyük mural depicts a volcanic eruption and discovered a geological record consistent with this hypothesis,” Dr Schmitt said.

“Our work also demonstrates that Mount Hasan volcano has potential for future eruptions.”

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Schmitt AK et al. 2014. Identifying the Volcanic Eruption Depicted in a Neolithic Painting at Çatalhöyük, Central Anatolia, Turkey. PLoS ONE 9 (1): e84711; doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0084711