A group of archaeologists has uncovered an approximately 8,000-year-old figurine at Çatalhöyük, a Neolithic location in central Turkey. The statue, made from recrystallized limestone, is an uncommon find in a place where clay figurines, disfigured over thousands of years in the soil, are commonly found.
Usually linked with fertility goddesses, this figurine was said to represent an elderly woman who had climbed to eminence in Çatalhöyük’s notably egalitarian society.
The stone figurine stands 6.7 inches tall and is 4.3 inches wide, weighing 2.2 pounds. Apart from strangely small hands and feet, the statue reflects “a good and pragmatic knowledge of the human body,” the discovering team said in a statement.
What makes this statue distinct is not its physical appearance, but its quality. Goddess figurines at Catalhöyük generally show a heavy-set woman with her hair tied in a bun, sagging breasts and a conspicuous belly, indicating maturity.
The figurine’s details show scientists that incredibly fine artisan-grade tools were used. Credit: Çatalhöyük Research Project)
The Work of an Established Artisan
The newly-found figurine includes a few strange features: intricate fat rolls on the limbs and neck; the arms apart from the torso; and a space underneath the belly to separate it from the remainder of the body. These kinds of details are only achievable with fine tools being used by a practiced artisan. Thousands of years of weathering in the soil has removed proof of the figurine’s handling.
While of remarkable quality, this figure did not have an exceptional purpose, the researchers said. Goddess figurines were standard in the Neolithic period, made all over southeastern Europe, the Middle East and Anatolia, the area in Turkey where Çatalhöyük once prospered. While they have long represented fertility, a more modern theory indicates otherwise.
“In all egalitarian societies, older people have a special status and are venerated,” said team member Ian Hodder, professor of anthropology and of classics at Stanford. “Whether one can talk of these older people as ‘gods’ is a rather thorny issue.”
The research team added that the figurine could also be a sign of a shifting economy, from a sharing economy to an exchange economy. In sharing economies, resources are shared collectively. In exchange economies, goods and services are owned and exchanged, which typically leads to social inequality.
“We think society was changing at this time, becoming relatively less egalitarian, with houses being more independent and more based on agricultural production,” Hodder said.
Image credit: Çatalhöyük Project
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