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Prehistoric settlement in Turkey bears telling signs of modern woes

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Overcrowding. Violence. Infectious diseases. Degradation of the environment. It may seem like the worst of modern megacities.

A researcher excavated the ruins of Catalhoyuk, a prehistoric settlement in south-central Turkey, inhabited from about 9,100 to 7,950 years ago, in this photo published in Istanbul, Turkey, on June 17, 2019. Scott Haddow / Handout via REUTERS

But people have encountered these same problems when the first great settlements were established millennia ago, as humans began to exchange a nomadic hunter-gatherer existence for an agriculture-centered way of life. scientists announced Monday, based on the findings of a prehistoric site in the south. Central Turkey.

The researchers examined 742 human skeletons unearthed on the prehistoric ruins of Catalhoyuk, inhabited 9,100 to 7,950 years ago during a pivotal period of human evolution, in search of 39 hints about life in one of the oldest and most important archaeological sites. At its peak, 3,500 to 8,000 people lived there, researchers calling it "proto-city".

Residents experienced a high rate of infections, as seen in the teeth and bones, probably caused by diseases spreading over crowded conditions while hygiene was compromised, the researchers said. Overcrowding may have contributed to interpersonal violence. Many skulls showed signs of healed fractures at the top or back of the skull, sometimes with multiple wounds.

The shape of these wounds indicates that they could have been caused by hard clay balls found at Catalhoyuk which, according to the researchers, would have been used as projectiles with a slingshot

"One of the key messages that people will remember from these results is that our current behaviors have deep roots in the history of humanity," said Clark, the biological anthropologist of the University of Toronto. Ohio State University, Clark Spencer Larsen, who led the study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. .

"The inhabitants of this community have had to face life's challenges in settlement areas and fundamental problems: what to eat, who produces food, how food is distributed, what are the social norms for the division of the population. work, the challenges of infection and infectious diseases in situations where sanitation is limited, the interpersonal strategy involving animosity in some cases, "added Larsen.

As the world emerged from the last ice age and climatic conditions were favorable for the development of domestication of crops, there was a shift from foraging to agriculture that began 10,000 to 12 years ago. 000 years among the inhabitants of many places.

The population grew wheat, barley and rye and raised sheep, goats and possibly livestock. Some houses featured murals and other works of art included stone figurines depicting animals and fat women.

The inhabitants of Catalhoyuk lived in terracotta brick structures similar to apartments, entering and exiting ladders connecting living spaces of houses with roofs. After

died, the inhabitants were buried in pits dug in the soil of the houses.

Catalhoyuk, measuring about 13 hectares, has been continuously occupied for 1,150 years and appears to have been a largely egalitarian community. It was eventually abandoned, perhaps because of the environmental degradation caused by the human population and the dry climate that made farming more difficult there, the researchers said.

Report by Will Dunham; Edited by Sandra Maler

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