A photograph showing the remnants of Catalhoyuk.

Dawn of Civilization: Çatalhöyük, one of the Earliest Known Cities on Earth

Çatalhöyük was home to around 10,000 individuals from 7400 BC to 5200 BC.


Human history is a rich tapestry of innovation, discovery, and evolution. Çatalhöyük, widely recognized as the earliest known city, stands as a fascinating testament to this history. Situated in southern Anatolia (now modern-day Turkey), this settlement was home to around 10,000 individuals from 7400 BC to 5200 BC. The society that thrived here was a sophisticated amalgam of hunting, agriculture, and animal domestication. Interestingly, Anatolia has one of the richest histories in the world, home to numerous ancient sites that are of great importance, including, among others, Göbekli Tepe.

Let’s delve into the top 10 intriguing aspects of Çatalhöyük that make it a truly extraordinary cornerstone of human civilization.


1. A Sizeable Early City

Çatalhöyük was not a small, insignificant settlement. It was, in fact, a full-blown city teeming with approximately 10,000 inhabitants at its zenith. This striking number reflects our early ancestors’ exceptional social organization and cooperation, which allowed such a large population to coexist in a single, dense settlement.

2. Breaking the Norms of Urban Planning

Traditional notions of city planning are upended in Çatalhöyük. Here, houses were built adjacent to one another without the presence of separating streets or passages. Entry points were typically placed on the roof and were accessed by ladders. This unconventional layout may have been a strategic response to external threats, enhancing the community’s security by limiting access points into homes.

3. Ahead-of-their-time Housing Designs

Residences in Çatalhöyük, often referred to as “cells,” displayed advanced design sensibilities. Each house included a main room fitted with an oven and dedicated areas for sleeping and storage. The houses also served as both living and working spaces, much akin to today’s home-office concept. This multifunctional use of space reflects the city’s efficient use of its urban landscape.

4. Intriguing Burial Customs

Çatalhöyük’s inhabitants practiced unique burial customs that signified their strong sense of community and family ties. The dead were commonly buried beneath the sleeping platforms in their houses, suggesting a profound reverence for their ancestors and an intimate connection between the realms of the living and the deceased.


5. An Artistic Civilization

The walls of Çatalhöyük’s homes were a canvas of prehistoric artistry. They were adorned with intricate murals representing diverse fauna, hunting scenes, and abstract geometric designs. These artworks offer a glimpse into the vibrant visual culture of this society and the artistic legacy it left behind.

6. Agriculture: The Lifeline

Agriculture served as the bedrock of Çatalhöyük’s economy and sustenance. Archaeological findings highlight the cultivation of wheat, barley, and lentils, indicating that this city had a well-established agricultural practice. This agricultural prowess is a testament to their self-sufficiency and contributes significantly to our understanding of early farming communities.

7. Animal Domestication

Animal domestication played a pivotal role in Çatalhöyük’s societal structure. Evidence shows that the inhabitants of this city were among the earliest to tame and breed sheep and goats. These animals were crucial for their survival, providing a steady supply of meat, milk, and wool, thereby strengthening the city’s economic prosperity and food security.

8. Ingenious Technological Innovations

Çatalhöyük was a hub of technological innovation in prehistoric times. Unearthed artifacts such as pottery, stone tools, and evidence of weaving suggest a community continually striving to improve their quality of life. These objects offer invaluable insights into their technological abilities and creative problem-solving skills.

9. Spiritual Beliefs and Practices

Religion was a significant component of life in Çatalhöyük. Numerous figurines depicting a female deity suggest a probable matriarchal belief system or fertility cult. This intriguing aspect of their culture opens a window into the spiritual and religious practices of some of the earliest urban dwellers.


10. The Fall of an Epoch

Like all civilizations, Çatalhöyük had its sunset. The city was abandoned around 5200 BC, possibly due to climatic changes, resource depletion, or overpopulation. Its disappearance, however, does not diminish its importance. The city’s legacy continues to reverberate, offering scholars and history enthusiasts a remarkable insight into early urban life.

Çatalhöyük is a historical marvel that provides us a glimpse into the early roots of human civilization. Its unique urban layout, multifunctional homes, artistic expressions, agricultural practices, animal domestication, and intriguing spiritual beliefs paint a fascinating picture of our collective past. As we continue to unearth its secrets, Çatalhöyük will undoubtedly keep challenging our understanding of the early steps of humankind’s long journey.

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Written by Ivan Petricevic

I've been writing passionately about ancient civilizations, history, alien life, and various other subjects for more than eight years. You may have seen me appear on Discovery Channel's What On Earth series, History Channel's Ancient Aliens, and Gaia's Ancient Civilizations among others.

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