During our recent trip to Ankara we visited the Museum of Anatolian Civilisations (*). The museum houses artefacts from the Palaeolithic through to the modern period, including the finds at Çatalhöyük, the most important Neolithic site, and Hattusa, the capital of the Hittite state.

Çatalhöyük is south of present day Konya in southern Turkey and at the northern edge of the Levant where agriculture in Europe originated. The site at  Çatalhöyük was occupied between 9,500 and 7,700 years ago. Unlike modern villages, the public space was the rooftop, from which the building was accessed by ladder or steps. There is evidence of the domestication of sheep and cattle as well as hunting. There is also evidence of the use of woven cloth to wrap the dead. The artworks produced include murals and figurines, such as the massive women giving birth. There is little sign of social stratification. The dwellings are of similar size and there is no obvious ceremonial centre.

Something I hadn’t appreciated before visiting the museum is that the sedentary lifestyle preceded farming rather than being a consequence of it. The sedentary lifestyle is thought to have originated in the Levant in what is called the Natufian period between 15,000 and 11,800 years ago. Although still a hunter gatherer economy, the sedentary lifestyle was made possible here by very favourable conditions. The hypothesis is that farming first developed in the Near East as a response to a period of colder weather between 12,200 and 10,800 years ago and then later spread across Europe, westwards and northwards, between 8,500 and 6,500 years ago.


The film we saw at last week’s film club is called Cave of Forgotten Dreams. It is a documentary made in 2010 by Werner Herzog about the pre-historic cave paintings in the Chauvet cave in the Ardèche region of southern France. In order to preserve the paintings access is strictly limited to small scientific teams and it is not possible for the public to visit the cave. Herzog was allowed to take portable cameras, cold led lighting and a small crew into the cave.  A narrow metal walkway runs through the caves which the team had to keep to. This is to protect the cave floor which is covered in cave bear skulls and other objects. The film was made in 3D. Herzog doesn’t see the value of 3D for film-making but was persuaded it would work for this project because the cave painters took advantage of the natural contours and bulges in the rock walls. Our copy was in 2D so it is impossible to tell how much was lost of the effect of depth.