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Neolithic Art and Architecture Paper Essay

During the “New” Stone Age, also known as the Neolithic Period, art and life in general began to change drastically for humans. Many new onsets began to bloom, for example humans of this time period had begun to live in single locations versus before they were nomadic hunter-gatherers. This new life introduced new challenges and new opportunities. Within this paper I will discuss three Neolithic Locations, Jericho, Çatal Höyük, and Stonehenge. Also, what made each of these sites significant, what new forms of buildings were present at each, and what is still perplexing modern day historians and archaeologists about these sites.

I will start with the oldest of the three locations from above, Jericho. Jericho is a city of Palestine, but has been under the occupation of many. Its most important fact is that it is one of the oldest known permanently occupied cities in the world, occupied during the Natufian era (10,800 – 8,500 BCE) to present day. It was primarily occupied during a time known as the Pre-Pottery Neolithic Period (PPN: 8,500 – 6,000 BCE), which is further broken down into two more time frames called PPNA (8,500 – 7,300 BCE) and PPNB (7,300 – 6,000 BCE).

Along with being one of the oldest known cities, Jericho shows us that humans of the Neolithic Period had begun to create permanent structures for living. After the domestication of plants and animals it is believed that Jericho was chosen to be a permanent settlement because it was a plateau of the Jordan River valley with a spring that supplied a constant source for water. During the PPNA, oval homes made from mud bricks with roofs made from wooden branches covered in earth began to appear at Jericho. Around 7,500 BCE, a rock-cut ditch and thick walls approximately 5 feet wide surrounded the city. Within the wall there is a single circular tower (fig. 1), approximately 30 feet high and almost 33 feet in diameter. These walls and towers mark the beginning of monumental architecture.

Later, during the PPNB era the architects of Jericho began building the homes with rectangular mud bricks and a plaster-like mud mortar, these houses were made into rectangular shapes due to the rectangular bricks. During this time we can also find evidence of new forms of art, plastered human skulls. It is believed these heads may have been used for a cult or religion of some sort. The heads were formed around a human skulls with the plaster-like mud mortar and then shells were placed in the eyes, and traces of paint were also found to shown a resemblance of skin and hair (fig 2). Next, let’s discuss another major settlement of the Neolithic Period that was formed between 7,000 and 5,000 BCE, Çatal Höyük. This site is important because it is possible to retrace human evolution of the Neolithic culture over the period of approximately 800 years. The people of Çatal Höyük were Neolithic weapon and toolmakers, especially in the use of obsidian.

More importantly though was the village itself, it’s architecture and the art that thrived within. Most important about its architecture is that adjoining buildings, meaning it had no streets, formed this village. In July of 2012, Çatal Höyük was inscribed as a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage Site. There are two types of buildings that were constructed within Çatal Höyük, houses and shrines. The houses were made of mud bricks that were strengthened by timber frames. These homes contained no doors, but openings at the top that served as an entrance and a chimney. The interiors were plastered and painted; with platform shelving that was used as sites for sleeping, eating, and working (fig. 3). The dead of Çatal Höyük were buried right under platforms of the homes.

Although the houses of Çatal Höyük were decorated on the inside there were other buildings slightly larger that contained more decoration, ornate murals, animal heads, paintings and figurines, are the shrines. These buildings still intrigue archaeologists today, as we do not know their true purpose. Along with the architecture of Çatal Höyük, you see the beginning of narrative paintings. Although people had begun to raise animals of their own, hunting still played a major part in human life. This is shown in wall painting from Level III of Çatal Höyük (fig. 4). Also at Çatal Höyük, we find what now referred to as the first map, or the first landscape painting (fig. 5). This landscape painting remained unique for thousands of years, and with carbon dating this painting was executed in or around 6,150 BCE. In addition to painting, at Çatal Höyük we find sculpture, weaving, pottery and even techniques of smelting lead.

Now let us move on to the most intriguing and puzzling place of these three Neolithic sites, Stonehenge. Stonehenge is a formation of rocks as high as 17 feet and weighing as much as 50 tons. Because these stones are so large historians have called them megaliths, meaning great stones. Stonehenge exists on the Salisbury Plain of southern England. Stonehenge itself is a megalithic monument constructed over the course of several years, in several phases. Stonehenge Phase 1, known as the earthwork monument. The first phase of Stonehenge was begun around 2,950 to 2,900 BCE. During phase one Stonehenge consisted of four sections and two entrances (fig. 6). The four sections are as follows from outside to inside: the Outer bank, the Ditch, the Circular bank, and the Aubrey Holes. The ditch, which is enclosed by two earthen banks, has the same center as the 56 Aubrey Holes inside it, therefore telling historians they came from the same time period.

The second phase of Stonehenge is one that still perplexes historians, but the best evidence we have tells us it occurred sometime between 2,900 BCE and 2,550 to 2,400 BCE. During this time of its construction all evidence shows us that Stonehenge was more than likely being used as a cremation site. This phase it is known as the timber monument. All across the in circle of Stonehenge and around both entrance excavations have revealed post-holes which indicate that at this stage in Stonehenge’s construction it was made from timber and not the megalithic stones that now stand. These post-hole sites are divided into three distinct locations, the northeastern entrance, the southern entrance and the confused central pattern. The patterns displayed in the confused central pattern raise many concerns for historians and this is something that still raises questions for them, as it is unknown exactly how big the structures were or how they looked at this time.

The third and final phase of Stonehenge is known as the stone monument. This is when what we see today was added to this monument. There are two types of megalithic stones found at Stonehenge, the bluestones and the sarsen stones. The final stage took the form concentric post-and-lintel circles. There are four circles and two horseshoes that were formed in the final stage of Stonehenge. The first two circles formed inside of Stonehenge’s Circular bank are referred to as the Rings of Y and Z Holes. These holes show evidence that Stonehenge may have never been completed, as holes were dug prior to placing stones inside the monument. Inside of these two circles was a large circle formed out of sarsen stone lintels, then followed by a circle of bluestones. Inside of the two stone circle were the horseshoes, one made of sarsen stones and another inside of that made out of bluestones, with a single stone called the Altar Stone in the center of the bluestone horseshoe (fig. 7).

Along the Circular bank four more stones appear, known as the Station Stones. Only two of the four stones still remain, but when you run a line between each of stones it forms a rectangle whose center pinpoints the exact center of the monument. From the center of the monument traveling out toward the northeast entrance you see the last two megaliths of Stonehenge, the Slaughter Stone and the Heel Stone. The Heel stone aligns with the center of Stonehenge at the midsummer solstice, thus giving historians the belief that Stonehenge was used a Calendar. The true use of Stonehenge may never be known, as evidence has also proven that Stonehenge might have been used as an observatory of astronomical aspects.

Of these three sites we have learned a lot about our past. We have discovered many forms of artwork, and architectural changes to the human culture. But what we know of these sites is still growing. What will the future hold for us? While we continue to excavate and research these sites, will we find that the humans of Neolithic times were smarter or as smart than we are today? Are there any more new architectural discoveries to be found at these sites? Will we find more art that change the way we look at Art History? These three locations are a vast pile of knowledge still waiting to be discovered and hopefully it will not take us as long to discover the knowledge as it took the ancients to create the locations.

Figure 1, Great Stone Tower, Jericho. Reproduced from smarthistory, http://smarthistory.khanacademy.org/jericho.html.

Figure 2, Plastered Skulls from Yiftah’el. Reproduced from smarthistory, http://smarthistory.khanacademy.org/jericho.html.

Figure 3, On-site restoration of a typical interior, Çatal Höyük, 2005. Reproduced from Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Catal_H%C3%BCy%C3%BCk_Restauration_B.JPG.

Figure 4, Deer Hunt, 5750 BCE. Level III, Çatal Höyük, Turkey. Museum of Anatolian Civilization, Ankara. Reproduced from Fred S. Kleiner, Gardner’s Art Through the Ages, A Global History (Boston, MA: Wadsworth/Cengage Learning, 2011), 26.

Figure 5, Landscape with volcanic eruption, 6150 BCE. Level III, Çatal Höyük, Turkey. Museum of Anatolian Civilization, Ankara. Reproduced from Fred S. Kleiner, Gardner’s Art Through the Ages, A Global History (Boston, MA: Wadsworth/Cengage Learning, 2011), 27.

Figure 6, Stonehenge: Phase 1. Reproduced from David Souden, Stonehenge Revealed (New York, NY: Facts on File Inc., 1997), 31.

Figure 7, Stonehenge: Phase 3, inner circles. Reproduced from David Souden, Stonehenge Revealed (New York, NY: Facts on File Inc., 1997), 39.

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Wikipedia. Çatalhöyük. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/%C3%87atalh%C3%B6y%C3%BCk. (accessed 12 January 2013).

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