From the stunning cave art of Palaeolithic Europe to the Neolithic murals scattered throughout the Middle East, prehistoric paintings and rock carvings feel like miraculous glimpses into the lives of ancestors we know so little about. This is partly why these artifacts are all too often treated by archaeologists as extraordinary, self-contained art objects — that is, in isolation from the daily contexts in which they were once immersed.

One of the geometric paintings from
Çatalhöyük. Photo Credit: Jason Quinlan,
Çatalhöyük Research Project

The people who, about 9000 years ago, settled down at a place now called Çatalhöyük, in the plateaus of central Turkey, used to regularly paint their adobe houses with different shades of red ochre and carbon black. Besides painting, they were also doing all sorts of other activities in houses: preparing, consuming, and storing food, sleeping, socializing, and many more, including burying their ancestors beneath the floors.

The Çatalhöyük research team during a site tour in July 2016

My PhD project investigates how painting practices intersected with other daily activities occurring within houses at Çatalhöyük. In order to do so, I use different archaeological methods to explore three different aspects: spatial contexts (where were paintings usually located? What are the usual activities occurring in the spaces around them?), temporalities (how often were walls painted? Were paintings exposed for long?), and visibility (were paintings sufficiently lit? Where were they located in relation to lighting sources?).

Sampling a wall in search for paintings with site conservationist Ashley Lingle. Photo by Scott Haddow

Microscope capture of a painted wall seen in section. Many thanks to Koç University’s ANAMED and Archaeology Laboratory for support, hosting and equipment!

In order to answer these questions, I used a mixed set of methodologies, including GIS-based spatial analysis, direct analysis of painted plaster sequences, 3D virtual reconstructions and lighting experiments. The publication of the project is still ongoing, but some preliminary results have been presented at several conferences and in other formats.

A presentation of some preliminary results in Cardiff, UK, during the TAG2017 conference
Lighting simulation in one of Çatalhöyük’s painted buildings. 3D model and simulation by Grant Cox. Read more about the process here.
Local resident Emine Buluç ignites the oven of the Replica House for a lighting experiment
A map of broadly contemporary buildings at Çatalhöyük

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