Have you ever wondered about the current state of our world and how we got here? How did we end up with overpopulated cities, widespread pandemics, high levels of violence, and an overwhelming amount of stress? Did these problems start with the development of cities, or did we go astray somewhere along the way? Recent evidence from the ancient neolithic city of Çatalhöyük suggests that these issues and more have been prevalent for a very long time.
Çatalhöyük, often referred to as the first neolithic city, existed 9,000 years ago. It marked the transition from small farming communities to large, centralized settlements. At its peak, the population of Çatalhöyük reached around 8,000 people. While this may not seem significant by today’s standards, it was a groundbreaking change in the way people lived and laid the foundation for our modern communities.
However, the experiment of Çatalhöyük did not go well. People at that time did not know how to plan for a community of that size, resulting in haphazard living conditions. Houses were built so close together that access was only possible through the roof using a ladder, as there was no space for doors or windows.
Consequently, the entire population was crowded and lived on top of one another. Experts who have studied the site and examined the remains found evidence of the hardships that the inhabitants endured. It is clear from the skeletons that every fourth person had skull damage, likely caused by blows from slingshots. Remarkably, the study shows that women were predominantly targeted.
In addition to violence, life in Çatalhöyük was far from good. Sanitary conditions were appalling, with 33 of the examined bodies showing signs of infection. There was no designated area for waste disposal, resulting in waste piling up next to the houses and contributing to the rampant spread of infectious diseases.
Moreover, dental analysis reveals that the inhabitants had poor diets. About 13% of men and 10% of women had cavities—a high percentage even compared to today’s standards, where over ninety percent of people will experience cavities at some point in their lives.
Further research shows that over time, people began to leave the community more frequently. Analysis of their leg muscles indicates that the more recent the skeleton, the more walking the individual did. This suggests that people left Çatalhöyük to establish their own farms and smaller communities, essentially signifying the failure of the settlement.
However, humanity persisted in trying to form cities, despite the lessons from Çatalhöyük. Although we now provide enough space for homes to have doors for entry, little else has changed. Many cities today face issues related to high population density, inadequate sanitation, and persistent violence and stress. It raises the question of whether settling in large communities was ever truly meant for us. Could a more even distribution of population across the globe result in safer, cleaner, and healthier living conditions? Do we truly benefit from the city life that we have grown so accustomed to?
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