Sunday, 14 July 2013

Stranger Than Fiction: Çatalhöyük

A column dedicated to pointing out interesting tidbits of history, some of which would be cool to see in a fantasy novel or two.

(Note: someone suggested the title 'History Bites' for this historical tidbits column, but while I loved the name, the tidbits I've collected so far are less about how horrible history was and more about some of the cool things people in the past achieved.  That's why I've decided on the title 'stranger than fiction', because in many ways fiction authors can't even come close to what actual people have done - for good or ill.  If you are interested in the horrible side of history, there's a great UK series of kids books by Terry Deary called Horrible Histories, that are just fantastic.  There's also the Canadian TV show, History Bites, from the late 90s by Rick Green, which asks the question, "What if television had been around for the past 5,000 years?"  Now, on with today's column.)

Çatalhöyük (also spelled Çatal Höyük and Çatal Hüyük) "was a very large Neolithic and Chalcolithic proto-city settlement in southern Anatolia [in Turkey], which existed from approximately 7500 B.C. to 5700 B.C. It is the largest and best-preserved Neolithic site found to date. In July 2012, it was inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site." - Wikipedia

The city is unique in that it had no streets or lower level doors.  People walked across rooftops in order to get inside houses or around the city.

Again from Wikipedia:

The population of the eastern mound has been estimated at up to 10,000 people, but population likely varied over the community’s history. An average population of between 5,000 to 8,000 is a reasonable estimate. The inhabitants lived in mud-brick houses that were crammed together in an agglutinative manner. No footpaths or streets were used between the dwellings, which were clustered in a honeycomb-like maze. Most were accessed by holes in the ceiling, with doors reached by ladders and stairs. The rooftops were effectively streets. The ceiling openings also served as the only source of ventilation, allowing smoke from the houses' open hearths and ovens to escape.

In some ways it reminds me of the city of Highcastle in Raymond E. Feist's A Darkness at Sethanon, where as a last line of defence each house has a flat roof where archers running between rooftops via ladders can shoot at an attacking army in the streets.

It's hard to imagine a city without streets, which is why seeing something like this in a fantasy novel would feel so new and strange.

I remember learning about this city in my high school ancient civilizations class.  I didn't remember anything other than the name, so it was cool to come across it in one of the courses I'm doing (it's a Great Courses course called The Other Side of History, talking about daily life and what the non-famous people throughout western history were doing.  So far it's fantastic, and I'm learning a LOT.  Please note, this isn't a plug for them (hence why there's not link).  I've wanted to study history again for years, and doing these courses is not only getting me to read history books, it's getting me studying periods of history I haven't looked at since high school, and then not very thoroughly).  

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