Recent research shows that Neolithic people in Catalhoyuk used trees to make their clothing.
According to research published in Antiquity, the cloth fragments found at Catalhoyuk had been made from bast fibers taken from oak trees. In a new paper, the authors analysed some of the world's oldest known woven fabrics. This discovery speaks to an overlooked material that was used in the Stone Age.
After settling a long-standing debate over whether wool or linen was used to create the Catalhoyuk fabrics the paper concludes that they were made from neither. The study's first author is Lise Jorgensen, a researcher at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology.
Catalhoyuk, pronounced cha-talho-yook, is one of my favourite archaeological sites. It was discovered in Turkey some 9,000 years ago and is one of the most important ancient settlements on earth. The Stone Age city was home to between 3,500-8,000 people at its peak. Its timing in the early Neolithic, when the last ice age had just ended, blurs the line between hunter-gatherer culture, and the emergence and development of farming communities. Catalhoyuk was a very old city, but it faced many modern problems such as overcrowding and sanitation issues, interpersonal violence, and other problems.
Since excavations started at Catalhoyuk back in the 1950s, archaeologists have discovered 18 distinct layers of sediment. Catalhoyuk's sophisticated inhabitants were known for their ability to create artifacts such as baskets, thin ropes and mats. For reasons that aren’t completely clear, the city was destroyed around 7,950 years ago.
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In the 1960s, some of these textiles were discovered. There was much debate about whether these textiles were linen (fibers from flax plants) and wool (fibers from sheep or lamb). James Mellaart, a British archaeologist, made the case that wool was the best, pointing out the remains of sheep and ram found at the site. (As an aside, Mellaart was later charged with selling artifacts to the black market and it was discovered that he had fabricate evidence, but not regarding these textiles). Furthering the debate, research done in the 1980s found that the fibers were made of flax.
Since the 1970s, excavations have been taking place at Catalhoyuk. An archaeologist from Stanford University helped uncover additional evidence of textiles at Catalhoyuk. These were between 8,500 to 8,700 years old. Bender Jorgensen from Stanford University and Antoinette Ract-Eicher, a University of Bern expert in identifying fabric source material, were involved in the investigation. The researchers used a scanning electron microscope to confirm that the fibers were made of oak bast.
The scientists stated that their findings "brought new light to early textile production in Neolithic," and suggested that tree bast may have played a greater role than previously thought."
Bast fibers are found between bark and wood in trees and are often sourced from willow, linden, and oak trees. Catalhoyuk dwellings were constructed using oak timber, which is a sign that these people are not strangers to the tree.
"In the past researchers largely ignored the possibility that fabric fibres could not be wool or linen. But lately, another material has received greater attention," Bender Jorgensen said to Norwegian SciTech News. This reports on research at the NTNU. "Bast fibres have been used for thousands of year to make thread, rope, and, in turn, yarn and cloth.
This finding is consistent with other evidence (or, rather, the absence of evidence), namely the almost complete absence of flax seeds in Catalhoyuk according to the paper. It would seem that these Stone Age people didn't grow flax or import flax from other places. The idea that linens were used at Catalhoyuk 8,000 years ago is simply not true.
This paper further proves that prehistoric humans can be resourceful and creative. It's amazing that clothing can be made from oak trees, and it serves as a reminder of how we all stand on shoulders of our ancestors.
Continue reading: South African Cave Finds Child Skull of an Enigmatic Ancient Human.