Writing Prompt
Annalee Newitz posits that the revolutionary concept of the doorway, as a physical marker between public and private life, forever changed the course of human social interactions. The cultivation of crops that lead to sedentary agriculture and the “Neolithic Revolution” helped to make possible this new conception of a world with an inside and an outside, as mediated by architecture. An important aspect of both the site at Göbekli Tepe and Çatalhöyük are the enormous amounts of evidence that have been discovered and excavated for clues about the past. As Klaus Schmidt tells Elif Batuman, “What we’re looking at—it’s material culture, we aren’t imagining things we can’t see.” Batuman goes on to write, “Imagination is always a projection: to guess how Neolithic people might have felt about anything was to assume, doubtless incorrectly, that they felt the way we would have felt about it. And yet, with no imagination at all, it’s difficult to see how any interpretation is possible.” Throughout Batuman’s article, she (an excellent fiction writer by trade) weaves in what may at first seem like irrelevant details: her cab driver, the commentary of the workmen at the site, and describes the trinkets for sale along the journey from one place to another in the contemporary age. She does this in an attempt to capture the newest ephemeral layers of the place, and in so doing, she also captures some of the absurdity of human life that makes studying sites like this frustrating, and often, fun and surprising. Schmidt also tells her, ‘humans don’t change so much.”
Take a look at the Göbekli Tepe and Çatalhöyük dig websites, notes, photographs, and archives. Choose a material artifact that stands out to you—it doesn’t matter what you choose, but it should be something that was actually, physically found at the site. This could be anything from seeds, ladders, pottery, or sculptures to an aspect of the architectural arrangement: the roof thresholds, hearth, flooring, the plaster used for covering walls, arrangements of the dead within the home, the “history rooms”, the wall paintings, or the skulls embedded into the architecture. Dive into the thing itself. What, fundamentally, is it? Describe the form, material, color, smell, weight, and/or orientation without yet speculating on functional use. Next, include contextual information about the find. Where was it located in relation to other major finds? How deep was it? How old do we think it is? Then, include an expert’s speculation about the object. Finally, follow this with your own ideas about what it could have been, why these were found situated in this way, what further questions you have, or why you agree with the expert assessment.
You can use Newitz’s assessment of the objects sometimes called “goddess sculptures” as a guide. They begin by talking about the sculpture, it’s location in the settlement, and the clues (the damage to the wood) that indicates how and why it may have been used. Engage the historical record. Answers like, “maybe it just fell out of someone’s pocket,” are completely valid, but do think through the evidence that might support the mechanics of how that situation would transpire. What would have led homo sapiens to start manufacturing garments with pockets, first of all, let alone a pocket that could contain a religious sculpture? Is there anything indicating that these were carried for personal reasons, or were they being transported? Etc. This stuff is beautiful and cool, and it only comes alive again when we really look at it. Whenever I approach a site like this I try to set aside my natural desire for answers, and instead ask myself to be open to listening to what is in front of me in order to see the value, first, in the questions.

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