In his book After the Ice: A Global Human History 20,000-5000 BC, Steven Mithen imagines his surrogate, John Lubbock, visiting the Neolithic Cappadocian town of Çatalhöyük in its prime. It is a maze of rooms, each of which can only be entered via a ladder in the roof; like cells in a hive, the rooms are practically identical and identically set up: sleeping platform, hearth, oven, grain bin, upon which there is sometimes a throned clay figure with a leopard on either side. She rests a hand on each cat’s head, and their tails wrap around her body; often she is giving birth, either to a human child or to an animal such as a lamb or a calf. There are clay figurines everywhere and most of them are women; these women are frequently doubled, or, at the very least, have two heads. One figurine shows two large women back to back, one holding a child in her arms, the other, a lover.

The walls of many of the rooms are painted with images of giant bulls: white heads striped black and red; heads with long twisted horns; heads with faces covered in exotic designs. Bulls’ heads are sometimes stacked one upon another from floor to ceiling. Some rooms have free-standing stone pillars with bucrania, sculptured horned bulls’ heads, fixed to them. Others feature long lines of horns set into benches. The painted bulls are associated with bold geometric designs and black and red handprints. There are boars’ skulls as well, and also images of great black vultures, one with human legs, attacking tiny headless people; and scenes of enormous deer or aurochs hunted by tiny people. Sometimes the nipples of a pair of woman’s breasts modelled out of the mud brick and plaster of the wall split apart to show skulls of vultures, foxes or weasels within. Some of these walls have been repainted at least forty times. When individual houses at Çatalhöyük needed rebuilding, they were reconstructed to the same design in the same place. It has been suggested that different types of people – old, young, male, female, toolmakers and those without special skills – were severely restricted as to where they could sit and work in these rooms.

The vulture frescos at Çatalhöyük may show excarnation practices. Bodies were exposed, as in Tibet or among the Jains, in open funeral houses, to the tearing beak of the griffin vulture which stripped the skeletons of soft tissue. After excarnation, the dead were buried under the floors of the houses, only a foot below the surface; people would sleep, make love, and give birth lying over bones. This practice was common throughout Neolithic Anatolia and the Levant. No provisions, no food or water vessels, and no figurines of any kind were buried with the bodies. Instead, graves held personal items - necklaces, rouge, and bone tools for women, knives, wooden boxes, or belts for men. The dead, in foetal position, were wrapped in cloth.

It has been said that the family of the people of Çatalhöyük was different from ours. Where our pattern is Yod-Heh-Vav-Heh: Father-Mother-Son-Daughter, theirs was Heh-Heh-Vav-Yod: Mother-Daughter-Son-Father. Michen’s view of a nightmare world at Çatalhöyük, in which people live a highly regimented life, and sleep huddled fearfully beneath terrifying images they have painted themselves, is in direct contradiction to those who believe, following James Mellaart, the first excavator of the site in the early 1960s, that the frescoes were evidence of a benign goddess cult in which death held no fear for people. Mellaart also claimed that the wall paintings were copies of kilims woven by the women of Çatalhöyük at the head of an 8000 year old tradition which continues, somewhat debased, today. He has been severely criticised for this view by contemporary weavers.

Before excavation began, the mound at Çatalhöyük was covered in shrubs of Syrian rue, whose seeds contain significant amounts of harmine and harmaline, the psychoactives in yage. Harmine, once called telepathine because it was believed to cause shared hallucinations, is reliably said by those who have used it to inspire visions of panthers, leopards, and other large cats. Amanita muscaria, cannabis and ergotized grain may also have been consumed at Çatalhöyük. The economy of the ten-thousand-people-town was based upon domesticated sheep and goats, cultivated cereals and legumes, wild tubers, wild deer – and obsidian. Cappadocia is the source for much of the obsidian found at Neolithic sites throughout Western Asia. Eight miles to the east of Çatalhöyük is Hasan Dağ, a ten thousand foot high then-active volcano, which is itself the subject of a wall painting. This painting consists of a rectangular grid which has been interpreted as a version of the terraced houses of the town itself, with the volcano erupting above it. The twin peaks of Hasan Dağ, strangely, resemble both a leaping bull and a pair of breasts; and they are dotted the way the skin of some big cats is dotted.

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