Poznań scientists dig up 8,000-year-old figurine on site of one of the world’s oldest cities

The figurine, carved into donkey hoof, dates back 8,000 years. J. Quinlan

A Polish researcher has discovered a human-like figurine in one of the world’s oldest cities, Çatalhöyük in Turkey. The bone object, around 8,000 years old, offers further insights into that ancient world.

Located in southern Anatolia, Çatalhöyük was a proto-city settlement that existed from roughly 7500 BC to 5700 BC. The settlement shows evidence of the transition, thousands of years ago, from life in villages to an urban agglomeration – which preceded cities as we know them. In 2012, it was made a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The team that has been exploring ancient Turkey.Faculty of Archaeology, Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznań

“Çatalhöyük is a very rare example of a well-preserved Neolithic settlement and has been considered one of the key sites for understanding human Prehistory for some decades,” according to the description of the site on the UNESCO website.

Polish researchers from Poznań have been involved in the Çatalhöyük Research Project as part of an international group of specialists who are studying the site.

Now Kamilla Pawłowska, a professor at the Department of Palaeontology and Stratigraphy at Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznań, has discovered a small bone figurine in Çatalhöyük that she is certain represents a human.

“This is undoubtedly an important find with a very simplified, but unambiguous representation of human features in the form of eyes,” said Pawłowska.Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznań

“This is undoubtedly an important find with a very simplified, but unambiguous representation of human features in the form of eyes,” said Pawłowska, whose areas of expertise include zoo-archaeology, the branch of archaeology that studies animal remains related to ancient people.

Just 6 centimetres high, the figurine is made from a bone from a donkey’s hoof, with cuts that look like eyes. While ancient bone figures with human features have been found in the region before, most of them come from later, around 4300-3300 BC, she explains.

The site in central Turkey of one of the world’s oldest cities.whc.unesco.org

She found the figure using flotation, a method in archaeology used to recover tiny remains. It was previously stored in a clay container in a room where food was stored.

Pawłowska has presented her findings in an article entitled “Conceptualization of the Neolithic world in incised equid phalanges: anthropomorphic figurine from Çatalhöyük (GDN Area)” written with Marek Z. Barański of the Academy of Fine Arts in Gdańsk, which was published in January in the journal Archeological and Anthropolical Sciences.

Çatalhöyük is one of the oldest cities in the world.Omar hoftun/Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

“We argue that the choice of bone as a raw material for the artifact (the first bone figurine from Çatalhöyük) is related to its anatomy and to availability,” they write.

They also show that the figurine and others found at Çatalhöyük were associated with food storage rooms, highlighting how they differed from the known practices of the Near East.