This paper explores the fascinating world of Neolithic sites in Turkey, offering an overview of their historical significance, cultural developments, and architectural achievements. These ancient settlements provide a window into the early stages of human civilisation, with invaluable insights into our ancestors’ lives, beliefs, and accomplishments. By examining notable Neolithic sites in Turkey, this paper aims to shed light on this region’s rich cultural heritage and enduring legacy.
Caption: Göbekli Tepe, Şanlıurfa.
Attribution: Teomancimit, CC BY-SA 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0>, via Wikimedia Commons
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The Neolithic period (also known as the New Stone Age) marked a pivotal moment in human history when societies transitioned from a nomadic hunter-gatherer lifestyle to settled farming communities. In Turkey, numerous Neolithic sites have been discovered, serving as archaeological treasures that unlock some of the mysteries of our past. This paper will delve into Turkey’s most notable Neolithic sites, highlighting their cultural significance and the wealth of knowledge they provide.
Notable Neolithic Sites
Some of the notable Neolithic sites in Turkey, including their significance, current status, and UNESCO protection, are:
- Göbekli Tepe: Located in southeastern Turkey, Göbekli Tepe (which means Potbelly Hill) is one of the most remarkable archaeological discoveries of the past century. It thrived around 9600 BC, long before the hanging gardens of Babylon and the pyramids in Egypt. It even predates Stonehenge by about six thousand years. It marked the advent of agriculture and had massive stone pillars arranged in circular patterns. It suggests the existence of complex hunter-gatherer societies engaged in communal rituals and monument construction. Göbekli Tepe is located on a hilltop in southeastern Turkey. The site’s location was probably chosen due to its strategic position overlooking the surrounding landscape. It is believed to have been a ceremonial centre where early hunter-gatherer communities gathered for rituals and social activities. Göbekli Tepe is still in existence and has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2018.
- Çatalhöyük: Situated in central Anatolia, Çatalhöyük is an exceptionally well-preserved and prominent Neolithic settlement that flourished between 7500 BC and 5700 BC. It consists of densely packed mud-brick houses and offers insights into early agricultural practices, social organisation, and religious beliefs of the time. Çatalhöyük was built on a fertile plain near the Konya Plain and is one of the earliest known urban settlements in the world, comprising a vast complex of mud-brick houses interconnected by a labyrinthine network of pathways. The site’s selection was likely influenced by the availability of natural resources, including water and agricultural land. Çatalhöyük offers insights into early farming practices, artistic expressions through its murals, and social organisation. It is a well-preserved site and has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2012.
Caption: On-site restoration of a typical interior. Çatalhöyük
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- Hacılar: Located in southwestern Turkey, Hacılar is one of the earliest-known farming settlements in the country. It dates back to around 7000 BC and provides evidence of advanced agricultural practices, including early cultivation of cereals and domestication of animals. The settlement showcases well-preserved mud-brick houses, complete with hearths, storage areas, and elaborate wall paintings, as well as pottery production. Hacılar is located near Lake Burdur. The site still exists, and its proximity to water sources and fertile land made it an ideal location for early farming communities, but it is not currently listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
- Çayönü: Located in southeastern Anatolia, Çayönü is another important Neolithic site dating back to around 7200 BC. It shows early farming practices, animal domestication, and complex social structures. The site also reveals the earliest-known depiction of a map-like representation. Çayönü is located near the Tigris River. Water and fertile soil availability likely influenced its selection as a settlement site. The site still exists but is not listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
- Aşıklı Höyük: Situated in central Anatolia near the Melendiz River, Aşıklı Höyük is an early Neolithic settlement dating back to around 8200 BC. It provides insights into the transition from a mobile hunter-gatherer lifestyle to settled farming communities. The site’s location provided access to water and arable land, making it suitable for early agricultural societies. Aşıklı Höyük showcases the transition from a mobile hunter-gatherer lifestyle to settled farming communities. The site still exists but is not currently listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Citation: Aşıklı Höyük. (2023, January 3).
In Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A%C5%9F%C4%B1kl%C4%B1_H%C3%B6y%C3%BCk
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- Karahan Tepe: Located in southeastern Turkey, Karahan Tepe is a recently discovered Neolithic site dating back to approximately 9500 BC. It features stone circles, standing stones, and T-shaped pillars similar to those found at Göbekli Tepe. The site provides further evidence of early monumental architecture and ritual practices. Further research is ongoing to understand the motivations behind its location selection. It exists, but its UNESCO status is unknown at this point.
- Köşk Höyük: Situated in central Anatolia, Köşk Höyük is a Neolithic settlement that dates back to around 6500 BC. It is known for its well-preserved architecture, including rectangular mud-brick houses and a large central plaza. The site offers insights into early agricultural practices and community organisation. Köşk Höyük still exists and is not currently listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Citation: Reconstruction of a house from Köşk Höyük in the Niğde Archaeological Museum (2023, April 3).
In Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/K%C3%B6%C5%9Fk_H%C3%B6y%C3%BCk
This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.
- Boncuklu Höyük: Located in central Anatolia, Boncuklu Höyük is a Neolithic mound that flourished between 7000 BC and 5500 BC. It showcases evidence of early farming, animal husbandry, and trade networks. The site also reveals the presence of a large communal building, possibly used for religious or communal activities. Boncuklu Höyük: Boncuklu Höyük is still in existence but is not listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
- Körtik Tepe: Situated in southeastern Anatolia, Körtik Tepe is a Neolithic site that dates back to around 8500 BC. It exhibits evidence of early agricultural practices, including the cultivation of cereals and legumes. The site also features circular buildings and is an important reference for understanding the region’s transition to settled farming communities. Körtik Tepe exists, and while it is not currently listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, it may be included in future nominations.
- Barcın Höyük: Located in western Anatolia, Barcın Höyük is a Neolithic site that was occupied between 6500 BC and 5500 BC. The site is located in Bursa city centre, 4 km from Yenişehir District, and three to four 4 km West of Barcın Village. The hill on the Yenişehir Plain is 100 metres in diameter and four metres high. It is also called Yenişehir West Mound and Yenişehir 2 in archaeology publications. The region where it is located is known as Üyeni Mevkii, and the hill is known as Üyeni Tepe. Evidence of agricultural practices, animal domestication, and long-distance trade have been found. The site’s excavation has provided valuable insights into the early cultural and economic interactions in western Anatolia. Barcın Höyük still exists, but it is not listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Neolithic sites in Turkey provide a remarkable glimpse into the dawn of human civilisation and the transformative processes that shaped the world. The exploration of sites such as Göbekli Tepe, Çatalhöyük, and Hacılar reveals the ingenuity, social organisation, and artistic expressions of our Neolithic ancestors. These sites, among others in Turkey, offer valuable information about the development of agriculture, architecture, social organisation, and religious practices during the Neolithic period. They have significantly contributed to our understanding of prehistoric human cultures and their interactions with the environment.
UNESCO World Heritage Sites and the Criteria for Listing
To be included on the World Heritage List, sites must be of outstanding universal value and meet at least one out of ten selection criteria. These criteria are explained in the Operational Guidelines for the Implementation of the World Heritage Convention, which, besides the text of the Convention, is the main working tool on World Heritage. The criteria are regularly revised by the Committee to reflect the evolution of the World Heritage concept itself.
Until the end of 2004, World Heritage sites were selected based on six cultural and four natural criteria. With the adoption of the revised Operational Guidelines for the Implementation of the World Heritage Convention, only one set of ten criteria exists.
UNESCO World Heritage Site listings are subject to evaluation and change, and some sites may be under consideration for future inclusion. For the latest information, it’s best to check the UNESCO website for Turkey at: https://whc.unesco.org/en/statesparties/tr
Explanation – What was Anatolia?
In the previous section, you will have noticed that I mentioned ‘Anatolia’. It was the region corresponding to modern-day Turkey and played a significant role in the Neolithic Revolution, a transformative period in human history characterised by the transition from a hunter-gatherer lifestyle to settled farming communities. Some key aspects of Anatolia’s role in the Neolithic Revolution are:
- Early Domestication: Anatolia is considered one of the earliest locations for plant and animal domestication. It is believed that early agricultural practices, such as the cultivation of crops like wheat, barley, lentils, and the domestication of animals like sheep, goats, and cattle, were developed in the fertile regions of Anatolia.
- Development of Sedentary Life: The transition from nomadic hunter-gatherer societies to settled farming communities is a defining feature of the Neolithic Revolution. Anatolia witnessed the establishment of some of the earliest permanent settlements, including Çatalhöyük and Göbekli Tepe, which provided evidence of sedentism and the beginnings of agriculture.
- Cultural Innovation: Anatolia was a region of cultural innovation during the Neolithic period. Sites like Çatalhöyük, located in central Anatolia, demonstrated complex social organisation, advanced architecture, and artistic expression. The rich archaeological findings in Anatolia have contributed to our understanding of early farming communities and their cultural practices.
- Technological Advancements: The Neolithic Revolution in Anatolia saw the development of new technologies and innovations to support agricultural practices. These included using stone tools for farming, pottery for storage and cooking, and building permanent structures for dwellings and communal activities.
- Trade and Exchange: Anatolia’s geographic location, with access to both the Mediterranean Sea and the Eurasian landmass, facilitated trade and exchange with neighbouring regions and played a crucial role in the spread of agricultural practices and the development of complex societies in Anatolia.
Anatolia’s role in the Neolithic Revolution is notable for its early agricultural practices, the establishment of permanent settlements, cultural innovation, technological advancements, and participation in trade networks. The region’s contributions to the Neolithic Revolution have shaped the development of human civilisation and the subsequent history of Anatolia and the surrounding areas.
What was the Purpose of Neolithic Sites
The exact purpose of Neolithic sites in Turkey remains a subject of ongoing research and debate among archaeologists. However, based on the available evidence, several theories have emerged regarding their functions. It is important to note that different sites may have had different purposes, and our understanding of these sites continues to evolve as fresh discoveries are made. Some commonly discussed theories regarding the purpose of Neolithic sites in Turkey are:
- Ritual and Religious Centres: Many researchers believe that some Neolithic sites, such as Göbekli Tepe, served as important ritual and religious centres. The monumental structures, intricate carvings, and the presence of T-shaped pillars at Göbekli Tepe suggest that it may have been a site of communal gatherings and religious ceremonies. These sites could have played a role in the spiritual and symbolic practices of the Neolithic communities.
- Social and Communal Gatherings: Neolithic sites may have also functioned as communal gathering places where people came together for various social, economic, and cultural activities. The layout of settlements like Çatalhöyük, with its interconnected houses and absence of streets, suggests a tightly-knit community. These sites might have served as hubs for trade, exchange of goods, communal feasting, and other social interactions.
- Agricultural and Economic Centres: As agriculture played a crucial role in the Neolithic transition, some sites likely served as agricultural and economic centres. Evidence of early cultivation and domestication practices found at places like Hacılar indicates the importance of agriculture in these communities. These settlements may have served as hubs for food production, storage, and trade, supporting the growing agricultural economy of the time.
- Burial Sites and Ancestor Worship: Some Neolithic sites contain evidence of burials and funerary practices, suggesting that they may have held religious or ceremonial significance related to ancestor worship. The presence of burial grounds and burial rituals at certain sites indicates a belief in the afterlife and reverence for the deceased ancestors.
These theories are not mutually exclusive, and Neolithic sites likely had multifaceted functions, serving as hubs for various activities and fulfilling different roles within their respective communities. Further excavation, analysis, and interdisciplinary studies are necessary to unravel the complex purposes and significance of these ancient sites in Turkey.
The ancient sites in Turkey hold complex purposes and significance that contribute to our understanding of human history and the development of civilisation. Some overarching aspects of their complexity and importance are:
- Cultural and Historical Significance: Neolithic sites in Turkey provide a wealth of information about the cultural practices, social organisation, and technological advancements of early human societies. They offer a glimpse into our ancestors’ daily lives, beliefs, and achievements, shedding light on their cultural heritage and the foundations of civilisation.
- Technological Advancements: Neolithic sites reveal technological advancements crucial for transitioning from a hunter-gatherer lifestyle to settled farming communities. The development of agriculture, domestication of plants and animals, construction techniques, and pottery production are among the technological achievements showcased at these sites.
- Urban Planning and Architectural Innovations: Certain Neolithic sites, such as Çatalhöyük, exhibit early examples of urban planning and architectural innovations. The intricate layout of interconnected houses, the absence of streets, and the presence of shared spaces suggest sophisticated community organisation.
- Artistic Expressions and Symbolism: Neolithic sites often feature remarkable creative expressions, such as wall paintings, carvings, and sculptures. These artworks depict various aspects of daily life, animals, and mythical creatures. They provide a glimpse into the aesthetic sensibilities, symbolic representations, and belief systems of the time.
- Social and Economic Dynamics: The study of Neolithic sites in Turkey also helps unravel the social and economic dynamics of early human communities. Analysis of settlement patterns, distribution of resources, trade networks, and burial practices provides insights into the social hierarchy, economic systems, and intercommunity relationships of the time.
- Revision of Historical Narratives: The discoveries made at Neolithic sites in Turkey have challenged and revised established historical narratives. Sites like Göbekli Tepe, which predate other monumental structures by thousands of years, have reshaped our understanding of the development of complex societies and the chronology of human cultural achievements.
In summary, the complex purposes and significance of ancient sites in Turkey encompass their cultural and historical value, technological advancements, urban planning, artistic expressions, social and economic dynamics, and their role in revising our understanding of human history. By studying and preserving these sites, we gain a deeper appreciation for our shared past and the intricate tapestry of human civilisation.
The Cultural and Historical Value of Turkey’s Neolithic Sites
Specific examples of the cultural and historical value, as well as technological advancements, associated with Neolithic sites in Turkey.
- Göbekli Tepe: Göbekli Tepe is renowned for its massive stone pillars, some weighing up to 50 tons, arranged in circular formations. The carvings on these pillars depict various animals and mythical creatures. The significance of Göbekli Tepe lies in its challenging of previously held notions about the development of civilisation. The site predates other known monumental structures by thousands of years, suggesting that complex social and religious practices existed earlier than previously believed.
- Çatalhöyük: Çatalhöyük is a remarkable Neolithic settlement characterised by its densely packed mud-brick houses, with roofs serving as walkways. The site provides valuable insights into early urban planning and community organisation. Intricate wall paintings found in the homes depict scenes of daily life, hunting, and spiritual beliefs, offering glimpses into the cultural practices and symbolism of the time.
- Hacılar: Hacılar is known for its well-preserved mud-brick houses, complete with hearths, storage areas, and intricate wall paintings. Excavations at Hacılar have revealed evidence of advanced agricultural practices, including the early cultivation of cereals and domestication of animals. The site provides insights into early agricultural techniques and the socio-economic structures of Neolithic communities.
These examples highlight the specificity of each site and the unique contributions they make to our understanding of ancient cultures. Göbekli Tepe challenges traditional timelines and suggests the presence of complex social and religious systems earlier than previously thought. Çatalhöyük showcases innovative urban planning and artistic expressions, providing glimpses into its inhabitants’ daily lives and beliefs. Hacılar offers valuable evidence of early agricultural practices and their impact on the socio-economic organisation of the community.
While the interpretation of these sites is subject to ongoing research and debate, their specific features and discoveries contribute to our understanding of cultural practices, technological advancements, and historical developments during the Neolithic period in Turkey.
Buildings made of Mud-Bricks
When referring to mud-brick construction, it is commonly synonymous with adobe. Adobe is a traditional building material made from a mixture of clay, sand, water, and organic materials such as straw or animal dung. This mixture is formed into bricks or blocks and then left to dry and harden in the sun.
While mud-brick structures are susceptible to damage from certain weather conditions, their survival over thousands of years can be attributed to several factors:
- Natural Environment: The natural environment in certain regions, such as parts of Turkey, can be conducive to preserving mud-brick structures. Factors like low rainfall, minimal seismic activity, and suitable soil types can contribute to the long-term survival of these structures.
- Construction Techniques: Skilled construction techniques played a crucial role in enhancing the durability of mud-brick structures. Properly compacted and well-dried adobe bricks can withstand some level of moisture and temperature variations. Additionally, certain design elements, such as overhanging roofs or raised foundations, can protect against direct exposure to rain and other weather elements.
- Repair and Maintenance: Throughout their use and occupation, ancient communities would have maintained and repaired their mud-brick structures. Regular maintenance, including re-plastering with mud or applying protective coatings, would have helped mitigate damage caused by weathering.
- Burial and Natural Accumulation: In some cases, the preservation of mud-brick structures can be attributed to layers of sediment or debris that accumulate naturally over time, providing a protective covering against weathering agents.
- Archaeological Excavation and Preservation Efforts: In modern times, the discovery and excavation of ancient sites have allowed for the careful preservation and protection of mud-brick structures. Archaeologists and preservation experts employ techniques such as structural reinforcement, controlled excavation, and the application of protective coatings to safeguard these structures from further deterioration.
It is important to note that not all mud-brick structures have survived in their original form. Many archaeological sites require ongoing conservation efforts to protect them from erosion, moisture damage, and other environmental factors.
In general, the survival of mud-brick structures in different weather conditions is influenced by a combination of factors, including the natural environment, construction techniques, maintenance practices, burial, and preservation efforts undertaken by archaeologists and conservationists.
Understanding the Ancient sites and the People who built and used them
Our understanding of ancient sites and the people who built and used them is based on interpretations and inferences drawn from the available archaeological evidence. While we cannot have direct access to the thoughts, beliefs, and intentions of the individuals who lived in those ancient times, archaeologists employ scientific methodologies to study artefacts, structures, and other material remains left behind.
The people who built and used these ancient sites were diverse, ranging from hunter-gatherers and early farmers to Greeks, Romans, Hittites, and various other Anatolian and neighbouring civilisations. They left behind magnificent architectural wonders, artefacts, and insights into their religious, social, and cultural practices.
Archaeologists carefully excavate and analyse the artefacts, architecture, human remains, and environmental evidence found at these sites. They also draw upon comparative studies, ethnographic research, and historical records to provide context and make informed interpretations. However, it is important to acknowledge that interpretations and theories can evolve as new discoveries are made, and our understanding deepens.
Archaeologists often collaborate with experts from diverse fields, such as anthropology, sociology, history, and linguistics, to gain a more comprehensive understanding of ancient cultures and their practices. This multidisciplinary approach helps refine our interpretations and develop plausible theories about the cultural and historical value of these sites.
Additionally, researchers may have different interpretations and theories, leading to ongoing debates and discussions within the archaeological community. These debates help to refine our knowledge and challenge existing assumptions. While our understanding of ancient sites and the people who built them is not definitive, the collective body of archaeological research provides valuable insights and allows us to form educated hypotheses about the cultural, historical, and technological aspects of these sites.
Presenting a timeline is often a challenging exercise, and in doing so, for Turkey’s Neolithic past is no exception. I have therefore offered a simplified version first, followed by a more complex, detailed version. I hope it works for you.
- The presence of early hominids in the region dates back to around 1.2 million years ago.
- Evidence of Paleolithic cultures, including toolmaking and hunting, can be traced to this period.
- The Neolithic era in Turkey began around 10,000 BC.
- Early agricultural practices, such as the cultivation of crops and domestication of animals, emerged during this period.
- Notable Neolithic sites in Turkey, such as Göbekli Tepe, Çatalhöyük, and Hacılar, provide insights into early settled communities and their cultural practices.
- The Bronze Age in Turkey spanned from around 3000 BC to 1200 BC.
- During this period, the use of bronze, an alloy of copper and tin, became widespread, leading to significant advancements in metalworking and the development of complex societies.
- Notable civilisations of the Bronze Age in Turkey include the Hittites, who established the Hittite Empire, and the Mycenaeans.
- The Iron Age in Turkey began around 1200 BC and lasted until the 6th century BC.
- During this period, iron technology became prevalent, leading to significant advancements in agriculture, warfare, and trade.
- Various civilisations thrived during this time, including the Hittites, Phrygians, Lydians, Ionians and Urartians.
- The Classical Period in Turkey is commonly associated with ancient Greek and Hellenistic influences.
- Starting in the 6th century BC, Greek city-states, such as Athens and Sparta, established colonies and exerted cultural and political influence in the region.
- Alexander the Great’s conquests in the 4th century BC brought about the Hellenistic period, which blended Greek and local cultures.
Roman and Byzantine Periods:
- From the 1st century BC to the 4th century CE, Anatolia (present-day Turkey) was under Roman rule, followed by the Byzantine Empire (aka the Eastern Roman Empire) until the 13th century AD.
- Numerous Roman and Byzantine cities were established, and Christianity became a prominent religion during this period.
- Notable sites include Ephesus, Hierapolis, and Constantinople (now Istanbul).
Seljuk and Ottoman Empires:
- The Seljuk Empire, a Turkic Muslim dynasty, rose to prominence in the 11th century and ruled over parts of Anatolia.
- The Seljuks were later succeeded by the Ottoman Empire, which expanded across Anatolia, the Balkans, and the Middle East.
- The Ottoman Empire peaked in the 16th and 17th centuries and lasted until the early 20th century, shortly after the end of World War I.
- The modern Republic of Turkey was founded in 1923 under the leadership of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk following the collapse of the Ottoman Empire.
- Turkey underwent significant political, social, and cultural transformations in the 20th century, adopting a secular and Western-oriented identity.
The simplified timeline provides a broad overview of the major periods and events in the history of Turkey, from ancient times to the present. It is important to note that historical periods often overlap, and there are numerous nuances and complexities within each era.
MORE DETAILED AND COMPLEX TIMELINE
Here is a more detailed and complex timeline that covers major periods and events in the history of Turkey:
- 1.2 million years ago: Presence of early hominids in the region.
- Palaeolithic Era: Evidence of toolmaking, hunting, and gathering.
- 10,000 BC: Beginning of the Neolithic era in Turkey.
- Göbekli Tepe (9600-8000 BC): Construction of monumental stone structures.
- Çatalhöyük (7500-5700 BC): Flourishing Neolithic settlement with intricate architecture and wall paintings.
- Hacılar (7000-5500 BC): Well-preserved site showcasing early agricultural practices.
- 5500-3000 BC: Transition period between the Neolithic and Bronze Ages.
- Development of metalworking techniques using copper and gold.
- Early Bronze Age (3000-2000 BC): Emergence of urban centres and city-states.
- Hittite Empire (1600-1178 BC): Formation of a powerful Anatolian kingdom.
- Late Bronze Age (1600-1200 BC): Trade and cultural connections with Mycenaean Greece and other civilisations.
- Iron Age I (1200-900 BC): Decline of the Hittite Empire and the emergence of the Hittites, Phrygians, Urartians, Ionians and Lydians.
- Iron Age II (900-600 BC): Rise of the Neo-Hittite kingdoms and expansion of Greek colonisation.
- Achaemenid Empire (546-333 BC): Persian rule over Anatolia.
- Greek City-States (6th-4th century BC): Establishment of Greek colonies and cultural influence.
- Alexander the Great (334-323 BC): Conquest of Anatolia and spread of Hellenistic culture.
- Seleucid Empire (312-64 BC): Hellenistic kingdom ruling over parts of Anatolia.
Roman and Byzantine Periods:
- Roman Rule (1st century BC – 4th century AD): Incorporation of Anatolia into the Roman Empire.
- Byzantine Empire (4th-13th century AD): Adoption of Christianity as the state religion and construction of iconic buildings, such as Hagia Sophia.
- Arab-Byzantine Wars (7th 8th century AD): Conflict with the Arab Caliphates.
Seljuk and Ottoman Empires:
- Seljuk Empire (11th 13th century AD): Turkic Muslim dynasty ruling over Anatolia.
- Mongol Invasions (13th century AD): Destruction and fragmentation of Seljuk power.
- Ottoman Empire (14th century AD – 1922): Rise of the Ottoman Turks, expansion across Anatolia, the Balkans, and the Middle East.
- Fall of Constantinople (1453): Ottoman conquest of Constantinople, marking the end of the Byzantine Empire.
- Republic of Turkey (1923-present): Founding of modern Turkey under Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, secularisation, and Westernisation efforts.
- World War I (1914-1918) and Turkish War of Independence (1919-1923): Struggle for independence against Allied forces.
- Modernisation and reforms in various sectors, including education, law, and women’s rights.
This detailed timeline provides a broader scope of major periods and events in the history of Turkey, spanning from prehistoric times to the modern era. It showcases the complexity and diversity of historical developments in the region.
History of Turkey
There follows an overview of the history of Turkey, highlighting key aspects for each category I have shown:
- Geography: Turkey, officially known as the Republic of Turkey, is a transcontinental country located at the crossroads of Europe and Asia. It spans an area known as Anatolia in Western Asia and a smaller portion called Eastern Thrace in southeastern Europe. The country is bordered by eight countries with coastlines along the Mediterranean, Aegean, and Black Seas. Its diverse geography includes mountain ranges such as the Taurus and Pontic Mountains, fertile plains like the Central Anatolian Plateau, and river systems including the Tigris and Euphrates.
- Ancient Peoples and Civilisations: Anatolia has been home to numerous ancient peoples and civilizations throughout history. Some notable ancient civilisations include the Hittites, Phrygians, Lydians, Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Seljuks, and Ottomans. These civilisations have left a lasting impact on the cultural, architectural, and historical heritage of the region.
- Culture and Society: Turkey’s culture is a rich blend of various influences, owing to its strategic location and historical interactions. It reflects elements of Turkic, Greek, Persian, Arab, and European cultures. Turkish cuisine, famous for dishes such as kebabs, baklava, and Turkish tea, showcases its culinary heritage. Traditional arts and crafts, including carpet weaving, ceramics, calligraphy, and music, contribute to the vibrant cultural scene.
- Religion and Beliefs: Turkey has a diverse religious landscape. Islam is the dominant religion, with most people adhering to Sunni Islam. The country is also home to various other religious communities, including Alevism, Christianity, Judaism, and Yazidism. Istanbul, historically known as Constantinople, was an important centre for Christianity during the Byzantine era.
- Flora and Fauna: Turkey’s varied geography supports diverse flora and fauna. The country is home to various ecosystems, including forests, steppes, wetlands, and coastal areas. Notable animal species found in Turkey include the Anatolian leopard, brown bear, wild boar, grey wolf, and various bird species. The country’s rich biodiversity is preserved through national parks and protected areas.
- Modern Turkey: Following the fall of the Ottoman Empire, modern Turkey emerged as a secular republic in 1923 under the leadership of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. Atatürk implemented a series of reforms, including the adoption of a Latin-based alphabet, the secularisation of the state, and promotion of women’s rights. Turkey has experienced significant modernisation, economic development, and urbanisation in recent decades.
Turkey is home to numerous Neolithic sites providing valuable insights into the early human settlements and cultural developments of the region. The Neolithic period, also known as the New Stone Age, lasted from around 10,000 BC to 2,000 BC and marked a significant transition in human history, characterised by the shift from hunting and gathering to settled farming communities.
The exploration of Turkey’s Neolithic past reveals a fascinating journey into the origins of human civilisation and the transformative processes that shaped our world. Through the study of notable Neolithic sites, such as Göbekli Tepe, Çatalhöyük, and Hacılar, the world has gained invaluable insights into the cultural, technological, and social advancements of early settled communities.
The Neolithic period, characterized by the transition from a nomadic hunter-gatherer lifestyle to settled farming communities, marked a pivotal moment in human history. Turkey’s Neolithic sites provide a window into the lives, beliefs, and accomplishments of our ancestors, shedding light on their cultural heritage and the foundations of civilisation.
These sites have revealed remarkable achievements in various aspects. Architecturally, the monumental stone structures of Göbekli Tepe challenge previously held notions about the development of complex societies, indicating the presence of intricate rituals and communal gatherings earlier than previously believed. Çatalhöyük, with its well-preserved mud-brick houses and detailed wall paintings, offers insights into early urban planning, social organisation, and artistic expressions of the time. Hacılar showcases advanced agricultural practices and the early domestication of animals, highlighting the significance of farming in these communities.
The cultural and historical value of Turkey’s Neolithic sites extends beyond their architectural and technological contributions. These sites have contributed to the revision of historical narratives, challenging established timelines and reshaping our understanding of human cultural achievements. They have also highlighted the importance of trade networks, social hierarchies, and religious practices in ancient societies.
While our understanding of ancient sites and the people who built and used them is based on interpretations drawn from archaeological evidence, ongoing research and interdisciplinary collaboration continue to refine our knowledge. Archaeologists, historians, and experts from various fields contribute to our evolving understanding of ancient cultures and their practices.
In preserving and studying Turkey’s Neolithic sites, we recognize the importance of safeguarding our cultural heritage and continuing research efforts to uncover further insights. These sites serve as tangible connections to our past, allowing us to understand the journey that has brought us to the present.
Turkey’s Neolithic sites offer a wealth of knowledge and a profound appreciation for the achievements and cultural legacy of our early ancestors. By studying and preserving these sites, we ensure that their stories endure and continue to inspire future generations.
What came after the Neolithic Era?
In this paper, I have provided information about several ancient settlements in Turkey, with innumerable ruins spread all over the country. While some ruins date back to Neolithic times, most were settlements of Hittites, Phrygians, Lydians, Ionians, Urartians and others, each contributing to Turkey’s rich history and culture. They were civilisations that existed in Turkey after the Neolithic era.
The Neolithic age in Turkey predates these civilisations, occurring roughly between 10,000 and 2,000 BC. During this period, early agricultural communities emerged in Anatolia, transitioning from hunter-gatherer lifestyles to settled farming communities. Afterwards, the above civilisations emerged and built upon the foundations laid in the Neolithic era.
Caption: Reconstruction of a Neolithic farmstead, Irish National Heritage Park. The Neolithic saw the invention of agriculture.
Attribution: Irish National Heritage Park Ferrycarrig by Jo Turner, CC BY-SA 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons
Page URL: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Irish_National_heritage_Park_Ferrycarrig_-_geograph.org.uk_-_3358912.jpg
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Sources and Further Reading
- Ancient Turkey, Hardcover – Illustrated, by Antonio Sagona (Author), Paul Zimansky (Author) 10 Mar. 2009, published by Routledge, available from: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Ancient-Turkey-Routledge-World-Archaeology/dp/0415289165
- Prehistory Decoded, Paperback, by Martin Sweatman (Author) 11 Dec. 2018, published by Troubador Publishing, available from: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Prehistory-Decoded-Martin-Sweatman/dp/178901638X/
- Ancient Turkey: A Traveller’s History, by Seton Lloyd, published by British Museum Press, 1992, available from: https://www.abebooks.co.uk/book-search/author/lloyd-seton/
- Ancient Civilizations And Ruins Of Turkey: From Prehistoric Times Until The End Of The Roman Empire, by Ekrem Akurgal, published by Haset Kitabevi 1973, available from: https://www.abebooks.co.uk/servlet/BookDetailsPL?bi=31236414092
- Religion, History, and Place in the Origin of Settled Life, Hardcover, by Ian Hodder (Author, Editor) 1 July 2018, published by University Press of Colorado, available from: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Religion-History-Place-Origin-Settled/dp/1607327368/
- The Goddess and the Bull: Catalhoyuk: An Archaeological Journey to the Dawn of Civilization, by Michael Balter, published by Free Press, 2004, available from: https://www.abebooks.co.uk/servlet/BookDetailsPL?bi=30874501740
- The Art of the Ancient Near East, by Seton Lloyd, published by Frederick A. Praeger, available from: https://www.abebooks.co.uk/servlet/BookDetailsPL?bi=30428469005
- The Neolithic in Turkey: New Excavations and New Research, Northwestern Turkey and Istanbul, Hardcover, by Mehmet Ozdogan (Editor), Nezih Basgelen (Editor), Peter Kuniholm (Editor) 31 Dec. 2013, published by Archaeology & Art Publications, available from: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Neolithic-Turkey-Central-Northwestern-Istanbul/dp/6053962317/
- Projectile Points, Hunting and Identity at Neolithic Çatalhöyük, Turkey: 3116 (British Archaeological Reports International Series), Paperback, by Lilian Dogiama (Author) 24 Feb. 2023, published by BAR Publishing, available from: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Projectile-Hunting-Identity-Neolithic-%C3%87atalh%C3%B6y%C3%BCk/dp/1407358243/
- Göbekli Tepe: The World’s Oldest Temple?, at: https://youtu.be/EhUIHsZXDCo
- Çatalhöyük: Life in an Ancient Settlement, at: https://youtu.be/nnPu-VWMt4w
- Çatalhöyük and the Origin of Villages (Neolithic Anatolia), at: https://youtu.be/JIR9wfxIB9I
- What was the Role of Anatolia in the Neolithic Revolution? at: https://youtu.be/ZguZMy4zJs8
- 9,500-Year-Old Ancient Settlement Discovered in Turkey: Sırçalıtepe | Ancient Architects. at: https://youtu.be/aN1vFCxuhkU
- Göbekli Tepe: Turkey Early Neolithic Ceremonial Centre, at: https://youtu.be/Fnv52TRkqxA
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End Notes and Explanations
- Source: Compiled from research using information at the sources stated throughout the text (substantially from various Wikipedia locations) , together with information provided by machine-generated artificial intelligence at: bing.com [chat] and https://chat.openai.com ↑
- Explanation: The Neolithic period is often referred to as the New Stone Age because it represents a significant transition in human history characterised by the development and widespread use of polished stone tools. During this period, humans shifted from using primarily primitive, rough-hewn stone tools to more advanced tools made from polished stones. The term “Neolithic” itself combines the Greek words “neo” (meaning new) and “lithos” (meaning stone). It was coined in the 19th century by archaeologists to describe this particular period of human cultural development. The use of polished stone tools during the Neolithic period marked a technological advancement and a departure from the earlier Paleolithic and Mesolithic periods, where tools were primarily made from unmodified or minimally modified stone flakes. The Neolithic period was a time of significant change for human societies. It marks the transition from a nomadic, hunter-gatherer lifestyle to settled farming and the domestication of plants and animals. The ability to cultivate crops and raise livestock revolutionized human society, leading to the establishment of permanent settlements, the development of agriculture, and the rise of complex social structures. In addition to the technological advancements in toolmaking, the Neolithic period also witnessed the emergence of pottery, weaving, and the construction of more permanent structures. The shift to agriculture and the domestication of plants and animals had a profound impact on human society, leading to population growth, the development of trade networks, the establishment of social hierarchies, and the emergence of more complex cultural and religious practices. By referring to this period as the “New Stone Age” or “Neolithic,” archaeologists highlight the transformative nature of this era and the significant advancements made by early human communities in terms of tool technology, subsistence strategies, and social organisation. ↑
- Source: https://whc.unesco.org/en/criteria ↑
- Explanation: The Neolithic Revolution, or the (First) Agricultural Revolution, was the wide-scale transition of many human cultures during the Neolithic
period from a lifestyle of hunting and gathering to one of agriculture and settlement, making an increasingly large population possible. These settled communities permitted humans to observe and experiment with plants, learning how they grew and developed. This new knowledge led to the domestication of plants into crops. Archaeological data indicates that the domestication of various types of plants and animals happened in separate locations worldwide, starting in the geological epoch of the Holocene 11,700 years ago. It was the world’s first historically verifiable revolution in agriculture. The Neolithic Revolution greatly narrowed the diversity of foods available, resulting in a downturn in the quality of human nutrition compared with that obtained previously from foraging, but because food production became more efficient, it released humans to invest their efforts in other activities and was thus “ultimately necessary to the rise of modern civilization by creating the foundation for the later process of industrialisation and sustained economic growth.” Cited at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neolithic_Revolution ↑
- Explanation: The Hittites were an ancient Anatolian civilization that flourished during the Late Bronze Age, from the 17th to the 12th century BC. They established their capital in Hattusa (present-day Boğazkale) and created a powerful empire covering a significant part of Anatolia and northern Syria. For further information, see: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hittites ↑
- Explanation: The Phrygians were an Iron Age civilisation that emerged in central and western Anatolia around the 10th century BC. They built their capital at Gordion (near modern-day Polatlı) and are known for their distinctive art style, including intricate stone reliefs and monumental rock-cut tombs. For further information, see: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phrygians ↑
- Explanation: The Lydians were an Iron Age civilisation that occupied western Anatolia, with their capital at Sardis (near modern-day Salihli). The Lydians are famous for their advancements in metallurgy, particularly the invention of coinage around the 7th century BC. For further information, see: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lydians ↑
- Explanation: The Ionians were an ancient Greek civilization that settled along the western coast of Anatolia during the Archaic period, starting around the 9th century BC. Cities like Miletus, Ephesus, and Priene were founded by Ionian Greeks, who made major contributions to Greek philosophy, literature, and science. For further information, see: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ionians ↑
- Explanation: The Urartians, also known as the Kingdom of Urartu, were an ancient kingdom that existed in the region of Lake Van and eastern Anatolia from the 9th to the 6th century BC. The Urartians were known for their impressive fortifications, irrigation systems, and rich artistic traditions. For further information,see: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Urartu ↑
- Explanation: The Hellenistic period covers the time in Mediterranean history after Classical Greece, between the death of Alexander the Great in 323 BC to the death of Cleopatra VII (30 BC followed by the emergence of the Roman Empire, as signified by the Battle of Actium in 31 BC and the conquest of Ptolemaic Egypt the following year. The Ancient Greek word Hellas (Ἑλλάς, Hellás) was gradually recognised as the name for Greece, from which the word Hellenistic was derived. “Hellenistic” is distinguished from “Hellenic” in that the latter refers to Greece itself, while the former encompasses all ancient territories under Greek influence, in particular the East after the conquests of Alexander the Great. Source and further information at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hellenistic_period ↑
- Explanation: Ephesus was an ancient port city whose well-preserved ruins are in modern-day Turkey. The city was once considered the most important Greek city and the most important trading centre in the Mediterranean region. Throughout history, Ephesus survived multiple attacks and changed hands many times between conquerors. It was a city in Ancient Greece on the coast of Ionia, 3 kilometres (1.9 mi) southwest of present-day Selçuk in İzmir Province, Turkey. It was built in the 10th century BC on the site of Apasa, the former Arzawan capital, by Attic and Ionian Greek colonists. During the Classical Greek era, it was one of twelve cities that were members of the Ionian League. The city came under the control of the Roman Republic in 129 BC. The city was famous in its day for the nearby Temple of Artemis (completed around 550 BC), which has been designated one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Its many monumental buildings included the Library of Celsus and a theatre capable of holding 24,000 spectators. Ephesus was the recipient city of one of the Pauline epistles; one of the seven churches of Asia addressed in the Book of Revelation in the Bible: the Gospel of John may have been written there; and it was the site of several 5th century Christian Councils (see Council of Ephesus). The city was destroyed by the Goths in 263. Although it was afterwards rebuilt, its importance as a commercial centre declined as the harbour was slowly silted up by the Küçükmenderes River. In 614, it was partially destroyed by an earthquake. Today, the ruins of Ephesus are a favourite international and local tourist attraction, being accessible from Adnan Menderes Airport and from the resort town Kuşadası. In 2015, the ruins were designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ephesus ↑
- Explanation: Hierapolis, lit. “Holy City” was originally a Phrygian cult centre of the Anatolian mother goddess of Cybele and later a Greek city. Its location was centred upon the remarkable and copious hot springs in classical Phrygia in southwestern Anatolia. Its extensive remains are adjacent to modern Pamukkale in Turkey. The hot springs have been used as a spa since at least the 2nd century BC, with many patrons retiring or dying there, as evidenced by the large necropolis filled with tombs, most famously that of Marcus Aurelius Ammianos, which bears a relief depicting the earliest known example of a crank and rod mechanism, and the Tomb of Philip the Apostle. It was added as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1988. Source and further information at:
- Explanation: Constantinople (see other names) became the capital of the Roman Empire upon the reign of Constantine I in 330. Following the collapse of the Western Roman Empire in the late 5th century, Constantinople remained the capital of the Eastern Roman Empire (also known as the Byzantine Empire; 330–1204 and 1261–1453), the Latin Empire (1204–1261), and the Ottoman Empire (1453–1922). Following the Turkish War of Independence, the Turkish capital then moved to Ankara. Officially renamed Istanbul in 1930, the city is today the largest city and financial centre of the Republic of Turkey. It is also the largest city in Europe. In 324, after the Western and Eastern Roman Empires were reunited, the ancient city of Byzantium was selected to serve as the new capital of the Roman Empire, and the city was renamed Nova Roma, or “New Rome”, by Emperor Constantine the Great. On 11th May 330, it was renamed to Constantinople, and dedicated to Constantine. Constantinople is generally considered to be the centre and the “cradle of Orthodox Christian civilization“. From the mid-5th century to the early 13th century, Constantinople was the largest and wealthiest city in Europe. The city became famous for its architectural masterpieces, such as Hagia Sophia, the cathedral of the Eastern Orthodox Church, which served as the seat of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, the sacred Imperial Palace where the emperors lived, the Hippodrome, the Golden Gate of the Land Walls, and opulent aristocratic palaces. The University of Constantinople was founded in the 5th century and contained artistic and literary treasures before it was sacked in 1204 and 1453, including its vast Imperial Library which contained the remnants of the Library of Alexandria and had 100,000 volumes. The city was the home of the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople and guardian of Christendom‘s holiest relics such as the Thorns and the True Cross. Cited at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Constantinople ↑
- Explanation: The Seljuk Empire, or the Great Seljuk Empire, was a high medieval, culturally Turco-Persian, Sunni Muslim empire, founded and ruled by the Qïnïq branch of Oghuz Turks. It spanned a total area of 3.9 million square kilometres (1.5 million square miles) from Anatolia and the Levant in the west to the Hindu Kush in the east, and from Central Asia in the north to the Persian Gulf in the south. The Seljuk Empire was founded in 1037 by Tughril (990–1063) and his brother Chaghri (989–1060), both of whom co-ruled over its territories; there are indications that the Seljuk leadership otherwise functioned as a triumvirate and thus included Musa Yabghu, the uncle of the aforementioned two. From their homelands near the Aral Sea, the Seljuks advanced first into Khorasan and into the Iranian mainland, where they would become largely based as a Persianate society. They then moved west to conquer Baghdad, filling up the power vacuum that had been caused by struggles between the Arab Abbasid Caliphate and the Iranian Buyid Empire. The subsequent Seljuk expansion into eastern Anatolia triggered the Byzantine–Seljuk wars, with the Battle of Manzikert in 1071 marking a decisive turning point in the conflict in favour of the Seljuks, undermining the authority of the Byzantine Empire in the remaining parts of Anatolia and gradually enabling the region’s Turkification. The Seljuk Empire united the fractured political landscape in the non-Arab eastern parts of the Muslim world and played a key role in both the First Crusade and Second Crusade; it also played an important part in the creation and expansion of multiple art forms during the period in which they had influence. By the 1140s, the Seljuk Empire began to decline in power and influence, and was eventually supplanted by the Khwarazmian Empire in 1194. Cited at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seljuk_Empire ↑