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Ulucak: A Prehistoric Mound in Aegean Turkey

Özlem Çevik (Archaeology Dept., University of Thrace, Edirne, Turkey) and Çiler Çilingiroğlu (Dept of Protohistory and Near Eastern Archaeology, Izmir, Turkey)

Fig 1: General view of Ulucak mound.

Fig 1: General view of Ulucak mound.

Ulucak is a settlement mound located 25 km east of İzmir, in western Turkey (Fig. 1). The mound contains cultural accumulations spanning periods from the Early Neolithic to Late Roman-Early Byzantine periods. The lengthy sequence at Ulucak allows observations on long-term continuities and discontinuities in the settlement layout, architecture, material culture, and subsistence patterns in Aegean Turkey over many millennia.

The start of excavations at Ulucak encouraged an increasing focus on Neolithic culture in western Turkey as the earliest occupation at the site is significant for understanding the neolithization mechanisms in the region. The early farming communities of Ulucak occupied the site from around 6750 to 5700/5600 cal BCE, thus providing us with valuable information on multiple aspects of their daily lives and cultural changes through time.

The emergence and development of Chalcolithic and Bronze Age cultures are likewise poorly investigated in Western Turkey and the excavation of Ulucak has the potential to fill the gaps in archaeological knowledge in terms of these prehistoric periods as well. For instance, Ulucak appears to be the only site where the Early Chalcolithic to Middle Chalcolithic (post-5700 BCE developments) transition can be archaeologically identified in the Eastern Aegean. As a result, much effort is put into recovering as much information as possible from the archaeological layers corresponding to 5th and 4th millennia BCE. The emergence of social complexity at the end of the 3rd and early 2nd millennium BCE is also observed at prehistoric sites around İzmir, while corresponding deposits at Ulucak are better preserved than the 5th millennium deposits. The problem-oriented excavation strategies we employ for these deposits will help to explicate the social and economic mechanisms that paved the path to the emergence of complex societies in this region.

History of Research

The Ulucak mound was discovered by David French in the 1960s. French attributed surface finds of ceramic material to the Late Neolithic period based on comparisons with similar material from Hacılar VI (French 1965). Despite French’s discovery of Ulucak along with other sites in the area, western Turkey remained a true terra incognita in terms of the Neolithic period until excavations began at Ulucak in the mid 1990’s. Excavations at the site have been ongoing since 1995. The first series of excavations, 1995-2008, were directed by Altan Çilingiroğlu and the Izmir Archaeological Museum, and included academic staff and students from the Ege University Department of Protohistory and Near Eastern Archaeology. Since 2009, the excavations have been directed by Özlem Çevik of the University of Thrace’s Archaeology Department. The current team is composed of specialists and students from multiple institutions.

The Site

Ulucak is located25 kmeast of the modern city of Izmir on the fertile Kemalpaşa Plain, which is drained by Nif Stream, a tributary of the Gediz River. Major geomorphological features close to the site include Mount Nif and Mount Spil, both a little more than 1500 meters high. Although a mountainous landscape predominates in the area, a natural pass (Belkahve Geçidi) close to the site provides a link to the Aegean littoral.

 The mound contains archaeological layers representing multiple periods. The youngest layer belongs to the Late Roman-Early Byzantine era. Although poorly preserved in comparison to the Neolithic period, Late Bronze Age, Middle Bronze Age, Early Bronze Age, and Middle Chalcolithic layers are also found on the mound. The best preserved occupation levels on the mound belong to the Neolithic and Early Chalcolithic periods. Level IV, with ten building phases, belongs to the Early Chalcolithic period and is dated to ca. 6000-5600 cal BCE, while Level V, the Late Neolithic occupation, is composed of six superimposed building phases which are dated to 6400-6000 cal BCE.  Level V is typically characterized by rectilinear wattle-and-daub houses whereas Level IV houses, having much thicker and more substantial walls, are built of standard-sized mudbricks.

Level III represents the Middle Chalcolithic phases at the site. Fieldwork at the site was able to recover poorly preserved stone architecture, midden deposits, and storage units from this level. Medium to coarse, dark colored and burnished, hand-made pottery with occasional pattern-burnishing is typical for the 5th millennium BCE Aegean sites.

Early Bronze Age phases are identified as Level II at the site. Despite being generally destroyed by superimposed layers of the Middle Bronze Age and Roman Periods, EBA architecture was identified at several points. Rectilinear houses with stone foundations, marble idols, phalli, biconical spindle whorls, and Melian obsidian are identified in this level. Pottery is typically composed of fine-medium fabrics carrying red, buff, orange, brown slips and fine burnishing. Depata, typical A2 plates of Troy type, trefoil jars, and beak spouted jars are common vessel forms in this stratum (Fig. 2).

Fig 2: Depas amphykipellon found in Early Bronze Age III stratum (ca. 2200 BC) during 2011 fieldwork.

Fig 2: Depas amphykipellon found in Early Bronze Age III stratum (ca. 2200 BC) during 2011 fieldwork.

Ulucak Level I constitutes the Middle Bronze Age at the site. Though greatly disturbed by the Roman-Byzantine building activities and modern agriculture, the MBA levels contained some relatively well-preserved house plans and ovens. The pottery, although mainly found in mixed deposits, is easily distinguished by its characteristic fabric and forms. The so-called ‘Anatolian Grey Wares’ or ‘Gray Minyan Wares,’ as well as red and orange polished, wheel-made fine pottery are commonly found in the assemblage. The pottery of this period is exceptionally fine and shows clear parallels to the Troy Early VI assemblage (Fig. 3).

Fig 3: Fine polished grey pottery (Middle Bronze Age) found during 2012 fieldwork.

Fig 3: Fine polished grey pottery (Middle Bronze Age) found during 2012 fieldwork.

Neolithic Occupation

Ulucak is best known for its exceptionally well-preserved Neolithic layers. The earliest habitation level is called VI, which is distinguished from the upper levels by red plaster floors and the absence of pottery (Fig. 4). AMS dates obtained from animal bones and emmer wheat seeds collected from Level VI features indicate that habitation on the mound began in the first half of the seventh millennium BCE.

Fig 4: Building 42 with red plastered floor (Ulucak VI)

Fig 4: Building 42 with red plastered floor (Ulucak VI)

Ceramics first appear in Level Vf, around 6400/6200 cal BCE. Fabrics and morphology display a gradual change across levels IV and V. Both levels are dominated by fine, burnished pottery with red, reddish brown, cream, orange, and brown surface colors. Common ceramic forms across Levels IV and V are bowls with ‘S’ and convex profiles, hole-mouth jars, and jars with globular bodies and short necks (Fig. 5). In Level IV, larger jars with long necks, anthropomorphic vessels (Fig. 6), and ellipsoid forms appear (Çilingiroğlu 2012). Impressed wares appear somewhat abruptly at Level Va around 6000 cal BCE but their numbers remain very low in the overall assemblage.

Fig 5: Pottery from Level V.

Fig 5: Pottery from Level V.

Fig 6: Antropomorphic vessel from Level IVb

Fig 6: Antropomorphic vessel from Level IVb

The late Neolithic architecture (Ulucak V, ca. 6400-6000 BC) is characterized by rectilinear, free-standing wattle-and-daub buildings with plastered floors containing ovens, hearths and various storage units (Fig. 7). In Level Va (ca. 6000 BC) houses are built adjacent to each other. The Early Chalcolithic phase, ca. 5800-5600 BC, typically contains rectilinear mud brick houses with or without courtyards (Fig. 8). In Level IV, especially in the well-preserved phase IVb, houses contain clay platforms, flat-topped ovens, and hearths.

Fig 7: Building 30 (Ulucak Vb)

Fig 7: Building 30 (Ulucak Vb)

Fig 8: Building 12 and 13 (Ulucak IVb)

Fig 8: Building 12 and 13 (Ulucak IVb)

Many typical features of the Anatolian Neolithic assemblage are encountered in Levels IV and V such as human figurines, sling missiles, polished axes, clay tokens, bone spatulae, clay stamps, and bone polishers (Çilingiroğlu et al. 2004; Çilingiroğlu et al. 2012). Sling missiles constitute one of the most ubiquitous elements of the material culture (Fig. 9). In Level Va alone, more than 600 sling missiles were discovered (Korfmann et al.2007: 42). They are made out of clay and are either ovoid or biconical in shape. Sling missiles may have multiple functions ranging from defense from wild animals to protecting livestock, hunting, and/or attacking people in case of social tensions.

Fig 9: Sling missiles found scattered on the floor of Building 23

Fig 9: Sling missiles found scattered on the floor of Building 23

Clay stamps are found in varying contexts (Fig. 10). They are, however, not associated with an economic system of product control. Two of the stamps were discovered in contextual association with spindle whorls and loom weights, implying that their functions may be related to textile production and decoration. Carrying well-executed geometric designs, these objects may symbolize a graphic language common to early farming communities in the region (Çilingiroğlu 2009).

Fig 10: A clay stamp found in 2012 season (Ulucak IV)

Fig 10: A clay stamp found in 2012 season (Ulucak IV)

Figurines are commonly found in Level IV. Most of them represent females and stock animals. Only one figurine can be positively identified as a male. Figurines were found in mundane contexts like houses or in midden deposits. A few of the figurines were discovered in contexts that can be related to ritual activities. In two cases, clay figurines were deposited in clay bowls filled with flint flakes (Fig. 11; Abay 2003).

Fig 11: A male and female figurine found in a bowl filled with flint chips (Ulucak IVb)

Fig 11: A male and female figurine found in a bowl filled with flint chips (Ulucak IVb)

Obsidian and locally available flint constitute the raw materials used in lithic production at the site. Both Neutron Activation and X-ray diffraction analyses on 73 obsidian samples from Ulucak confirm the raw material was acquired from Adamas (Sta Nychia) and Demenegaki on Melos in the Aegean (Pernicka 2009, Glascock 2011). Chipped stone tool production techniques during the Neolithic period at the site are consistent with those found across Anatolia. Blade based tools were primarily produced on ‘prismatic’ or ‘bullet’ cores (Fig. 12).

Fig 12: Prismatic flint cores from Level IV

Fig 12: Prismatic flint cores from Level IV

Neolithic Subsistence

Ongoing archaeozoological and botanical research at Ulucak leave no doubt that inhabitants of Level V and IV were fully-developed farmers and herders, specialized in wheat and barley cultivation (Fig. 13). Wet-sieving at the site helped identify cereals like einkorn wheat (Triticum monococcum), free-threshing wheat, and six-rowed barley (Hordeum vulgare). Various pulses such as lentils (Lens sp.), peas (Pisum sativum), and bitter vetch (Vicia ervilia) are also identified in the botanical assemblage (Erkal, p.c.). Additionally, remnants of acorns (Quercus sp.) show that products from forests were also consumed by community members (Megaloudi 2005).

Fig 13: Aylan Erkal (METU, Ankara) is responsible for archaeobotanical study. Sevgi Boztepe is patiently sorting the heavy fraction.

Fig 13: Aylan Erkal (METU, Ankara) is responsible for archaeobotanical study. Sevgi Boztepe is patiently sorting the heavy fraction.

The faunal assemblage from these levels is heavily dominated by sheep, goat, cattle, and pig with strong implications for consumption of dairy products in Level IV (Fig. 14). Wild species such as hare, fallow deer, and red deer appear in all levels whereas fish and birds constitute insignificant amounts in the faunal assemblage (Çakırlar 2012). Marine mollusks brought to the site are dominated by cockle shells (Cerastoderma glaucum), razorclams (Solinidae), ark clams (Arca noae), spiny murex (Bolinus brandaris), and rustica dove shells (Columbella rustica). All of these species are native to the Aegean and were apparently harvested by prehistoric communities for various purposes as food or decoration (Çakırlar 2009).

Fig 14: Zooarchaeological study is undertaken by Canan Çakırlar (Groningen University, Netherlands)

Fig 14: Zooarchaeological study is undertaken by Canan Çakırlar (Groningen University, Netherlands)

The earliest level, Ulucak VI, was also occupied by farmers and herders. The faunal assemblage indicates that meat consumption relied heavily on flock animals dominated by sheep, goat, and cattle. Faunal remains uncovered from the ashy deposits surrounding the circular hearths show grease and marrow extraction as a major activity as even the smallest of the bones were broken to gain these nutritious substances. The community hunted fallow deer (Dama dama) and European hare (Lepus europaeus). The caprines, cattle, and pigs are already in their domestic forms and, as far as the current zooarchaeological investigations based on logarithmic size index indicate, local domestication seems not to be the case (Çakırlar 2012). Preliminary mtDNA study on animal bones showed that the domestic cattle and pigs at Ulucak carried Near Eastern lineages, strongly suggesting that domesticated forms of Near Eastern cattle and pig were introduced to the region during the Neolithic (Geörg et al. 2010; Ottoni et al. 2012).

Conclusion

Fieldwork at Ulucak and research into prehistoric communities around Izmir continues to date. Ulucak has already produced valuable insights into the emergence and development of prehistoric cultures in western Turkey. Many questions and issues await further research. Fieldwork takes place for two months during the summer at the site (Fig 15). We warmly welcome guests who wish to learn more about the archaeology of the site.

Fig 15: Serdar Duman, Sedef Polatcan and Emrah Güney are removing the thin layer of soil covering the red plaster floor with dentist tools.

Fig 15: Serdar Duman, Sedef Polatcan and Emrah Güney are removing the thin layer of soil covering the red plaster floor with dentist tools.


References

Abay, E.
2003 The Neolithic Figurines from Ulucak Höyük: Reconsideration of the Figurine Issue by Contextual Evidence. Neo-Lithics 2/03: 16-22.

Çakırlar C.
2009 Mollusk Shells in Troia, Yenibademli and Ulucak: An Archaeomalacological Approach to Environment and Economy in the Aegean. B.A.R. International Series. 2051. Oxford: John and Erica Hedges Publications.

2012 The evolution of animal husbandry in Neolithic central-west Anatolia: the              zooarchaeological record from Ulucak Höyük (c. 7040–5660 cal. BC, Izmir,               Turkey). Anatolian Studies 62: 1-33.

Çilingiroğlu, A., Ö. Çevik and Ç. Çilingiroğlu
2012 Towards Understanding the Early Farming Communities of Middle-West Anatolia Contribution of Ulucak. M. Özdoğan – N. Başgelen – P. Kuniholm (eds.), Neolithic in Turkey: New Excavations and New Research: 139-175. Istanbul.

Çilingiroğlu, A., Z. Derin, E. Abay, H. Sağlamtimur and İ. Kayan
2004 Ulucak Höyük: Excavations Conducted between 1995-2002. Ancient Near Eastern Supplement 15, Peeters, Louvain.

Çilingiroğlu, Ç.
2009 Of Stamps, Loom Weights and Spindle Whorls: Contextual Evidence on the Function(s) of Neolithic Stamps from Ulucak, İzmir, Turkey. Journal of Mediterranean Archaeology 22.1: 3-27.

2012 The Neolithic Pottery of Ulucak in Aegean Turkey: Organization of production, interregional comparisons and relative chronology. BAR International Series 2426. Archaeopress, Oxford. 2012.

French, D.
1965 Early Pottery Sites from Western Anatolia. Bulletin of the Institute of Archaeology V: 15-24.

GeörgC., A. Scheu, N. Beneckeand J. Burger
2010 Ancient DNA analyses on prehistoric animal bones from Turkey. Palaeogenetics Group, Institute of Anthropology, Johannes Gutenberg-University Mainz, Germany. Unpublished Preliminary Report: 1-10.

Glascock, M.D.
2011 X-ray fluorescence analysis of obsidian from Ulucak Höyük, Turkey. University of Missouri Archaeometry Lab. Unpublished Report: 1-8.

Korfmann, M., F. Dedeoğlu and M. Erdalkıran,
2007 Ulucak Höyük Neolitik Dönem Sapan Taneleri. G. Umurtak, Ş. Dönmez and A. Yurtsever (Eds.), in Refik Duru’ya Armağan: 41-50. Istanbul.

Megaloudi, F.
2005 Archeobotanical Finds from Ulucak, Western Turkey (Izmir Region): A preliminary Study. Mediterranean Archaeology and Archaeometry 5/3: 27-32.

Ottoni, C. et al.
2012 Pig domestication and human-mediated dispersal in western Eurasia revealed through ancient DNA and geometric morphometrics. Molecular Biology and Evolution. in press.

Pernicka, E.
2009 Analysenbericht 09-027. Curt-Engelhorn-Zentrum für Archäometrie in Mannheim. Unpublished Report.1-7.

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Ulucak: A Prehistoric Mound in Aegean Turkey Reviewed by on . Özlem Çevik (Archaeology Dept., University of Thrace, Edirne, Turkey) and Çiler Çilingiroğlu (Dept of Protohistory and Near Eastern Archaeology, Izmir, Turkey) Özlem Çevik (Archaeology Dept., University of Thrace, Edirne, Turkey) and Çiler Çilingiroğlu (Dept of Protohistory and Near Eastern Archaeology, Izmir, Turkey) Rating:
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