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Aegeus Society For Aegean Prehistory

ARTICLES | 2012

30 October 2012

Animal Figurines from Neolithic Çatalhöyük: Figural and Faunal Perspectives

Louise Martin & Lynn Meskell Cambridge Archaeological Journal 22:3 (October 2012): 401-419.

Abstract

This article presents a study of the zoomorphic figurine assemblage from Neolithic Çatalhöyük in central Turkey. Figurine manufacture, depositional condition and contexts of discard are discussed, to find that their fragmentation seems related to fabrication methods and use rather than intentional breakage. We show animal figurines deriving mostly from midden contexts, indicating an expediency in their use. Analysis then focuses on a sub-set of 104 relatively complete quadruped figurines. We introduce a method for transparently grouping them into morphological types, with the aim of querying whether they reflect actual animal forms, and if so, to explore representational variation and consistency within those forms. Three key findings emerge from this sub-study: 1) while ambiguity exists, many figurines strongly suggest real animal forms; while wide morphological variation is seen within ‘taxon’ groups, there are clear areas of consistency in depiction, implying an intention for recognition that persisted over extensive time periods; 2) across animal forms, careful attention is given to modelling heads, horns, tails, and sometimes neck and forequarters, showing a hierarchy in representation; 3) figurine makers at Çatalhöyük were adept at expressing different forms of the same animal type, adults and juveniles, removable features, animal movement, and occasionally very finely modelled forms. The combined evidence — viewed alongside the Çatalhöyük faunal remains and other animal portrayals — is employed to consider alternative interpretations of the figurines. While no one interpretation fits the highly varied assemblage, we argue that they most likely played roles in real everyday activities, such as animal exchange, herding, management, hunting and tracking, and thus reflect aspects of human–animal engagements not witnessed by other archaeological finds.

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