In the Context of a Miniature Vessel Filled with Wheat from Erbaba and of the Evidence from Çatalhöyük, Bull Symbolism and Ritual in the Neolithic
Serap Özdöl Kutlu
Keywords: Neolithic, Erbaba, Çatalhöyük, pottery, bull symbolism, ritual, religion, sacred, Prehistoric feasting
A miniature pot fi lled with the remains of carbonized wheat was found at Erbaba. This little pot is typical of Neolithic cooking pots with mineral temper, hook handle and globular body, but made in a form so small that it could not be used as a cooking pot. By evaluating the small pot in question from the point of view of functionality and symbolism, using the evidence from Çatalhöyük and Erbaba, this work suggests that the cooking pots seen from around 6600 BC onwards represent the bull head (bucranium) and can be counted as the forerunners of the animal form ritual cups known as rhytons. In the early levels of Çatalhöyük a large proportion of the ritual system was founded on the group hunting of wild male cattle, their consumption in open areas, the later placing and exhibition of the remains within houses and their transfer to new generations as 'relics'. With the change seen in social organization after the middle levels, the increasing economic independence of houses and the entry of domesticated cattle into daily life, the change in ritual practice is understood to be a transition from the old rare and strongly rousing, rapturous rituals (imagistic type) to more frequent and easy, house-centred and less rapturous rituals (dogmatic/doctrinal type). In association with these developments bull symbolism started to be carried on movable objects such as pottery rather than in static deployments within houses. Thus the place of the wild bull feasting that took place outside the household might have been taken by 'in-house celebrations' carried out using the few examples found during the excavations of special ceramics in which food was cooked. In these vessels, in which it has been determined that meats on the bone were cooked, probably in combination with wheat, a prehistoric feasting food reminiscent of today's 'special day' food 'keşkek' (made from a combination of wheat and meat) might have been prepared. This new practice might have been carried out by specifi c social groups, or by all families, on specifi c days or as a daily celebration. Perhaps also this sort of celebration was 'the representative sacrifi ce of the domesticated bull brought into the house' that also began to enter the Çatalhöyük peoples' dinner tables. The jar itself evokes the bull, one of the strongest symbols from the beginning to the end of the settlement, and inside it bull meat was cooked - undoubtedly the meat of other animals was also cooked. Although there is no source of evidence of such a practice at Erbaba and its surrounding settlements, which are very small in scale compared to rich Çatalhöyük, the feasting moment described can be thought of as the making-sacred of food and survival, the sacredness of which was part of a ritual experienced by all people at Çatalhöyük and all these settlements. This work shows that, like at Çatalhöyük, the bull symbolism that we fi nd on ceramics in all Late Neolithic settlements, including Erbaba, had become a common dogmatic symbol and presents the possibility that it might represent a 'house-centred' ritual concept mostly practiced in houses. At the same time this possible ritual must have seen an ideological and connective role perpetuating the social systems of the Neolithic social groups.