Ancient People Experience Modern Problems

Residents of one of the first farming communities, some 9,000 years old, were some of the first human beings to experience the dangers of urban living. These 8,000 some agrarians had to deal with infectious diseases, violence, overcrowding and environmental problems.

In this ambitious 25 year study of the dig at Catalhoyuk much is revealed about these early agrarians. Catalhoyuk started as a small settlement around 7100 B.C. They probably built and lived mud-brick huts. Using stable carbon isotope ratios from the bones of these ancient agrarians it was determined they ate mostly rye, barely and wheat in addition to many kinds of non-domesticated plants.

One disease of civilization that occurred from the grain-heavy diet was tooth decay. 10 to 13 percent of teeth found in adult remains showed decay.

Researchers also found that over time leg bone shapes changed demonstrating that later residents probably did more walking. Researchers think this as time went on farming and cattle raising were moved further and further out from the city center.

Other evidence including where domiciles were built and samples taken from the walls suggest that housing was crowded and that both animal and human feces were present in most of the homes which probably accounts for the high rates of evidence of infection found in the bone remains of residents.

These conditions were probably were also the cause of rather high levels of violence among residents. From 93 skulls sampled, 25 residents showed evidence of healed fractures. Some had multiple fractures accumulated over time. The shape of the injuries suggest many were caused by tools found at the site.

Clark Spencer Larsen, professor of anthropology at OSU, was the lead author of the study.