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Children, Rituals & Burials in Neolithic Turkey

April 6, 2011

Department: Center for Archaeology and Anthropology/Department of History
Professor: Dr. Sharon Moses

Atalhyk, a 9,000 year old Neolithic site in Turkey, has been a popular archaeological dig site for many years.  Previous researchers believed this to be a goddess society, but CCU's Archaeologist and Socio-cultural Anthropologist, Sharon Moses, had different findings.  After spending seven summers researching in Turkey, Dr. Moses has some interesting conclusions regarding this Neolithic culture's ritual value of children and sacred spaces.  Because some children's bodies were found buried in walls and infants, particularly, in the foundations of
specific houses, Moses believes that these activities suggest selected infants were sacrificed to create sacred spaces. There has also been evidence of decapitation after death, or skull removals after the bodies decomposed.  Skulls of children have been found inside benches and other features of the houses; adults; and children's burials alike are absent skulls from bodies and vice versa.

The Neolithic age in Anatolia was a pre-literate time; people relied upon oral tradition to perpetuate cultural knowledge.  Wall paintings, daily rituals and burials figured prominently as performances of their beliefs. They were also farmers and herded sheep, supplementing their diet with hunting/gathering.  At the city's peak it had about 5,000 people, and it has since been determined that the sexes were equal in terms of status and work, with neither sex given privilege based upon gender. Catalhoyuk existed for about 1,200 years.

The city had adobe mud brick housing, similar in appearance to American Southwest pueblo constructions. Entrances were through the roofs, not the walls.  Most houses are similar, but some varied in terms of paintings, burials, and quantity of animal wall reliefs and bone installations found within.  In most houses there were at least one wild aurochs head (wild cattle) mounted and plastered into the wall; some walls could have a vulture beak with a clay breast molded around it in the wall, others had boar tusks, fox jaws and other animal remains incorporated into the wall.  Most figurines were discovered outside the houses, and of these, the majority were of animals, not the goddess, which was actually rare in comparison, but for which the site is famous.

Dr. Moses' research interests include children and childhood from prehistory to historic periods, gender issues, visual representations, and ethnography of descendant communities.  She has also worked on sites in Greece (Graeco-Roman), Mesoamerica (Maya), and Maine (Colonial & Native fishing economy).  Her Native American heritage informs her approach to oral tradition communities and non-Western interpretations.

Dr. Moses is currently developing a project here in South Carolina of an ethno-historical archeology site of a pre-civil war slave village.  CCU students should be able to join her for a field school to excavate the Gullah village by Spring 2012.  Oral folklore will be used in addition to the excavations to determine daily behaviors, household tool use, toys, and children's activities
around the house - for insights into slave life, particularly of children in a pre-civil war era and later, of their descendant communities into the 20th & 21st centuries.


For more information: http://www.coastal.edu/archaeology/moses/moses1.php


Moses, Dr. Sharon