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A “Curious and Sometimes a Trifle Macabre Artistry”: Some Aspects of Symbolism in Neolithic Turkey

Ian Hodder and Lynn Meskell
Current Anthropology
Vol. 52, No. 2 (April 2011), pp. 235-263
DOI: 10.1086/659250
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1086/659250
Page Count: 29
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A “Curious and Sometimes a Trifle Macabre Artistry”
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Abstract

Comparison of two Turkish Neolithic sites with rich symbolism, Çatalhöyük and Göbekli, suggests widespread and long-lasting themes in the early settled communities of the region. Three major symbolic themes are identified. The first concerns an overall concern with the penis, human and animal, that allows us to speak of a phallocentrism in contrast to the widely held assumption that the early agriculturalists in the Middle East emphasized the female form, fertility, and fecundity. The second theme concerns wild and dangerous animals, even in sites with domesticated plants and animals, and particularly the hard and pointed parts of wild animals, such as talons, claws, horns, and tusks. We interpret this evidence in relation to providing food for large-scale consumption and the passing down of objects that memorialize such events within specific houses. The third theme is that piercing and manipulating the flesh were associated with obtaining and passing down human and animal skulls. The removal of human heads was also associated with symbolism involving raptors. Overall, we see a set of themes, including maleness, wild and dangerous animals, headlessness, and birds, all linked by history making and the manipulation of the body.

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