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Early FarmersThe View from Archaeology and Science$

Alasdair Whittle and Penny Bickle

Print publication date: 2014

Print ISBN-13: 9780197265758

Published to British Academy Scholarship Online: May 2015

DOI: 10.5871/bacad/9780197265758.001.0001

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Biographical Bodies

Biographical Bodies

Flesh and Food at Çatalhöyük

Chapter:
(p.233) 13 Biographical Bodies
Source:
Early Farmers
Author(s):

Jessica Pearson

Lynn Meskell

Publisher:
British Academy
DOI:10.5871/bacad/9780197265758.003.0013

Abstract and Keywords

The authors attempt a reconciliation of apparently disparate evidence types relating to the body at Çatalhöyük, Turkey (7400–6000 cal BC): palaeodietary reconstruction through stable carbon and nitrogen isotope analysis, and body imagery as represented in the figurines, buildings and burials. Approaches to the body tend to focus upon evidence confined to specific areas of expertise or by specialisation in archaeological practice. While some of these aspects have been socialised through the consideration of human remains as material culture, for example, very little attempt has been made to do so with non-visual skeletal evidence. This is especially true for stable isotopes, which are used to reconstruct diet from food signatures that are imprinted into the skeleton. The authors show that new studies of the anthropomorphic figurines, which now suggest an importance given to ageing and maturity are corroborated by data from stable isotope evidence of diet and the burial assemblage.

Keywords:   Çatalhöyük, palaeodiet, stable isotope analysis, body image, figurines, ageing, maturity

Introduction

IT HAS LONG BEEN ARGUED that the body is simultaneously a physical and social entity (Douglas 1978, 70). The social body can be been read as a symbolic representation and that representational reality ‘constrains the way the physical body is perceived’. We suggest here that these two realms, the physical body and the representational body, while distinct, need to be considered in tandem by archaeologists. These two types of bodies constitute different nodes of experience; the physical body is interpolated into social experience while the symbolic dimension of embodiment is understood via bodily physicality (Van Wolputte 2004). In this chapter we attempt to move back and forth between individual datasets that relate to the body at the Neolithic site of Çatalhöyük (7400–6000 cal BC) and their tacit interpretive strengths and limitations: carbon and nitrogen isotope analysis as evidence of diet, and figurines, plastered features and the burial assemblage as evidence of bodily representation.

Çatalhöyük was discovered in the 1950s and excavated between 1961 and 1965 by James Mellaart (1962, 1963, 1964, 1966) and more recently by Ian Hodder (2005). The site, which was inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2012, is particularly well known for its agglomerated architecture with rooftop entry, elaborate wall paintings, plastered reliefs and bucrania (Figure 13.1). A large number of figurines have been recovered including those that depict corpulent individuals. Once interpreted as evidence for a Mother Goddess cult (Mellaart 1967, Gimbutas 1989), new studies suggest other possible readings of the significance of flesh, ageing, maturity and longevity (Nakamura and Meskell 2009). Such concerns would have been long-lived and would have required regular maintenance and reinforcement in social settings, including household activities and commen-sality. Stable isotope evidence of diet at the site provides a direct link between individuals and their bodies by cataloguing the long-term regulations about food consumption through which individuals and groups invested in bodies. (p.234)

Biographical BodiesFlesh and Food at Çatalhöyük

Figure 13.1 Plan of Çatalhöyük, Turkey. Courtesy of the Çatalhöyük Research Project, 2012.

Food, flesh and social structures

The consumption of food at Çatalhöyük would have represented a significant investment in the body, one which can be identified by stable isotope analysis of physical bodies, and reaches far beyond the biological status such as diet or health of the skeleton (e.g. Fuller et al. 2010, Lösch et al. 2006). Food is an everyday necessity but the choices made concerning which meat or plants to eat, their methods of preparation and how these are distributed within a group mean that this necessity is also a carefully structured system of communication (Barthes 1997). Such practices form part of an embodied habitus (Bourdieu 1998), a ‘socially constituted system of cognitive and motivating structures’ which can be self-perpetuating and tends towards the reproduction of existing social systems (Shilling 1996, 129). This suggests that the adoption of the adage ‘you are what you eat’ by practitioners of stable isotope analysis relates not just to the biochemical makeup of the Çatalhöyük body, but also to the nuanced perspective that Brillat-Savarin (1825) and Feuerbach (1841) originally intended when this phrase was coined. Stable isotope measurements of human bones should provide a summary of the implementation of social structures over the period of bone formation (Pearson et al. 2013; see also White 2005), which represents perhaps a decade or more and only reveals the most (p.235) repetitious of food habits, such as daily meals, rather than less frequent episodes such as feasting.

The lived body is built from food. Protein in food, which is otherwise a poor source of energy (Speth 1983, Stefansson 1932), is used to build proteinaceous body tissues such as muscle, hair and nails but also bones, which can be sampled by archaeologists. Lipids and carbohydrates in the diet are metabolised for energy allowing the body to perform activities. If diets contain adequate amounts of protein and energy, extra protein can also be used to build up muscle. Adipose fat is deposited on the body when the energy ingested from food exceeds the energy spent on activities. Since protein is not a source of energy, the bodies at Çatalhöyük could only be enlarged beyond their basic musculoskeletal framework by consuming fats and sugars. Eating particular foods, therefore, creates specific physical body shapes and illustrates how food plays a central role in the constitution of corporeality. It is not clear at what point in history humans understood the connection between food and corpulence or that people consumed particular foods to deliberately generate a particular physical image. Therefore, we suggest that the inherent vulnerability and precariousness of the body as lived (Van Wolputte 2004) might be mitigated, ameliorated, or overcome through visual and material repertoires. At Çatalhöyük we suggest there was a preoccupation with rendering flesh and that this was inextricably linked with concomitant ideas of ageing, maturity and longevity. We suggest that this was not only materialised in the figural record (Nakamura and Meskell 2009), but also reflected in the burial assemblage (Nakamura and Meskell 2013) and the human remains themselves.

Fleshing out bodies

Instances of this recognition of bodily vulnerability are found in the treatment of particular bodies after death at Çatalhöyük. Given the practice of intramural burial at the site and the particular type of generational circulation and manipulation of bodies, we posit that the inhabitants were very familiar with bodily decay, physical partibility and the fragility of human remains. Various cultural strategies were employed to ameliorate these physical realities, the most obvious being the enhancement of the dead body through substances like plaster. Just as walls were repeatedly plastered and built up in layers to give them a new skin, so too were skeletal remains. In Building 49 a middle-aged female (sk. 14441) was buried with plaster applied to the lower legs, both feet, the lower left arm and right hand. Some of these bones were entirely encased in plaster. In the same building a child was also buried with plaster on the legs and feet. But the most dramatic example of this technique is the plastered skull (Hodder 2006) from Building 42 showing multiple layers of plaster applied to flesh out the life-like appearance of the head as a living, not deceased, person (Hodder 2007). Given the number of plasterings, (p.236) this skull was probably in circulation for a lengthy time. This concern with flesh as a living substance, mimicked by smoothed plasters, was a preoccupation that crossed the species divide as well. For example, in Building 77 (Figure 13.2) there is a burial platform with two pillars which have plastered horns extending from them, and above the platform there is a niche and a plastered calf skull embedded into the wall.

Both clay and plaster could have symbolised flesh, the former specifically for figurines and the latter for house installations and the walls or ‘skins’ of houses, as well as animal and human re-fleshing and revivifying. The colour, texture, softness, sheen, plasticity and ability to layer and smooth must have made plaster an evocative material. Given the qualities of plaster – that it protects, transforms and fortifies an underlying substructure – it is tempting to view the practice of plastering in terms of maintaining, building up, and indeed ‘enfleshing’ (Meskell 2008). Plaster provides the possibility to transform an individual beyond recognition and yet the use of plaster on the skull at Çatalhöyük is modest, suggesting a focus on reconstruction rather than transformation, a point also made by Fletcher et al. (2008) with respect to the plastered skulls of Jericho.

Figurines and plastered bucrania, animal remains and skulls all underwrite the tension between fleshed and skeletal bodies, which are mediated by practices such as plastering bucrania, human skulls and figurine production. This tension is materialised in a headless figurine (12401.X7; Figure 13.3) depicting a skeleton

Biographical BodiesFlesh and Food at Çatalhöyük

Figure 13.2 Building 77 showing plastered platform with horns and plastered calf skull embedded in the wall. Photo courtesy of L. Meskell.

(p.237)
Biographical BodiesFlesh and Food at Çatalhöyük

Figure 13.3 Figurine 12401.X7, showing a fleshed front and skeletonised back. Photo courtesy of the Çatalhöyük Research Project.

on the back and a corpulent female on the front. This figurine can be interpreted as representing that tension between flesh and bone and their attendant, complex associations with life, survival and vitality, and as emphasising that these figural bodies are indeed made, modified and unmade. Figurine makers sought to reconstitute the living body through plastering and painting, thus improving upon the bony scaffolding of bodies after death (Meskell 2008). These practices may be testament to a material concern for co-producing and rendering permanent ancestors by again improving upon the frailties of flesh.

Flesh, therefore, seemed to play a pivotal role in the life history of bodies at Çatalhöyük, whether human or animal. Because flesh is built from the food we eat, isotope analysis allow us to reconstruct which foods may have enhanced, or attempted to enhance, corpulence and whether diet varied according to sex, age or other social structure (Bentley et al. 2007, Barrett and Richards 2004). Gaining dietary information on males, females, younger adults and older members of the community enables us to address the issue of how the imaged individual and the lived individual might relate to one another. A central question has always been whether the examples of obese figurines could have in fact depicted real people. Nitrogen isotope data provide information about the varying proportions of meat and plants which people consumed as part of their regular diet, allowing us to identify which foods were involved (DeNiro and Epstein 1981, Hedges and Reynard 2007). Relatively high nitrogen isotope values would suggest greater consumption of higher trophic level foods (animal protein), whereas lower nitrogen isotope values would indicate greater consumption of lower trophic level foods (plants). Since corpulence cannot be generated through lean animal protein consumption (Speth 1983, Stefansson 1932), it would be those individuals with relatively low nitrogen isotope values that were more likely to have eaten significant amounts of plant resources and subsequently have had the potential for the deposition of unused (p.238) calories as adipose fat, whether this was deliberate or not. The degree to which different individuals consumed higher and lower trophic level resources can be inferred by their isotope profiles.

The stable carbon and nitrogen isotope analysis at Çatalhöyük now constitutes a large corpus of data about human diet and where possible uses fauna from middens directly associated with the houses beneath which the dead were buried (Pearson 2013). The mean isotope values for females (−18.8‰ and 12.6‰) and males (−18.6‰ and 12.7‰) are virtually identical, indicating that their diets were basically the same. This would suggest that differentiation in diet was not normally organised along gender lines, although there may have been exceptions. One individual, a young adult female (sk. 11665) from Building 44, has nitrogen isotope values lower than the mean of most inhabitants, suggesting that she may have eaten less meat and instead had a diet focused more on plant foods. Alternatively, she could have consumed meat from animals with lower mean nitrogen isotope values such as wild equids and boar (since sheep and aurochs/cattle have the highest nitrogen isotope values at the site) (Pearson 2013). In Building 56 (Figure 13.4), the skeleton of a middle-aged woman (sk. 12863) has a carbon isotope value of −18.3% (similar to the mean for all of the inhabitants), and a nitrogen isotope value of 13.3‰, which is 0.7‰ higher than average. Comparing these to the fauna from the associated midden, which has a combined mean nitrogen isotope value of 10.7‰, indicates that she probably had access to more meat from sheep and aurochs/cattle than the average inhabitant at the site.

Biographical BodiesFlesh and Food at Çatalhöyük

Figure 13.4 Isotope data from adults buried beneath buildings from the South Area (after Pearson 2013).

(p.239)
Biographical BodiesFlesh and Food at Çatalhöyük

Figure 13.5 Human isotope data according to age stage (young adults: 20–30 years; middle-aged adults: 30–40 years; older adults: 50 years +).

We also examined the possibility of dietary distinctions between individuals based on age (Figure 13.5). Comparing the isotope values of adults by age (younger adults: n = 11; middle-aged adults: n = 15; older adults: n = 17), our data show that younger adults had different diets compared to middle-aged and older adults. An independent samples 2 tailed Student’s t-test comparing the three groups shows the following levels of significance:

δ‎13C

δ‎15N

Younger adults versus middle-aged adults

p = <0.001

p = 0.419

Younger adults versus older adults

p = 0.001

p = 0.663

Middle-aged adults versus older adults

p = 0.450

p = 0.076

These data suggest that the carbon isotope values of the younger adults are significantly different from both the middle-aged and older adult individuals, while the values of middle-aged and older adults were not significantly different. No significant difference was observed in nitrogen isotope values in any age group. The carbon isotope data for the different age groups (younger adults: −19.1‰ middle-aged adults: −18.6‰ and older adults: −18.7‰) suggest that younger adults of both sexes had access to plants or animals from areas of the landscape with lower amounts of C4 plants (Pearson et al. 2007). Isotope characterisation of the faunal assemblage indicates that wild equids and boar had lower nitrogen isotope (p.240) values as well as lower concentrations of C4 plants in their diet than domestic animals. If the younger adults had the same amount of meat in their diet as middle-aged and older adults but from wild equids and boar, then we would expect the nitrogen isotope values of the younger adults to reflect the lower values in the animals they eat and have lower values themselves as a consequence. Since there is no significant difference in the nitrogen isotope values across the adult age groups, this suggests that younger adults consumed more wild meat than the middle-aged and older adults did from domestic animals. The evidence from dental pathologies indicates that increasing numbers of dental caries occurred in older individuals (more than would be expected by age alone), as the diet shifted from starch-rich to sugar-rich foods in later life (Hillson et al. 2013). This would support the hypothesis that younger adults consumed greater amounts of protein and thus help to explain the transition seen in the isotope data between younger and middle-aged/older adults. In terms of body weight, middle-aged and older adults of both sexes could thus be expected to be larger in body size, assuming they did not burn off the extra carbohydrates through activity.

The stable isotope and skeletal data suggest that age rather than sex was the primary axis of difference. The mean isotope values for females and males provide strong evidence that their diets were virtually identical. Larsen et al. (2013) and Hillson et al. (2013) also confirm that there is great similarity in both sexes in terms of overall health, physical development, stress, injury, other non-isotope indicators of diet, and both were generally robust and active, becoming more sedentary later in life. Such data render questionable older ideas, founded on representational readings of figurines, about obesity at the site, and at other Neolithic sites, predominantly focused on large women, and arguing, by extension, for matriarchy and Mother Goddesses. Instead, we argue that flesh was a culturally marked category that pertained to the entwined concepts of age, maturity and longevity, rather than gender, hierarchy and religion.

Flesh may serve as a material sign of longevity, good health, reliable access to food, sedentary lifestyles, and the ability to provide. The explicit roundness of numerous figurines may have tangibly rendered an ideal visual metaphor for abundance. We suggest that examination of the anthropomorphic figurines provides another avenue to explore the cultural significance of corporeality. Prior analysis of a subset of 455 anthropomorphic figurines and their bodily traits (Nakamura and Meskell 2009) reveals how Neolithic people marked their own preoccupations with bodily form. Nakamura and Meskell argue for a strong tendency for delineating and exaggerating the buttock and stomach regions in the non-gendered and female figurines. The emphasis of the buttocks and stomachs was typically at the expense of other bodily characteristics such as limbs and sometimes even breasts. While breasts were the trait most commonly depicted (since both males and females have them), the stomach and buttocks received the most exaggeration. This phenomenon was characterised as the Three Bs: breasts, buttocks and bellies (Table 13.1). These (p.241)

Table 13.1 Groups of bodily trait occurrences (after Nakamura and Meskell 2008)

Grouped traits

Number

Grouped traits

Number

3Bs

17

Breasts + other traits

24

Br-Bu-Be

4

Br

15

Br-Bu-Be-F-N

4

Br-\He

3

Br-Bu-Be-\He-N

2

Br-\He-F

1

Br-Bu-Be-\He

2

Br-F-C/A

1

Br-Bu-Be-F

1

Br-N

1

Br-Bu-Be-N

1

Br-C/A

1

Br-Bu-Be-H/C-PT

1

Br-H/C

1

Br-Bu-Be-C/A

1

Br-Ph

1

2Bs

16

Head elaboration

8

Bu-Be

5

H/C

4

Br-Bu

3

PM/Ha

3

Br-Bu-N

2

Pha

1

Br-Be-N

2

H/C-C/A

1

Br-Be

1

Br-Be-\He-F-n

1

Sex traits

2

Br-Bu-H/C

1

Ph-PT

1

PT

1

Buttocks + other traits

7

Bu

4

Body adornment

2

Bu-\He

3

Headless

2

Belly + other traits

3

Be

1

Fingers

2

Be-Pha

1

Be-\He-N

1

Beard

2

Key to codes

Code

Feature

Code

Feature

Br

Breasts

C/A

Clothing/body adornment

Bu

Buttocks

PM/Ha

Puncture marks/hair

Be

Belly

H/C

Hair/cap

N

Navel

FHE

Folded head element

PT

Pubic triangle

PHe

Pointed head

F

Fingers

Bd

Beard

PHa

Parted hair

Ph

Phallus

\He

Headless

are the fleshiest parts of the body, where excess energy from the diet accumulates as fat and where the body can manifest distinctive visual signs of ageing or maturity.

The combined visual emphasis on breasts, buttocks and stomachs has prompted scholars to interpret these figurines as emblems of fertility or pregnancy. However, these features are depicted in a manner that is not suggestive of fertility, but rather of the ageing body (Nakamura and Meskell 2009; see also Voigt 2007, Meskell 2007). When depicted, these bodily features are typically flattened, drooping and (p.242) angular rather than robust and rounded in shape, as one might expect of a healthy pregnant female (Figure 13.6). This led us to consider the non-generative aspect of figurines (Nakamura and Meskell 2009, 226), and since so many anthropomorphic figurines were intentionally left un-gendered, it would be incorrect to assume that all corpulent figurines are female.

Mary Voigt (2007) has similarly drawn attention to this preoccupation at Hacilar (c. 6000 cal BC) in regard to 76 clay and stone figurines from Level VI. She too notes the predilection for drooping stomachs and accentuated buttocks. She argues that they represent bodies worn by work and childbirth, and as such these were ordinary women that served as models for adult roles within the society. Indeed elders might have supervised and safeguarded the transmission of socio-economic skills: some individuals gaining more renown than others and thus attaining social position. Yet as they aged they may have become increasingly confined to the house both in a practical sense and in the sense of becoming guardians of the goods, skills, capacities and identities stored therein (Hodder and Pels 2010, 183).

We should also consider what Neolithic makers chose not to represent. For example, images of pregnancy, childbirth, or the portrayal of children in either two or three dimensions are all but absent across the site. If fertility were the main fixation for image production, we might expect to see children play a much more visible role. In terms of physical evidence for fertility, it is difficult to determine the average number of births that occurred at Çatalhöyük. We can look to evidence (p.243)

Biographical BodiesFlesh and Food at Çatalhöyük

Figure 13.6 Assemblage of figurines showing emphasised buttocks, flattened or drooping breasts and stomachs. Photo courtesy of the Çatalhöyük Research Project and Jason Quinlan.

of weaning to provide an indirect measure, since the transition from exclusive breastfeeding to the first introduction of weaning foods provides us with an idea of when breastfeeding may have dropped sufficiently to enable ovulation. Evidence from nitrogen and carbon isotope data from females and infants suggests that women at Çatalhöyük (Pearson 2013) practised a programme of exclusive breastfeeding and weaning which was similar to other Neolithic sites in Anatolia (Pearson et al. 2010) and in later periods in other parts of the world (e.g. Dupras and Tocheri 2007, Waters-Rist et al. 2011). This suggests that there was nothing remarkable about the practice of breastfeeding and weaning that would have caused fewer births and thereby resulted in concerns about fertility that may have been emphasised in the figural imagery.

Biographical burials: age and maturity

The burial assemblage is another dataset that reinforces the idea that ageing and maturity were valued and that biographical elements were accrued through the lifecourse and constituted part of individual bodies and identities. Just as isotope values from bone reveal a cumulative biography of individual life choices and corporeal history, since isotope values in human bone are generated through repetitive practice and thus literally written on the body as a diet history, so too does the burial assemblage. For the people of Çatalhöyük, the objects placed with them at burial also reveal their biographies and are testament to their ability to survive and accumulate over their lifecourse.

During excavations from 1995 to 2008, some 456 objects and 6252 beads from 244 Neolithic burial features were recovered. Objects found directly associated with individuals include over 40 kinds of tools, personal adornments and other objects; these include jewellery, incised tusks, claws, shells, chipped stone, clay balls, ground stone, baskets, lumps of pigment, textiles, wood, lumps of plaster and worked bone (Nakamura and Meskell 2013). Most individuals, however, received no burial goods whatsoever during the Neolithic occupation of the site and those that did were typically meagre. Our analysis reveals that when burial goods are included with an individual they are drawn from life, rather than being a suite of objects specifically directed towards death or any notion of an afterlife.

Like many domains of life at Çatalhöyük, gender differentiation was not strongly marked in the burial assemblage. Both men and women are found with about 30 different types of artefact both directly and indirectly associated with the body. Of the most common occurrences we find beads, pigment, and worked bone with both male and females, although beads and pigment are found more frequently with females. From an extensive analysis of burial artefacts we suggest that age, not gender, may in fact be the most salient structuring principle. Neonates and infants were buried with matting, baskets and occasionally burial goods. The objects gifted (p.244) to children were indeed similar to those placed with mature and older adults. Adolescents, on the other hand, rarely received burial items and when they did so it was only beads and bone pins. It was the adults, specifically older individuals, who acquired the most complex and biographically rich burials (Nakamura and Meskell 2013). This may extend beyond a simple expression of their technical skill, to encompass ritual or ancestral prowess, and to reference wider connections in the landscape and even human–animal relationships. Significantly, many of these objects interred with older individuals have an accumulated history of use.

Similar to the figural evidence, the burial assemblage also hints at the salience of maturity as a concept and life stage. Longevity and survival were probably markers of status and this is bolstered by the few burials that contain the most diverse, elaborated and biographical objects such as those from Building 50, especially two older individuals (sks. 10829 and 10813) who lived beyond 50 years of age. Skeleton 10829 (Figure 13.7) is an older female, buried with her legs drawn up to the chest and her arms extended along the body towards the pelvis. Three incised boar tusks lay on the upper body, similar to one which Mellaart found in another female burial in house VII.12 (Mellaart 1967, Pl. 98). These tusks may have been worn as jewellery or attached to a garment (Russell et al. 2004). The fact that the only other example has been found with an adult woman, at roughly the same time period (South mound), and strikingly, in a directly adjacent building, suggests a marked connection. This co-occurrence might signify a shared identity, age cohort, ritual affiliation or other grouping. Lastly, a string of bone and stone beads was placed on her upper chest and she wore an anklet made of mock deer canine beads. In the same building, an older man (sk. 10813, Figure 13.8) was buried on his back with his arms and legs falling to the right side. The legs are drawn up against the chest, and the arms folded upon the right shoulder. There are a number of directly associated artifacts such as a bone hook that was placed on his chest (10813.x1). The hook was made by shaping and perforating the caudal end of an otherwise unmodified left aurochs premaxilla (Russell et al. 2004). It is very similar to another item described by Mellaart (1962, Pl. VI) as being ‘carved in the form of a stork’s head’. Beneath the left leg and above the lower right ribs was a cluster of five flint tools (10813.x2–5) and one antler tool (10813.x6). Below the skeleton, reddish brown discolorations were observed that might be interpreted as residues of textiles. Taken together, this unique concentration of tools and equipment may hint at the man’s activities and skills acquired during his lifetime. Longevity, as Caspari and Lee argue (2004, 10895), may be necessary for the transgenerational accumulation and transfer of information which allow for complex social networks that are uniquely human. There is no reason to suppose that such a hypothesis does not extend to the transmission of important objects, some of which are eventually included in burials.

Stable carbon and nitrogen isotope values from human bone collagen have the ability, as we have shown here, to reveal whether food was used in daily life to (p.245)

Biographical BodiesFlesh and Food at Çatalhöyük

Figure 13.7 Skeleton 10829 with associated finds, courtesy of Scott Haddow and Camilla Mazzucato.

(p.246)
Biographical BodiesFlesh and Food at Çatalhöyük

Figure 13.8 Skeleton 10813 with associated finds, courtesy of Scott Haddow and Camilla Mazzucato.

reinforce social structures, because bone collagen isotope values are compiled from diets consumed over many years. The variations in carbon and nitrogen isotope values observed at Çatalhöyük, which indicate different diets between younger and middle-aged/older adults, could only have been achieved through repeatedly eating particular foods on a regular, probably daily, basis. These data are not evidence of (p.247) one-off feasts and neither do they represent the objects chosen by the community to include with the dead. Instead bone collagen preserves evidence of the persistent nature with which some foods were reserved and consumed by certain people in the community while they were alive. Thus, these isotope data provide a complementary source of biographical information about the body. This suggests that food played both a nutritive and symbolic role in the lives of people at Çatalhöyük through a daily repetitious performance that reinforced long-established social identities, which were later confirmed in death through inclusion of increasing numbers of grave objects accumulated by older individuals.

Conclusion

We have shown here how the seemingly disparate archaeological evidence from figurines, plastered installations, burials and diet can be woven together to provide a deeper understanding of both the social and the physical realms of the body. We see repeatedly that age and maturity rather than gender and fertility were the structuring principles at the site. This lack of differentiation is a notable feature throughout the site, whether one is addressing diet and injury, or burial treatment such as head removal or even burial goods. Biological anthropology shows that the inhabitants were probably not obese as is often presumed based on the figural record. Instead these people were generally robust and active, becoming more sedentary with age. The isotope data show us that food sharing was divided based on age, with middle-aged and older individuals probably consuming less meat from domestic animals, than younger adults whose diet, it seems, contained more meat and was sourced from wild species. This pattern is also borne out in the burial assemblages by age cohort at the site; older individuals accrued the most diverse and biographical materials that were included at death. A particular attention to age, ageing and flesh is also observed in the representational sphere. Flesh and the practice of enfleshing were a preoccupation we see repeatedly throughout the life of the site in the building installations, plastered features, plastered skulls, figurines and other material culture.

Therefore, just as isotope profiles can reveal the biography of an individual’s life choices and circumstances, so too corporeal histories can be gleaned from material culture that circulated through the spheres of life and death at Çatalhöyük. Flesh was a material fact of life, particularly for the site’s elders, imbued with qualities of endurance and maturity, possibly even with associations of knowledge and skill. Flesh was obviously a bodily necessity during life and similarly needed to be materially sustained after death. Important individuals, both human and animal, were subject to these special acts of enfleshing. Figurines too reflected these bodily preoccupations and priorities, regardless of gender categories. Taken together this new perspective challenges older notions about matriarchy, gender (p.248) hierarchies and the privileging of female fertility. While we have only hinted at the possibilities here, future collaboration and interdisciplinary work continue to weave together and interpret these diverse threads of evidence.

Acknowledgements

Many people have been instrumental in helping with our research. We would particularly like to thank Ian Hodder, Carrie Nakamura, Shahina Farid, Clark Larsen, Simon Hillson, Sabrina Agarwal, Scott Haddow, Camilla Mazzucato, Jason Quinlan, Nerissa Russell, Kathy Twiss and Amy Bogaard.

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Proceedings of the British Academy 198, 233–50. © The British Academy 2014.