Vol. XVIII, No. 1
CSA Newsletter Logo
Spring, 2005

Web Site Review: Çatalhöyük: Excavations of a Neolithic Anatolian Höyük

Susan C. Jones

Çatalhöyük is a large, complex site in southeast Turkey that flourished during the Neolithic period. The official website for Çatalhöyük (http://catal.arch.cam.ac.uk/catal/catal.html) is also extensive and complex. Information on the site covers primarily the current excavations, which started in 1993 and are directed by Professor Ian Hodder; the site has only passing references to the campaign of the 1960's directed by James Mellaart. On the surface, the website's organization is lucid and relatively straight forward; its pages are frequently updated. A note on the bottom of the home page states that the last edit was performed in March, 2005. On closer examination, however, there are several areas that show poor coordination and sloppy maintenance.

It is difficult with a complex website such as this one to decide what pages the "site" actually includes. In this case the question arises because there are links to pages authored by project team members about their specific research. Some of these links are specifically listed as "external" (the illustrations of John Gordon Swogger). Others appear through one link to be part of the website but through others as separate entities (The Mysteries of Çatalhöyük). Several of these external links are informative and worth a visit, but they are not considered part of the website for this review.

General Layout

The home page is divided into 5 sections: a general introduction, recent additions, general information, research materials and a list of major sponsors. There is also a sidebar that provides links to commonly sought-after information: newsletters (produced for the Friends of Çatalhöyük), archived reports (field reports by excavation season), the primary search page, contact addresses, external links, etc. Befitting an educational/research site, there are no flashy animations or advertisements, and external links are either to sites independently produced by project personnel on their work at Çatalhöyük or to Anatolian archaeological sites.

The general information section provides links to the online newsletters, directions to the site itself, to a discussion group, to a dialog with the "goddess community" and to the "Çatalhöyük Scholarship Fund." Two of these links lead to pages that seem no longer to be maintained. One, the scholarship page is copyrighted 2002 and refers only to deadlines and procedures for the 2002/2003 and the 2003/2004 academic years. There is no reference to application deadlines for either this past season or for the upcoming one. There is also no statement about the current status of this scholarship. Note that other scholarship announcements are present on the site but not through this link. The second, a link to the "Çatalhöyük Discussion Group," is more disappointing, at least to me. The link leads to the server's "404 Object Not Found" message. Problems with links to pages that have disappeared (or were planned and never executed) are commonplace, but since its URL shows this link to be internal and therefore under the project's editorial control, some explanation for the defunct link seems necessary. Taken together these two links show a troubling inattention to detail.

The recent additions provide information for reaching the physical dig, a visitor's guide, a history of excavations, a link to an interactive exhibit from the Science Museum of Minnesota and a link to the 2004 archive report. Except for the archive report, all the links are to information aimed at the general public.

The research section begins with the statement that the detailed information given is directed at project members and these pages are of interest primarily to specialists. Links are then given to archive reports, to Theoretical Archaeology Group Conference (TAG) presentations, to microfaunal distributions plots for a building excavated during the 1997 season, to an interim report on the 1995-1999 excavations in the North area and to three databases -- excavation data, find data and field diaries. The data presented in most of these links are at a level of detail needed for scholarly research into Neolithic Anatolia. None of these links, however, leads to information originating after the 1999 season, except for a link to the index of archive reports. The database page with links to three primary databases (field dairies, excavation data and finds) was last updated after the 1999 season, and the dates connected to the subjects of the links themselves are 1999 or earlier. A message appears on the excavation data page that some 1998 data and some 2000 season data have not yet been loaded, which implies that they will be -- eventually.1 The last update of the Çatalhöyük database was February, 2001, according to a statement on this page. Among the excavation database records, even data said to be available is not necessarily complete; there are data sheets that contain nothing but a number.

Project members must have access to digital data not available through this web site. Authors of the archived reports for seasons after 1999 made numerous references to additional digital resources; authors of post-2000 articles talk about reconfiguring the databases. Some mention data to be made available in spring, 2005, while in their 2004 report the IT team discusses a restyled online database that will be available "soon." In this article, Mia Ridge and Richard May talk of new hardware donated by IBM and a redesigned database with live internet access on a secure server.2 Clearly project personnel have more complete databases available through other sources.

When Dr. Harrison Eiteljorg reviewed this site in July, 1998,3 he assumed that one of the web-site's goals was to provide raw excavation data on-line to researchers in the general archaeological community. Although there is evidence that the web site did at one point try to serve both the public and the project team, there is strong evidence that this is no longer the case. It is understandable that a single web access point for both the public and team members might have become infeasible; but if current excavation details are no longer going to be made available to the public, it should be clearly stated. I could not find such a statement. There is a statement about providing an archive of photo and video images to the general public.4 The authors also promise an index to the CDs and DVDs in the central archive online by spring, 2005, but an index is a long way from access to the images, and a longer way from backing up the images with excavation data. (Who will have access to this index this spring is not stated.)

The last section just provides a list of major sponsors of the project by showing their logos. Sponsors include both corporations and the non-profit "Friends of Çatalhöyük."

Searches available

I find the on-line research capablilities provided by this website frustrating. A serious researcher must contend with separate searches for the out-of-date databases, for the archive reports and for other information on the website. Each area has its own search mechanism, and every area must be searched to insure that all available information has been located. The process is close to traditional research using printed material. For the limited material covered in the databases, a researcher can glimpse the possibilities of on-line research from the perspective of several years ago, but nothing more. Technological advances in search procedures made in the last few years are not reflected on this site.

With that said, a bewildering number of different search links appears on the various pages of the website. These links lead to different search forms, each with various menu options and a brief description of what is being searched. Each search form is directed to a different database or set of pages, and what material is covered in the set is not always completely clear. From the search form available on the homepage sidebar, there is a link to "Tips for searching" that provides a description of the "free text queries" format, Boolean searches, wild-card searches and the use of quotation marks on the search criteria. Other search forms do not reference this page although they use this terminology.

The search options in the databases (excavation diaries, excavation data and finds data) all have options that include a wildcard word search on the descriptive fields. Diary data may also be searched by individual diarist and date, while excavation data may be searched by unit, space and feature numbers. The summary data for bulk finds and animal bones are searchable only by unit number. There is no link to the faunal analysis, only to documentation of the recording procedures, which also provides some documentation on the Access® database itself. (This page -- http://catal.arch.cam.ac.uk/files/Faunal_Recording_Proc.pdf -- is dated 13 Jul 2003.) There is no single search that will bring up data from both the field diary entries and excavation data. This lucuna is probably the result of data split among multiple databases.

The homepage sidebar provides two links to a single search form that provides a text search of the pages on the website. This form explicitly states that results will not include material from excavation databases and field diaries. The form requires researchers to pick one of two mutually exclusive options for the search domain -- either the archive reports or the Çatalhöyük web site. I expected that the archive reports option would search only archive reports pages and find all occurences of the submitted text. My searches with the archive reports option did find exclusively references on the archive reports pages, but it did not find all of them. I did not know what to expect under the Çatalhöyük web site option; I was not sure whether this search would include archive report pages as part of the website or exclude them as covered by the other option. I did expect it to find all occurences of the text in whatever areas of the site were searched. My searches with the Çatalhöyük web site option found pages on the archive reports as well as pages in other areas, such as Newsletter pages. However, it did not find all the archive report pages. I have no way of knowing if it found all references on pages in other areas.5

To give a concrete example, a search on "figurines" under the archive reports option produced 27 references, all of them from archive reports as I expected. The same search ("figurines") under the Çatalhöyük web site option produced 50 references, including 22 from the archive reports. The discrepancy between 27 and 22 references on archive reports prompted me to look at the individual references found under the two options. To my further surprise, there were only 16 references in common. There were 11 archive reports pages referencing "figurines" that appeared exclusively under the archive reports search. An additional six archive report references were found exclusively by the Çatalhöyük web site search! I could find no common criteria that separated the 16 references found by both searches from those references found by only one. The following table summarizes the the results.

  Çatalhöyük web site search Archive reports search
unique references common references total unique references common referencestotal
references from
archive reports
6 16 22 11 16 27
references from
elsewhere on website
28 0 28 0 00

I tried a second search -- one on "female figure." The Çatalhöyük web site search produced two references, one of them from the 2004 archive report, while "female figure" under the archive reports search produced no references.

Obviously, a researcher must search both domains to be sure of finding all references, and even that might not be sufficent.

To summarize findings, I found it incredibly difficult to search this website for specific information. I was required to use multiple searches, and I was left with the uncomfortable feeling that the searches might never find all the pertinent references. I suspect that the reason behind the bewildering number of different search forms is that the data available on the web are not interconnected electronically.6 I can see no reason to account for the obviously incomplete results of the searches.

Other Comments:

Other minor annoyances include:

On the positive side, searches for "theory" and "methodology" will bring up a wealth of pages on the philosophy of the excavation and the methods used: several presentations from the TAG conference in 1996 dealing with approaches, individual articles from archive reports and an extensive dialog between Hodder and Anita Louise a member of the "Goddess community." Specially noteworthy is the 2004 archive report by Nakamura and Meskell. In this article they discuss the taxomony of figurines and the effect of classifcations on retreiving information from databases. They examine the work on defining standard terminology and integration of that terminology across "specialized" databases and the "main excavation and finds databases." This discussion about classification of artifacts bodes well for the care that is going into the database design, while the dialog between Hodder and Louise (spokesperson for the "goddess community") addresses the influences of an excavator's assumptions on the interpretation of ritual artifacts and features in terms that a non-specialist audience can easily follow.


The Çatalhöyük web site is a disappointment for those of us who were hoping to see it develop into a state-of-the-art digital resource of an ongoing archaeological excavation. The material that is available through the archive reports is thorough and high quality, but its presentation is very much like a digitization of a traditional printed preliminary field report. These reports do appear promptly and have many color photographs of the site and individual finds, but the kind of cross-links and access to related material that should be possible with an internet format are missing. Also missing is access to forms of digital data -- GIS, CAD, databases, etc. -- that have no print equivalent. Archive reports and newsletters tell of using 3-d scanning and other digital media, but the results are not available on the site.

When Mr. Eiteljorg published his review of this site in 1998, we were both eagerly awaiting an on-line digital resource reflecting the cutting edge of a new technology. Almost 7 years later we are still waiting. Perhaps it is best to leave with this quote from the 2004 Archive Report: "We look forward to the day when the media are an accessible and useful resource to researchers and the public at large."7

-- Susan C. Jones

To send comments or questions to the author, please see our email contacts page.

1. Documentation on this search page includes information about what is currently available on the excavation databases. Return to text.

2. Specific references within the Ridge and May article refer to researchers accessing their own data and to "researchers everywhere" having live access "from anywhere." (http://catal.arch.cam.ac.uk/catal/Archive_rep04/ar04_32.html) Hodder's Introduction to the 2003 archive report talks of access only by the team members. (http://catal.arch.cam.ac.uk/catal/Archive_rep03/a01.html, accessed 20 Apr 2005) Return to text.

3. Harrison Eiteljorg, II, "Review of Çatalhöyük: Excavations of a Neolithic Anatolian Tell," (http://ccat.sas.upenn.edu/bmcr/bmerr/1998/EitelCatalAug.html, accessed 25 Apr 2005) Return to text.

4. J. Quilan and M. Ashley, "Digital Documentation at Çatal Höyük: A Media Update"(http://catal.arch.cam.ac.uk/catal/Archive_rep04/ar04_33.html, accessed 20 Apr 2005) Return to text.

5. I also performed an advanced Google search for "figurines" exclusively on the domain "catal.arch.cam.ac.uk." There were 84 references found; I could eliminate only 12 references as unlikely to have been found in the Çatalhöyük web site search. This left 72 references, and the combined results from the Çatalhöyük web site search and the archive reports search found a total of 61 references (16+6+11+28). I did no further investigation. Return to text.

6. "In summary, this work involved migrating individual Access databases to a centralised database . . ." Mia Ridge and Richard May, "Database & IT Developments," Çatalhöyük 2004 Archive Report (http://catal.arch.cam.ac.uk/catal/Archive_rep04/ar04_32.html, accessed 20 Apr 2005) Return to text.

7. J. Quilan and M. Ashley, as in note 4. Return to text.

For an index of other CD and Web site reviews available on the Web pages of the CSA Newsletter, see the review index.

For other Newsletter articles concerning the use of electronic media in the humanities, consult the Subject index.

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