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"OH WATERS, TEEM WITH MEDICINE TO KEEP MY BODY SAFE FROM HARM, SO THAT I MAY LONG SEE THE SUN." - Rig Veda
Human remains discovered beneath the floors of mud-brick houses at one of the world's first permanent settlements, were not biologically related to one another, a finding that paints a new picture of life 9,000 years ago on a marshy plain in central Turkey.
Çatalhöyük covered 26 acres (10.5 hectares), and its people — estimated to be as many as 10,000 — would have made a living by growing crops and herding domesticated animals. It was built on a marshy plain in central Turkey.
Before Çatalhöyük, most people on the planet made their living as hunter-gatherers, moving around the landscape in order to survive. In the period after Çatalhöyük was founded, more agricultural settlements were created in the Middle East, paving the way for large cities and the birth of the first civilizations.
When archaeologists first dug up the site in the 1950s and '60s, they found that the settlement contained no streets. Its plastered mud-brick houses were bunched up against each other, and the inhabitants entered them by way of a ladder on the roof. Inside the homes, the people drew art on the walls and created spear points and pottery.
They found that the people buried beneath the floor of each house were, in general, not related to each other. With the possible exception of one building, this occurred throughout the entire site for as long as the settlement existed.
"It doesn't look as if there was a strong genetic component to determining who would be buried together," Pilloud said. The discovery suggests people living at Çatalhöyük were not tied to each other through strong bonds of kinship, she added.
"I'm not trying to argue that biological relationships would not have been perhaps meaningful to the people at Çatalhöyük," Pilloud said. But rather, biological kinship "wasn't the sole defining principle much like we presume it was in the hunter-gatherer era."
Each house may have had access to its own tools, hunting grounds, water sources and agricultural lands. The organization of each house at Çatalhöyük may have in fact encompassed several actual homes at the site.
The change from biological to more practically based bonds may have been the result of the Çatalhöyük people's move to adopt an urban lifestyle, based on agriculture. That could have altered their view of family relationships.