Plaster “caps” at Çatalhöyük

As I’d previously mentioned, I was digging a lovely burned building at Çatalhöyük before I left. Happily, several interesting discoveries were made in that short time. We uncovered a seated stone figurine with a beard that was painted (sadly, I don’t have any photos, but I’m sure it will make the official Çatalhöyük press release), an interior wall with plaster on both sides, a red-painted niche, part of a collapsed roof, and plaster “caps” on the pillars. We had originally planned to excavate the building down to the occupation surface (some 1.8m below the collapse!) but the building was halfway in the large “Mellaart” section, where there was ongoing work to understand the phasing of the tell, keying off the 1960s excavation. It was decided that though the building had great finds and a good chance of answering some broader questions about life at Çatalhöyük, we were unable to dig it properly and so excavation will cease–it will be conserved and backfilled carefully, waiting until the entire building can be exposed. I deeply respect that decision–though it was a bit disappointing at the time, I completely understood.

E VI,14.recon

Anyway, the plaster “caps” were a great find; the caps were illustrated in the original Mellaart reconstructions, but there weren’t any particular notes or photographs of them, so we weren’t sure if they were an elaboration of the building or an actual find.  We found two, and while the easternmost cap was unlikely to be disturbed, the westernmost cap (they were both on the north wall) had fallen off the pillar during the building’s collapse and cracked in half. The directors decided to lift the cap to preserve it, and possibly to investigate how it was constructed.

Pillars in Burnt Building Collapse

It was well photographed in situ and drawn from several perspectives by the site artist, Kathryn Killackey. We planned it, recorded it fully, and then it was ready to go. Shahina also mentioned that she might like a quick photoshop of it, “put back in place.” I took a few of my own photographs after we had lifted the cap, to get more exposure of the pillar:


Sadly, my camera’s light sensor is broken–which only became obvious after I downloaded these photos and the pillar cap was already gone. So I had to merge Jason Quinlan’s photo above with my own, like so:


I also did a semi-crazy full repair job. Fans of bad photoshop jobs, rejoice!


I then decided that I didn’t like the angle of the original job and tilted it some, erasing the part of cap where it had broken in half and tilted upwards in the back.


So, not perfect by any means, but about an hour’s worth of fun. The best part was moving around the cap and seeing exactly where it had fallen off–like two puzzle pieces that fit together perfectly.

Goodbye Dhiban & Hello Çatalhöyük

Cross-posted from the Dhiban Excavation and Development Project Blog:


As the sun sets on Tell Dhiban, the colors become deeper, pink-tinged, and the limestone blocks look stunning against the blue sky. The wadi turns golden and a small wind picks up, cooling off the air. It’s really the best time to work up on the tell, and I saw several sunsets from the edge of my trench in the last week of the excavation. Everyone was working furiously on their trench reports and Harris Matrices. I was staying a couple of days later than most people, so I was up on the tell, drawing and photographing mostly alone.  It was nice, a break from the busy work days with so many people in the trench all the time.

In the last few days, I had tea with Zaid and Abu Jamal up on the tell. The teapot is a symbol of hospitality in Jordan, and the sugary sage tea they served was lovely.  I sat with them, chatted a bit in our patois of English and Arabic and realized that I would miss Jordan in the year to come.

Thanks to Dhiban for the hospitality and we will see you next year!

And written a couple of weeks ago:


The transition from Dhiban to Catalhoyuk was a bit strange—it was like starting the summer over again. I ended up having a day in Istanbul to soften the blow, where I got a haircut, bought new socks, and drank with the Damascus city planner and his friend at a table in the Beyoglu. Istanbul is my favorite city in the world and I still hope to live there at some point.

Finishing up at Dhiban was a bit of a whirlwind with all of the drawing, photography, and reports to write. Then it was off to a 3:30AM flight from Amman after another 18 hour work day.  Catalhoyuk seems relaxing after such an intense excavation (mudbricks being a bit lighter than ashlars) but it has its own stresses and I was happy to meet with the Southampton visualization team and spend my days drawing mudbrick elevations.

The elevations are from Building 49—the lovely little 5x5m building that I excavated last year with Dan and Lou. At the end of the season we thought we were close to the end of the building sequence and into construction levels, but the building kept producing floors and burials and kept a few of the excavators here in Turkey for longer than they’d planned. This tradition continued this year when I notice a bit of a skull coming out of the bottom of the original cut in the building—another child burial! This was a 4-5 year old that was buried with a shell with red pigment, hiding at the very bottom of the NW platform sequence.

Now I’m working in a lovely burned building in the south area, the location of Mellaart’s 1960s excavations. The building seems fairly elaborate (Neolithic column capitals! Red paint! Second story!) but I can’t get too attached because I’m headed back to Berkeley in a week. Hopefully we’ll have most of the collapse out of the building by then because we’re only digging a small strip of it—the rest goes into the section and the only reason we’re digging it is to step the large trench out for safety reasons. Still, I should have some pretty photos from the week to come.

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