The Goddess and the Bull : Catalhoyuk: An Archaeological Journey to the Dawn of Civilization

by Michael Balter
ISBN: 0743243609

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A Review of: The Goddess and the Bull: Catalhoyuk: An Archeological Journey to the Dawn of Civilization
by Greg Gatenby

Michael Balter has written the most informative and the most engaging book on an archeological project I have ever read. Given that my reading and my interest in this field over the decades have centered on Greek and Meso-American discoveries, I was prepared to merely skim a book about pre-literate Anatolian Turkey, long-regarded as hillbilly country by the pioneers of archeology (one of whom was Agatha Christie's husband). The Goddess And The Bull, though, is a brilliant history of the digs-and the diggers-at one of the oldest cities in the world which also happens to be one of the oldest archeological sites in the world: Catalhoyuk (pronounced Shah-tell-hoy-yook). It was at this site on the Anatolian plain that this 9500-year-old centre produced the oldest mirrors thus found, as well as some of the earliest examples of human self-awareness such as visual art and, amazingly, urban planning-no straw-chewing yokels here. These uncoverings of such early human accomplishments in themselves would make the site worth reading about, but the main reason to devour this volume is the fineness of Balter's research, the real page-turner but intelligent manner by which he conveys that research, and his balanced sensitivity in recounting the struggles, feuds, and triumphs of the scientists who have dug there for decades. He is especially good in telling the tale of James Mellaart who discovered Catalhoyuk in 1958. It was the kind of discovery archeologists dream about, and is still the stuff of Archeology 101 courses all over the globe. But unlike other trailblazing giants such as Kathleen Kenyon at Jericho, or Howard Carter at King Tut's tomb, Mellaart, through clumsy dealings and unfortunate communications with the Turkish Government, was eventually prohibited from working at the site he had made world-famous and on which, even years later, he was the acknowledged world expert. One of the most touching scenes in this tome is Balter's description of Mellaart's eventual return to Catalhoyuk-decades after his discovery of it and shortly after the Turks relented and rescinded their ban, mostly for sentimental reasons. There is perhaps a tad too much biographical information about some of the lesser players at the contemporary dig but I suppose Balter has assumed the reader is also an archeologist of sorts-the reader can sift through their own mesh that which they deem vital to behold and retain. This is a book for anyone interested in the history of the Middle East or in archeology, of course, but will appeal as well to those who love to read about the history of science. It should win awards.

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