Forget classical Greece and ancient Egypt. These eras had forerunners of perhaps even greater importance. Among them is the highly sophisticated culture that flourished over nine thousand years ago at Catal Huyuk, on Turkey’s Anatolian plateau. Dating from 6600-5800 B.C. the Catal Huyuk brought to light the earliest murals ever found on man-made walls. This center of art was only discovered in 1958 with the excavations beginning in 1961.
The growth of this settled, and surprisingly modern center with courtyards and narrow lanes was brought about by the then nascent agricultural revolution which apparently provided an opportunity for the Catal Huyuk dwellers to decorate their houses; and the ornamentation varies from panels, recesses, and painted hearths to work in plaster relief. The character of this culture betrays a neatness, attention to detail, and sophistication far beyond what even the most sanguine of researchers would have expected to uncover at so early a period. And its wall paintings constitute its greatest surprise.
The paintings were executed on the interior walls of houses or shrines, with a brush, in freehand application of flat wash against white or cream colored plaster, with a relatively wide assortment of colours that include shades or red, pink, mauve, white, buff, black and even pale yellow. Perhaps the most significant aspect of the art is that several different styles are evident, indicating the work of a number of different artists.
The more recent, better preserved paintings are almost exclusively concerned with hunting or hunting ritual scenes, some showing outstanding technical dexterity with the sense of motion remarkably well projected. What is the origin of this art? Nothing really is known of the beginning of the neolithic culture that flourished there only to become extinguished; nor is it known for sure if the culture was any more than local. The obvious conjecture is to connect the Catal Huyuk with the Lascaux caves and the Tassili frescoes in the Sahara and there is some analogous preoccupation with lively scenes in which the human element is dominant. But, its hard to speculate about resemblances between expressions of art that are separated by such vast regions of what is still artistically an unknown zone.
With or without such formidable comparisons, Catal Huyuk stands as an instance of human emergence, in a very early community, through agriculture into art. Implicit in the beginnings of agriculture is the genesis of Western civilization: the increasing time for the individual to spend in intellectual and artistic pursuits, the point of departure from primitivism toward a complex and sophisticated culture. In brief, the start of modern society.
…I was stunned by overwhelming stylistic incongruities between Mellaart’s new “reconstructed” paintings and the obviously genuine wall paintings appearing in photos in the 1960′s Çatal Hüyük excavation reports.  Subject matter in the new drawings was completely different too. Deities and their animal entourages were now everywhere. Indeed, an elaborate new Neolithic Mother Goddess cult flourished where none had existed before. Most extraordinary of all were “reconstruction” drawings placed alongside strikingly similar modern kilims: “reconstruction” drawings with kilim motifs, but garbled warp/weft directions! They would have been impossible to weave. Something was definitely wrong. But how could it be so terribly wrong? Again, documentation was missing.
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