Ancient Cayonu Tepesi, the likely domestication site of emmer wheat.

Cayonu Tepesi

The site of Cayonu Tepesi is located in Eastern Anatolia, which is present day Turkey. The exact location is near the northern arc of the Fertile Crescent in the Taurus Mountains foothills intermediate between Levant and Zagros on the Ergani Plain. This is the earliest Neolithic settlement discovered to date in Turkey and is believed to have been occupied from approximately 7,250 BCE to 6,750 BCE. At the time of habitation, this location was surrounded by steppe forests of oak and pistachio trees. This was a sedentary farming village which showed the earliest remains of copper metalworking. The Cayonu settlement is located not far from the city of Diyarbakir and was excavated between 1964 and 1991 by expedition teams under the leadership of Cambel, Braidwood, Mehmet Ozdogan and Wulf Schirmen. The anthropologist who receives the most credit for the excavation of Cayonu is Robert Braidwood, who also excavated other sites in the Middle East. This site is important because of it’s Neolithic age and the fact that it spanned a time when humans moved from hunting and gathering to more domestication of animals and plants.

Beads from Cayonu Tepesi, and bone implements, 7000 BC.









Photos of the site. The top picture shows the ‘grill’ pattern of the foundations.

The area of the settlement consists of an occupation mound 200 meters in diameter. There are five to six occupation levels that have been discovered over the 600 years of occupation with the earliest even pre-farming. The earliest levels do not include buildings, only cooking pits. The second layer has a grill like foundation with pebble pavement, parallel walls which probably supported wooden beams and plaster-like floors. The third level had 9 x 10 meter buildings that had terrazzo floors and homes constructed of white limestone cobbles and crushed rock. This level also had a number of decorative ornamentations included in the design. The fourth occupation level had stone foundations and formed cell-like units with walls built of mud. The final levels consisted of residential buildings arranged in a rectangular fashion with a number of the buildings housing larger rooms possibly used for public functions. It is believed that the total population was between 100 and 200 people and the community consisted of twenty-five to fifty buildings. The overall layout of the village’s design showed a square in the center of the town with rectangular shaped buildings and housing surrounding it. The majority of the houses have the upper level built with mud bricks and the lower level made out of stones. Some floors were made of plastered clay while others were terrazzo floors. In addition to the buildings, there are also indications that Cayonu had a number of storage facilities probably used for grains. A deep cylindrical hole with remains of clay and a domed structure was also discovered at this site and was more than likely used for storage of various products.

The people of Cayonu are believed to be tribal and were the first farmers of Anatolia. The figurine of a female deity was found on this site and provides sound evidence that religion was an important aspect of everyday life. This female deity is one of the earliest traces of a cult that has come to be known as the Mother Goddess of Anatolia and the female deity has been worshiped for millenniums by the name of “Cybele.” The burial practices of the settlement also indicate different burial practices including interment under the house floors with special orientation differences between male and female members. Jewelry such as bone belt buckles and necklaces of stone or shell beads have been found with some of the burials. The village was dependent on wild and domesticated plants, especially wheat and barley and some hunting of large numbers of deer and aurochs. Cayonu was one of the first areas where domestication of goats and sheep occurred although a number of anthropologists believe that sheep were consistently more common than goats. It is also believed that the dog was the very first domesticated animal in the village followed by pigs, then goats and sheep.

A number of artifacts of great value have been unearthed at Cayonu including stone tools of flint and obsidian along with copper pins which indicate evidence of the earliest know use of metal tools. Also, hammered native copper has also been discovered in conjunction with other artifacts. Clay pottery has been found including stone vessels and two small clay models of houses. Impressed or incised bone pieces have also been found which may be indications of art, numerical counters or an early experiment in writing. Cayonu was a very import discovery for the archeology community and disclosed many clues into the life of early humans in Turkey and the Middle East. The discoveries made at this site have shown early use of tools, domestication of animals and plants, religious beliefs and the earliest Neolithic settlement yet discovered in Turkey.

Beginnings of Village-Farming Communities in Southeastern Turkey-1972

Ritual clues flow from prehistoric blood

Never mind conventional wisdom; you can get blood from a stone. Anthropologists have extracted the blood of humans, sheep and an extinct form of cattle from the surface of a stone slab at an approximately 10,000-year-old agricultural village in Turkey. Analysis of hemoglobin in the samples leaves them with intriguing clues and questions about the ritual activities of early farmers.

The polished slab lies among the remains of a structure known as the “skull building,” which contains more than 90 human skulls and several complete and partial human skeletons.

“We don’t know exactly what was going on in the skull building, but human and animal blood was abundant on the slab,” says Andree R. Wood of the University of Chicago’s Oriental Institute. “It reinforces an argument for at least its occasional use for the cutting up of humans as well as of animals.”

Human sacrifice is one grisly possibility, Wood notes, or human bodies may have been carted to the building after death and placed on the slab for some type of preburial ritual. The skulls show no evidence of decapitation.

Whatever took place in the building, it now appears that one of the world’s earliest known farming villages had developed surprisingly complex traditions by that time, she contends. Previous estimates place the emergence of such villages no farther back than 10,000 years.

Blood from the slab, dated with an advanced technique called accelerator mass spectroscopy radiocarbon dating (SN: 12/16/89, p. 388), is about 9,000 years old, say Wood and Thomas H. Loy of the Australian National University in Canberra.

Their method for removing blood from stone was described by Loy in 1983 and has since been used in the laboratory with artifacts dating from as early as 100,000 years ago. But the new study, conducted at the village of Cayonu Tepesi, marks the first time researchers have removed, stored and undertaken preliminary analysis of blood in the field. This capability offers a great advantage when labs are far away and artifacts cannot be taken out of their country of origin, Wood and Loy maintain.

Loy’s technique involves locating suspected blood residue with a low-power microscope, then analyzing it with a coated paper strip sensitive to hemoglobin. Confirmed blood deposits are scraped off and crystallized. The size and shape of hemoglobin crystals differ among animal species, allowing researchers to match a sample with a particular species.

Initial work at the slab identified human and sheep blood, as well as the blood of an unknown, nonhuman species. The team later obtained blood from bone fragments of an extinct cattle species unearthed at the site and found that its hemoglobin crystals matched those of the unknown species taken from the slab. This is the first identification of the blood of an extinct species, they say.

After analyzing the blood, the researchers excavated from the building a number of skulls and horns belonging to the extinct cattle. They also uncovered a large flint knife whose blade held traces of cattle and human blood. Wood says it may have been used in human sacrifices or mortuary rituals, but she notes that toolmakers’ blood often ends up on sharp tools as a result of accidental cuts.

Ritual activity at Cayonu remains largely a mystery, says Robert J. Braidwood of the Oriental Institute. Nonetheless, he says, the cultural complexity hinted at by the skull building and other structures at the site strengthens his “gut feeling” that humans crossed the threshold to a village-farming life more than 10,000 years ago.

2 responses to “Ancient Cayonu Tepesi, the likely domestication site of emmer wheat.

  1. That all sounds really interesting.

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