Çatal Höyük, the archology of mind and gender equality

Çatal Höyük was a very large Neolithic proto-city settlement in southern Anatolia, which existed from approximately 7100 BC to 5700 BC, and flourished around 7000 BC. It is one amazing settlement, mostly because it is unique when it comes to early cities. To begin with, the settlers had originally been egalitarian hunter-gatherers who had a primitive agriculture, domesticated sheep and corresponding tools, but otherwise, it was very different from other early cities:

  • Men and women had equal rights, same foods, same burials, etc.
  • No supreme male god, but a prominent female goddess
  • No human or animal sacrifice
  • No differentiation by status
  • The city wasn’t surrounded by walls

The houses had no doors; people entered via a ladder from the roof. People used other people’s dwellings as streets. This would be unthinkable in a farmer city, as farmers would build fences and walls around their property and take out their guns, er, their clubs if a foreigner tried to pass through their property.

The city had a population of about 8.000 residents, which means there must have some kind of leadership. Whatever it was, it wasn’t patriarchal. The importance of the mother goddess(see image) has given rise to speculation that social organisation in Çatal Höyük was matriarchal. However, there is little real evidence for that:

Catalhoyuk was a place where true gender equality flourished. An examination of male and female skeletons show that both sexes ate the same diet, performed the same work, and spent the same amount of time outdoors. In life, they inhabited the same physical space; in death they were given the same kind of burials. There is no evidence for either a patriarchal or matriarchal system. In Catalhöyük a woman’s biology was not her fate ( )

It would be great to see Çatal Höyük as evidence that true gender equality is possible everywhere. However, I have argued that people have either more early farmer genes or more hunter-gatherer genes (kept partially apart by assortative mating). If true, it means we have inborn instincts towards being egalitarian (hunter-gatherer types) or towards being hierarchy and status-oriented (farmer-herder types).

The female goddess of Çatal Höyük was an egalitarian forager type. One indicator of this are her sideway oriented (east-west) breasts (google , in case you are incredulous ):

Women in farmer societies have typically more forward facing breasts and almost all depictions of breast from farmer societies are like that:

The two takeaways here are:

  1. Women will have to continue to fight for equal rights as the majority of people are farmer-herder types (about 75%).
  2. If a guy marries a woman with east-west breasts he can be certain that she will expect him to treat her as an equal and he shouldn’t have a patriarchal mindset.

On a more serious note, evolutionary instincts can become outdated. We don’t live in agrarian societies anymore. Ergo there is no more need for outdated patriarchal instincts that evolved during the early neolithic.

Read more in my book Foragers, Farmers and Pastoralists : How three tribes have been shaping civilization since the Neolithic

Originally published at http://the-big-ger-picture.blogspot.com on June 27, 2021.