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810 m
Southeastern Anatolia
Investigation Method:
Aceramic Ceramic


Location: This mound site of Çayönü; which used to be called Kotaberçem or Çayboyu; lies northwest of the city of Diyarbakir; 7 km southwest of the town of Ergani and close to the village of Sesverenpinar (Hilar). It is possible to get to the site via the road leading to the Ilk Ögretmen Okulu (Teacher Training College). The survey code of the site is R 55 / 1.
Geography and Environment: The cultural depositional layer on this mound; which is 160 m north-south and 350 m east-west; is 4.5 m thick. The test trenches dug around the mound; especially on the northern side; indicate that the site extends beyond the stated measures. Bogazçay; which flows by the southern and western sides of the mound; eventually empties into the Tigris River. East of Bogazçay lies the seasonal Bestakot Stream. The south and southeastern sides of the mound are steeper than the other sides. The geomorphological research conducted on the mound and in the Ergani Plain in 1990-91 determined that the immediate surroundings of the cave at the end of the Pleistocene and the beginning of the Holocene were different than today. It has been proposed that there was a large flood in the Aceramic Neolithic Period which split the mound in two. The alluvial silt of the river; which meanders around the northern part of the mound; has created a terrace. Evidence shows that the Ceramic Neolithic settlement at the site was here. Excavations continued until the yellowish virgin soil appeared. The first inhabiters of the site thus settled on this natural alluvial terrace comprised of hard yellow soil.
Research and Excavation: The joint project conducted by the University of Chicago and the University of Istanbul aimed to understand the transition of the First Producers from hunting and gathering to herding and agriculture. The joint team surveyed the Diyarbakir; Sanliurfa; Siirt Provinces in 1963 and began excavation at Çayönü in 1964 [Çambel-Braidwood 1980:5-6]. The survey code of this site is R 55 / 1. A total of 16 seasons of excavation were conducted on the mound. Excavations at the site have been terminated since 1992 due to political activities in the area. A total of 4;654 square meters were excavated. The excavations were led by R. J. Braidwood and H. Çambel for many years but were taken over by M. Özdogan after 1986 and excavated until 1991. The team includes specialists both from Turkey and abroad and from various disciplines. Çayönü Project was supported by Karlsruhe Institute for Technology (Germany) between 1978-88 and by University of Roma (Italy) between 1989-91. After a long interlude, excavations has started in 2015 under the directory of A. Erim Özdogan.It takes place in the registered archaeological sites list prepared by Ministry of Culture and Tourism.
Stratigraphy: The site of Çayönü; where there was continuous habitation from the Aceramic Neolithic to the Middle Ages; is comprised of Aceramic Neolithic; Ceramic Neolithic; Chalcolithic; Early Bronze Age; second millennium; Iron Age and Medieval settlements. The presence of habitation in these periods has been confirmed by the ceramics as well as metals; slag samples; chipped stone tools and C-14 dates [Özdogan et al. 1991:78]. Today; the uppermost layers in the mound are Neolithic. It has been agreed that the later levels of the sequence have been eroded. Therefore; habitation in these later layers must not have been substantial settlements but temporary. In the Early Bronze Ages II and III; the area was used as a cemetery. With the exception of the recent Ceramic Neolithic excavations; most of the work was concentrated on the Aceramic Neolithic settlement at the site. The different occupational phases were categorized and named. The stratigraphy as determined after many years of excavation is as follows [Özdogan et al. 1994:106-107]: Virgin Soil Phase I: Çayönü Aceramic Neolithic Period: Round Buildings (Huts) Sub-phase (PPNA) Grill-planned Buildings Sub-phase (PPNA/B) Channelled Buildings Sub-phase (PPNB) Cobble-paved Buildings Sub-phase (PPNB) Cell-planned Buildings Sub-phase (PPNB) Transitional Sub-phase (Cell-planned Buildings/Large Roomed Structures) (PPNC) Large Roomed Structures Sub-phase (PPNC) Phase II: Ceramic Neolithic Chalcolithic Period Early Bronze Age I Phase III: Early Bronze Age II-III Second millennium BC Iron Age Medieval Period
Small Finds: Architecture: Aceramic Neolithic Period Architecture: Round Buildings (Huts) Sub-phase: Examples of round buildings were found in the eastern part of the mound; built immediately on virgin soil. This sub-phase is comprised of 4 occupational phases; each with another architectural development. The houses in this sub-phase are round or oval in shape. They have plastered sunken floors. Wattle-and-daub houses made with reed bundles have been woven over a wooden 10-12 cm thick frame. The floors were initially sunken to a depth of 30-35 cm. Later; however; the wattle-and-daub constructions with wooden frames were preferred. These structures were plastered with layers of thick clay after being lined with reeds; thin branches and twigs. In later stages; these round hut-like structures were built more sturdly on stone foundations. No temples or communal structures were found in this sub-phase. The paved stone courtyards between the huts appear to have been used as workshops/ateliers and for daily activities. Grill-Planned Building Sub-phase: With the exception of three; the rectangular houses in this sub-phase are oriented north-south. They are 10-11 x 3.5 m in size. They are comprised of three sub-sections. The largest room is the northern; which lies on a raised platform. The name "Grill-Planned" refers to these platforms; which look like grills from above. Wooden beams; reeds and straw were lined over the grills and plastered with clay. Not all structures have clay plastered floors. This treatment was reserved for structures of special purposes while most houses sufficed with reed matt floors [Özdogan (A) 1994:32]. Around the grill structure is a thin pebble frame; which did not function as a buttress or support any floor weight. The pebble frame is believed to have been constructed to support the upper parts of the structures; which follow the wooden-beam technique of the Round Buildings Sub-phase. The wooden beams extended up to 80 cm beyond the platform and were lined with reed bundles and water-proofed with clay plaster. South of this; in the middle part of the complex; is the courtyard. There is an oven in the courtyard; suggesting that cooking activities took place here. The function of the third compartment of the structure (in the south) is not known. The grill-planned houses change over time. The grills become wavy; and the spaces between them get narrower. In later stages; the grills become completely covered by the overlying structure and no-longer show from beneath. Similarly; the courtyards go through changes. In some later grill-planned structures; for example; there are two courtyards. The houses are believed to have been entered from the south. Since there are no courtyards or workshop areas between the houses; it is believed that the inhabitants of these grill-planned houses did daily tasks intramurally [Özdogan (A) 1994:40]. No special-purpose structures were excavated; even in the later grill-planned occupational phases. One structure with "Flagstone" lined floors was placed immediately into virgin soil on the southern slopes of the mound. Channelled Building Sub-phase: This building phase has been differentiated from the earlier grill-planned building phase it overlies because of certain architectural improvements/changes such as mudbrick and different burial methods. The new architectural features include wider grill-like foundations lined with limestone cobblestones overlain with stone slabs. These buildings are similarly built on stone platforms; which have been divided by 20 cm channels. Walls were constructed with small pebbles. The platforms are approximately 3 x 5.5 m in size. The entire platform was lined and leveled with small pebbles after the channels were covered with stone slabs. The pebbles of the uppermost layer were held together with clay plaster. The 50 cm thick supporting wall foundations were also made with this technique. These wall foundations were then overlaid with mudbricks and walls were built. It is not certain how the roofs were made although; there is evidence suggesting that the roofs must have been flat. It is believed that the "Flagstone Structure" is a cult building constructed in the beginning of this phase. It is rectangular and 11x7.5 m in size. The thick northern wall was supported on both sides by buttresses because it is it also functions as a terrace wall. The floor of the structure is lined with leveled stone slabs. The building's stone wall on the side facing Bogazçay has been completely destroyed by erosion. The central interior part of this structure is adorned with two stele facing each other. These vertically placed stones probably function as deity-modeled ceremonial stones. They have been buttressed on both sides. A third stele was erected in the northeastern corner of the structure; parallel to the east wall. Another structure of special use is the rectangular skull building. This building is perhaps the predecessor to the following Skull-Phase structures. It is an oval structure located on the southeastern side of the mound and has been cut into the slope. Human bones were found on the floor of this building; which was damaged by fire. Cobble-Paved Building Sub-phase. The oval skull building was renovated into a rectangular building in this phase. The other houses are also rectangular in shape and are comprised of several rooms. The floors are stone-lined and the walls have been buttressed. The houses are one story high and support flat roofs. The biggest difference between this phase and the preceding channeled house phase is that the cobble paving follows the wall construction. The structure of special purpose in this phase is the terraced BK building. Small finds which help clarify the function of this structure were found within. Cell-Planned Building Sub-phase: This phase witnessed a very important step in construction techniques because two storied buildings were introduced. The lower basement parts of the buildings were divided into eight cell-like rooms. These basements; made with stone foundations and mostly with clay floors; functioned both as storage areas and burial chambers for members of the household. It is believed that the entrances to the basements were via wooden ladders/staircases from the floor above. The first genuine mudbricks were used in this phase. Most daily activity occurred in the more spacious upper floor. It is believed that entrance was by a stone staircase from the eastern wall. Sidewalks have been built outside houses. The special structure of this sub-phase is the Terrazzo Building. This is a rectangular building with pillars and is surprisingly well built. The floor of this building; made with lime; red stones; and sand; has been polished with care. The interesting point about this building is that the lines of white stone on the Terrazzo floor are oriented north-south and aligned with the pillars. A crescent shaped sacred oven and a human faced basin indicate that this building must have had a sacred function. The ceremonial upright stone slabs in the central courtyard; which are believed to be deity statues; suggest that religion was powerful in this phase. The central courtyard is indeed ceremonial with the upright stones and a well-grooved whetstone. This courtyard lost this ceremonial quality after the first occupational phase when the upright stones fell over and were buried beneath depositional layers. Transitional Sub-phase between Cell-Planned Buildings and Large-Roomed Structures: Very few architectural remains dating to this phase have been found. Cell-planned houses become rare in this stage while the number of large-roomed structures increases. Large-Roomed Structures Sub-phase: This sub-phase consists of single; large roomed houses. There is no difference in building construction techniques except for a general lack of care. In this stage; foundations pits appear to have been dug; for the first time. The entire settlement is further west on the mound while the central courtyard; no longer ceremonially used becomes a workshop and daily activity area. Ceramic Neolithic Period Architecture: Excavations since 1989 have concentrated mainly on the northern part of the mound where there is a Ceramic Neolithic settlement. The second layer; of which a wide area was exposed; yielded a multi-roomed complex with courtyards and with eastern and western mudbrick outer walls built on stone foundations [Özdogan et al. 1991:74-75]. Some of the courtyards are stone paved. Pottery: The later levels at Çayönü yielded Dark Burnished Ware. Some examples of this ware have been decorated with rows of clay sphericals. In Layer 3; some Hassuna-like incised decorated ware was found [Özdogan-Özdogan 1993:96-97; fig.6]. There is a decrease in the Dark Burnished Ware percentages in this layer; and wares which are lighter in color; with burnishing; very light red slip and red painted geometric patterns begin to appear [Özdogan et al. 1992:101]. These finds are unique to southeast Anatolia; although some of the painted decorated sherds resemble Mersin Yumuktepe Layer XXII-XIV wares [Özdogan et al. 1991:77]. The Aceramic Layers are; for the moment; dated to a pre-Halaf period [Özdogan et al. 1993:91]. Clay: Experimental clay vessels made without having been cooked were found; especially in the upper Cell-Planned Building Phase. These are organic tempered; mudbrick pasted; flat-bottomed; shallow sided; rounded or square vessels which have had no or very little firing [Özdogan-Özdogan 1993:fig 2]. It is impossible to say whether these vessels were made for the same purposes as the later lime bowls. Some objects have both stone and clay examples such as cylindrical pierced beads. This indicates that clay was used for decorative means by the peoples of Çayönü; although they had the techniques and instruments to make stone and metal objects. Ornamental round clay disks; and decorative objects made to be attached on various things; clay balls which may have functioned as marbles and other gaming pieces were found. Excavations yielded a total of 49 stylized and realistic human figurines [Morales 1990]. The interesting fact about these human figurines is that most of them were found extra-murally. In addition; a total of 51 animal figurines; mostly of domesticated sheep and goats; were found in the earliest occupational phase of the Cell-Planned Houses Sub-phase; the Channeled Buildings Sub-phase yielded wild animal figurines. Interestingly; no figurines were found in the Round Buildings (Huts) Sub-phase or in the Grill-Planned Buildings Sub-phase [Özdogan (A) 1994:149]. Other Çayönü important clay finds are the clay house models. Five such models were found in the Cell-Planned Buildings Sub-phase. The purpose of these models is not known [Morales 1990:57-89; Biçakci 1995:101-125]. They are important because they provide information on the second floors of the houses; the roofs and the windows. Although the small finds from the ceramic Neolithic component of Çayönü have not been published; similar figurines and other clay objects are reported to have been found [Özdogan et al. 1992:fig.14a-b;c;d]. Chipped Stone: Both obsidian and flint were used in chipped stone production in all the Aceramic Neolithic Sub-phases at Çayönü. The use percentage of each material differs over the various phases. In the earliest Round Building and the Grill-Planned Houses Sub-phases; one fourth of all the tools and other chipped stone products were obsidian while the remaining three fourths were flint. In the Cell-Planned Buildings Sub-phase; the obsidian and flint stone percentages are equal. Obsidian percentages increase; almost double in the following later phases. Obsidian was used in blade production while flint was used in flakes. The flint stone was collected from the nearby mountains and from the nearby river beds while the obsidian was brought from the Bingöl or the Van-Nemrud Dag area. A. Özdogan reports that 8 % of the total chipped stone finds are cores and core fragments; 45 % are blades and bladelets and the remaining 47 % are flakes. The tools have been grouped typologically. The flint tools include small perforators; scrapers; sickle-blades; various blades; spears and points; while the obsidian tools are comprised of "Çayönü tools"; which are blades with steep edge retouchings. This type of tool appears after the Çayönü Channeled Buildings Sub-phase and continues into the Ceramic Neolithic Period. The cross section of the tool; however; becomes rectangular in the Ceramic Neolithic Period while it was trapezoidal in the previous Aceramic Neolithic Period [Özdogan (A) 1994:135]. This indicates that the function of the tool changed. Several ideas have been suggested as the function of this tool which include production of stone rings/hoops. End scrapers with handles; perforators and denticulated blades have also been found. Tools with silica sheen were found in all the phases of the site including the earliest stages. This suggests that the inhabitants of Çayönü harvested grasses; reeds and wild grains even in the earliest stages of habitation at the site. Ground Stone: The ground stone objects are perhaps the most carefully studied finds from the site. The pestles; usable on both sides; differ in shape; size and weight according to the material to be crushed. They are used for various purposes from paint grinding to meat pounding devises. The T-shaped hooked type; which shows no evidence of use is not believed to have had a daily function. The mortars have hollow bases. The fact that there are fewer mortars than pestles suggests that wooden mortars were used. Grinding stones were used not only to grind grains but for pounding meat as well. Celts; hammerstones; whetstones; awls; spatulas; stone weights; hammers with piercing for a handle; mace heads/loom weights; bracelets and some decorated stone bowls have been found [Özdogan-Özdogan 1993:91;fig.1]. Copper ore and malachite as well as other materials were used in the production of these objects. Bone/Antler: Various types of bone tools such as awls and needles have been found as well as spatulas; belt buckles; combs; spoons; brushes; mace heads. Metal Finds: The inhabitants of Çayönü made use of the native copper they collected from nearby sources and produced copper beads; perforators and copper sheets. There is also evidence suggesting that they annealed and shaped the copper. The inhabitants of Çayönü noticed the malleability and the functional advantages of copper. Human Remains: The site of Çayönü is the Near Eastern site where the most human burials have been excavated. Two third of the 605 skeletons unearthed were adult burials. Analysis on the bones indicated that the average life-span of these peoples was 29-30 [Özbek 1990:165] although five people had lived past 50 and even a few past 60 years of age [Özbek 1990:162]. The inhabitant of Çayönü struggled with many diseases and faced malnutrition. The most common illnesses were ear and bone infections; joint problems and cavities [Özbek 1989:129]. There were many broken legs; arms and skulls; which may have been caused by hunting accidents. It is interesting to note that some of these broken bones were healed with proper casts. On average; adult men are 170 cm while women are 157 cm tall. Their skulls are of Mediterranean race. Most of the skulls are Dolicosephal but Mesosephal and Brachisephal ones were also found. The burial customs of these peoples differ in the various sub-phases. There was; for example; no evidence of burials within the settlement in the Large-Roomed Buildings Sub-phase; suggesting that there may have been a communal graveyard nearby. If so; this might suggest a shift in the social mentality of burials. The burials in the lower layers; however; are within the settlement. In the earliest Rounded-Buildings Sub-phase; for example; the intramural burials (beneath house floors) are in flexed position and lack burial gifts. In the Grill-Planned Buildings Phase; burials are still intramural. The dead have been placed in groups of two; three or alone; either in the northern half of the unpaved courtyards or in the cells between two courtyards. Necklaces; bracelets and other decorative daily-use objects have been buried with the dead. The Channeled-Buildings Sub-phase yielded the "House of the Dead"; also referred to as the "Skull Building"; although other bones were found here as well. It has been determined that there were a variety of differing burial types at this site. The burials in the oldest use phase of this building were randomly placed in a large 200x90 m pit. There is another pit with a similar mix of human bones west of this one. The westernmost of the four rooms in occupational phase 2 c of the Cobblestone Paved Buildings Stage yielded three rows of neatly lined skulls which were covered by long bones. These aligned bones have been disturbed by a later adult woman's burial. The room next to this one yielded two child skeletons and the skull-less skeleton of a woman while a total of 49 skulls were found in this room in the following occupational phase. From the way they were found; it is clear that these skulls were lined on a shelf or somehow hung from the wall. A. Özdogan notes that the skulls were stored in a crypt inside the building when this structure was renovated [Özdogan (A) 1994:57]. The fact that both animal and human blood was detected in the courtyard of this building suggests that this area was where animal sacrificing took place and where the human bodies were decapitated. The structure functioned as a burial chamber. M. Özbek; who conducted human osteological studies at the site; reports that 70 % of the population were buried here [Özbek 1990:165]. In the Cobble-Stone Phase; few skeletons were found because some of the burials were damaged when they were desiccated; the only ones found were secondary burials. In addition; primary burials in flexed position were found. Necklaces and the chipped stone tools they used in daily life continue to be buried as grave-goods. The Cell-Planned Buildings Phase yielded a large number of skeletons; mostly in the bottom northwestern cells/rooms of the two-storied structures. Burials are mostly placed upon each other; some are secondary burials. Especially the men are buried with a large number of chipped stone tools. The white ashy material found with the burials is believed to be food remains. These ashy food remains and the animal bones found along with them suggest that these peoples believed in life after death. In the second earliest phase of the Cell-Planned Buildings; there is evidence for another burial method. A burial wrapped in straw matting was found on the terrace of building DE on the western side of the mound. Inter-village burials are abandoned after this stage at Çayönü. Fauna: Analysis of Çayönü fauna is currently in process. Initial observations suggests that wild pig (Sus scrofa); wild cattle (Bos primigenius); sheep (Ovis orientalis); goat (Capra aegagrus); red deer (Cervus elaphus) and fallowdeer (Cervus dama) were present in the sub-phases before the Large Roomed Buildings Sub-phase while sheep; bear; fox; and goat increase in the Large Roomed Buildings Sub-phase. Gazelle; roedeer; horse; marten; hare; porcupine; beaver; squirrel; wild cat; skunk; badger; otter; land turtles; various birds; fresh water fish; muscles and snails were among the gathered and hunted animals. The fauna is still being separated into phases; identified and studied [Lawrence 1980:257-283; Özdogan (A) 1994:20-23]. Flora: No definite conclusions have been made about the floral remains in the Round Buildings Sub-phase. It has been determined that Einkorn (Triticum monococum); Emmer wheat (Triticum dicoccum); lentils (Lens culinaris); peas (Pisum sativum) and legumes (Vicia ervilia) were domesticated while wild barley was collected. The Aceramic Neolithic peoples of Çayönü preferred legumes to grains. Gum mastic (Pistachia atlantica/khinjuk); wild almonds (Amygdalus sp.) wild vetch (Vicia sp.)was used while linen and meadow grasses were used for making oils and in weaving [van Zeist-de Roller 1994:65-96; Özdogan (A) 1994:20].
Interpretation and Dating: The Aceramic Neolithic settlement at the site of Çayönü covers a long 3000-2500 year span from Aceramic Neolithic A (PPNA) to Aceramic Neolithic C (PPNC) [Özdogan (A) 1994:209]. The PPNA is a period where hunting is a major activity. This is accompanied by the collecting of grains and legumes. In PPNB (The last phase of the Grill-Planned Houses; Channeled Buildings; Cobble Stone Houses; Cell-Planned Buildings) agriculture was practiced in addition to hunting. There is a great increase in sheep and goat bones in PPNC (Large-Roomed Buildings Phase) suggesting that there is a shift in the socio-economic life style. The following period witnessed easy means to personal property and the birth of a wealthier class.

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