Prehistoric Civilization

When the term “prehistoric civilization” is used, for some, perhaps even many, it creates visions of Atlantis, or some other “fabulous” place, perhaps even civilizations surpassing our own. “Alternative” or “fringe” archaeology even tries frequently to make known historic civilizations older than they really are, or at least artifacts from them. The controversy about the age of the Great Sphinx is just one example. Some try to place its creation several thousand years earlier than current accepted knowledge. (it isn’t older, it dates from Egypt’s 4th Dynasty – and there is no controversy within the ranks of ‘orthodox’ Egyptologists)

But even without the help of the alternative theorists and fringe archaeology, there really were civilizations and cities which predate the historic (written) record of humanity.

We will begin with the archaeological record of Catal Huyuk (or Catal Hoyuk – Chat-al Hoo-yook) a temple city in prehistoric Anatolia and the central hub of a Neolithic civilization.

Today, Catal Huyuk, which is the oldest known city ever found, is hardly an impressive sight. Eight thousand years of history have left it a pitted mound in a rolling agricultural plain. Little remains to show that this Neolithic metropolis was a center of civilization, trade, and a development point of ideas for over 2000 years.

The oldest levels of Catal Huyuk yet studied, have been dated to 6,500 BCE, and virgin soil has yet to be reached.

The twelve layers of buildings so far excavated, each representing a different stage in the city’s development, show that the most recent buildings were erected about 5,600 BCE. For some unknown reason the city was abandoned and a new city called Catal Huyuk West was founded several miles away. Catal West has yet to be investigated in any great detail but it seems to have been occupied for another 700 years before it too, was abandoned.

After 4,900 BCE, there are no further Neolithic buildings in the area. The region seems abandoned till much later in history. It also seems reasonable to believe that for several hundred years, perhaps several millennia before 6,500 BCE, the site was was occupied, developed from a village into a town, and finally a city.

During a period of time when a “big town” such as Hacilar may have had up to ten houses, Catal Huyuk was a cosmopolitan city of more than 10,000.

While a city of 10,000 may not seem like much to us who can live in cities of millions, at the time it was the largest known concentration of humans on the planet – there was simply nothing else like it.

“The neolithic civilization revealed at Catal Huyuk shines like a supernova among the rather dim galaxy of contemporary peasant cultures” states James Mellaart, excavator of Catal Huyuk and a leading expert on the ancient Middle East.

Mellart also maps out several village sites stretching over a trade route network reaching for hundreds of miles. The city seems to have been the center of a wide spread population.

While “daily life in Catal Huyuk” material here is thin, we simply don’t know that much about it beyond conjecture, we do know a few things.

The city was colorful, murals have survived to this day and indicate that much of Catal was brightly painted. They created a wide variety of sculptures out of clay and stone, had a sophisticated pottery industry, polished stone tool industry, worked with obsidian, bone and other materials in their daily lives, as well as carrying on an extensive trade.

The houses were made of mud brick and placed close together. As houses were destroyed and new ones built, the city became a terrace of houses rising one above the other. Humanity had built its first man-made mountain. And with the evidence of external muraling and painting, the city may have flashed and glimmered with color above the surrounding plain.

The full lifespan of this prehistoric civilization ranged from about 7000 BCE to 4,900 BCE, some 2,100 years, a time equal to what has passed between Julius Caesar’s Rome and our own. Not bad for a people who could not write.

I hope this opens a door to the fact that civilization did not begin with the great monuments of Egypt and Mesopotamia.

In fact, when the civilization represented by Catal Huyuk had finished its run and faded into history, Egypt and Mesopotamia were still more than a thousand years in the future.

Prehistoric civilization reaches far back into the mists of time. Perhaps even further than we already know.

Till next time


For additional information see: – Catalhoyuk –

Catalhoyuk Homepage –

Focus on Catal Hoyuk –


(This photo of Çatalhöyük is copyright the Çatalhöyük Research Project, and is licensed under a Creative Commons License)

2 Responses to “Prehistoric Civilization”

  1. Quezi » Who invented the bikini? says:

    […] Huyuk is the oldest city ever found, so the bikini is as old as human civilization itself. The ancients were truly at the […]

  2. Lee Murray says:

    Interesting, as far as it goes. But those of us who actually believe there were ADVANCED prehistoric civilizations, focus on the time before the end of the last ice age, and the flood that followed, meaning more than 10,000 years ago, Catel Hoyuk came two to three thousand years later. My opinion, and it’s only that, understand I’m no expert and don’t pretend to be one, is that this is an early, (earliest? maybe, maybe not), effort by either a whole new version of post flood/destruction human being, or as I think a mutation of the earlier version that somehow survived. The legends, and myths say that humanity was destroyed, except for whichever Hero and their families, and the civilization that we know today evolved from them. It seems reasonable that if most people were killed and their lands flooded in days, if not hours, destroying buildings, vehicles, roads, and pretty much everything else, water levels are estimated to have risen 300 feet or possibly more, if there were survivors they’d be in a state of shock, but would try to reclaim as much of their life as they could, they would pass knowledge on to their kids, and their kids, but if modern people are any example, in three or four generations it would have become crap, except for the oddball here and there. Think about the game telephone we all played in kindergarden, the story starts on one end and is completely different, and/or distorted by the time it gets to the other end. Now imagine the same thing with lots of people and generations.
    So it’s conceivable that those we know as “cavemen,” (so easy a caveman can do it), were survivors or later generations of survivors, who had nowhere else to live and had to be hunter gatherers to eat, but knowledge was passed on, beyond the understanding of most, but here and there were guys and gals just a little smarter, even a lot smarter, possibly the occasional genius managed over centuries, to slowly relearn. But think about us, “moderns,” through the 1200/1300’s most people were little different than those living BC, iron and rudimentary steel was probably the biggest difference, through the 1800’s still not a lot of difference, through the 50’s and 60″s when I was a kid take away TV and we could as easily been living in the twenties. Most people I’m talking about. HP came out with the first battery powered calculator in the 60’s and all bets were off. We have been a truely advanced civilization, in our own eyes at least, for really 40-50 years, maybe more generous 60 years. So to call this city the earliest prehistoric civilization, or the cosmopolitan central hub of Neolithic civilization is a stretch at best. A possibly earlier city has been found in India, and there are others I’m sure waiting to be found. As a last word to those who ask if these civilizations existed where is the evidence, the buildings, etc? Check out the program After People, I think it’s called and see how much of our own is left after 1000 years.

    Lee Murray