Bones From Ancient City Show Skulduggery Was the Rule of the Day

The excavated remains of the ancient city of Çatalhöyük, in modern-day Turkey. (Omar Hoftun via Wikipedia)

(CN) – An ancient farming community 9,000 years ago in what is now Turkey evolved into a shockingly violent village, with a quarter of the skulls studied showing cuts and blows, most of them coming from behind.

Çatalhöyük, located in what is now Turkey, was one of the first large-scale sedentary communities in Earth’s history, one that prioritized a farming lifestyle over the much more common nomadic gathering lifestyle. At its peak, it was estimated to have been home to roughly 8,000 people, a more than sizeable population for its time.

A study published Monday in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences suggests, however, that it was a community burdened with surprisingly modern-day issues.

In an email, Clark Spencer Larsen, lead author of the study and professor of anthropology at Ohio State University, said he hopes this research will inspire more people to understand communities of the past, as he is often shocked at how few people learn the histories of ancient cultures.

“In the United States and much of the world today, there is little understanding of the past and how that past has shaped our lives and today’s societies either locally, nationally, or internationally,” Larsen said.

He added, “When I talk to many, and I say that I do my research on the skeletons from a Neolithic proto-city that was once a vibrant community beginning nine thousand years ago and lasted for nearly 1,200 years, they show mild to no interest.”

Larsen and his team collected data from the ruins which, when combined with data collected on Çatalhöyük over the last several decades by bioarchaeologists, paints a vivid picture of the problems plaguing the settlement.

Researchers found Çatalhöyük suffered from severe and regular overcrowding. They found homes were built in a style similar to that of apartments, but with such little space between units that people entered and left homes via ladders on rooftops. The study suggests the overcrowding issue caused serious problems with the community’s hygiene, and fecal matter has been discovered on walls and floors.

Researchers also found the community’s farming lifestyle created consequences for the health of the residents. Analysis of the chemical makeup of human remains and the surrounding soil suggest that residents lived off a grain-heavy diet, leading to increased tooth decay. They also found the residents’ lifestyle choices brought about drastic infection rates, with up to one-third of human remains showing some form of bone-based infection.

The residents faced the effects climate change as well, researchers discovered. The climate of the Middle East became drier and warmer as years passed, making agriculture and overall survival in Çatalhöyük more difficult for later generations.

The study suggests these issues culminated in an intensely stressed community, leading to increased urban violence. Researchers found that one-fourth of skulls carried signs of fractures and lesions, often found on the back of the head, suggesting that violent and unexpected head trauma was common.

Larsen hopes people will see and learn from the similarities between the problems the settlement faced and the problems of today.

“Challenges facing bygone communities like Çatalhöyük are in a number of respects similar to those of today,” he said.

%d bloggers like this: