Women From Prehistory to the Iron Age

The biological evolution which transformed the earliest hominids on the earth into Homo sapiens sapiens, human beings as we know them today, was a process which took several millions of years. The earliest documents providing evidence of the cultural evolution and cognitive developments of the species Homo sapiens sapiens occur in the Upper Palaeolithic Age, approximately 35 thousand years ago. Female figures carved of stone and bone, with exaggerated emphasis on their breasts, abdomen, thighs and sexual organs, reveal that the concept of fertility associated with fecundity and procreation was personified in the female form. Known as Venus figurines or Palaeolithic Venuses, these female figurines suggest some kind of fertility magic. The practice of burial in the hocker position, with the knees of the corpse drawn up to the chest like a foetus, in the floor of caves and rock shelters is evidence of belief in life after death and rebirth. The belief of woman’s powers of procreation would naturally have led to seeing the womb as incorporating the concepts of fertility, after-life and rebirth. These superstitious beliefs and traditions as manifested in the hocker burials continued through the cultural evolution of the Mesolithic / Epipalaeolithic periods ( 15000-8000 B.C.).

Vessel In the Shape of a Woman
Hacilar Chalcolithic, last quarter of 6th mill. B.C. Baked clay. Istanbul Sadberk Hamm Museum.
The mouth and neck of the vessel is in the shape of bust of a woman. Her arms are bent at the elbows and her hands seem to be holding a carinated bowl

During the Neolithic Age (8000-5500 B.C.) human beings graduated from a hunting-gathering economy to a sedentary life. In the earliest farming communities in

Figurine of a Goddess
Köskhöyük. Late Neolithic, second half of 6th mill. B. C. Baked clay Nigde Museum.
The goddess is seated with arms joined at front. She is wearing a tall cylindrical headdress, tilted backwards.

villages south of the Taurus mountains between the Euphrates and Tigris rivers, the tradition of burying their dead in the hocker position beneath the floors of their dwellings continued.

At the same time these superstitious beliefs and traditions developed into a cult, and buildings were constructed for the performance of cult ceremonies. A cult building at the major Neolithic settlement of Nevali Çori at Çayönü, east of the Euphrates near Urfa is believed to be one of the earliest temples in the history of cultural evolution. Small stone and female figurines discovered here depict women in pregnancy and giving birth. Among the group of small figurines of women discovered at Caferhöyük in the Malatya region, one is pregnant, another is bowed over as she were suffering from labor pains, and a third with pendulous breasts hanging down to her belly appears to be a nursing mother.

Vessel In the Shape of Woman Carrying a Jug.
Bavurdu, near Afyonkarahisar. Early Bronze Age I, late 4th-early 3rd mill B.C. Baked clay Afyon Museum.
The vessel has a spherical body, with woman’s head at the top of a long cylindrical neck. The face is disc-shaped with short straight eyebrows, nose and ears in relief. She is carrying a beak-spouted pitcher on her left shoulder with handle on opposite shoulder. Two small protuberances at front represent breasts. The vessel has the appearance of a pregnant woman.

At Çatalhöyük, a Ceramic Neolithic settlement near Konya in Central Anatolia, dating from the early 6th millennium B.C., the sequential development of human culture can be traced. A huge relief covering the wall of one shrine shows a female figure giving birth to a ram’s head and three bulls’ heads. Since bulls and rams symbolized men at Çatalhöyük, this represents woman giving birth to man. Humans had for thousands of years been trying to understand the process of reproduction, and this relief indicates that they had come to believe that it was a divine creation, symbolized in the form of “hieros gamos”, the sacred joining of God and Goddess, who were personified as the two genders of their own species. A clay figurine found at Çatalhöyük shows a woman seated on a throne with a panther on either side and the head of a child emerging between her legs as she gives birth. This is the mother goddess, who represented the mother-female element of religion and controlled birth, life, death and the after-life, as well as the wild natural world. Because the central element of religion during the Neolithic period was the mother goddess, it is not unreasonable to assume that this was a matriarchal society. The large number of figurines of the mother goddess found at Hacilar, Höyücek and Köskhöyük is evidence that this cult predominated in these settlements too


Marriage Contract
Kültepe (Kanesh). Middle Bronze Age, Assyrian Colony Period; first quarter of 2nd mill. B.C. Language: old Assyrian. Baked clay. Istanbul Archaeological Museums.
The document appears to be concerned with a marriage contract. What is referred as ‘belonging to both of them’ must be the house. It may be assumed that this is a case of two old people making a late marriage and a home being provided for them.

Figurine of a Woman Breast-feeding a Baby
Horoztepe. Early Bronze Age, late 3rd mill. B.C. Bronze. Ankara. Museum of Anatolian Civilizations.
The naked female is shown standing, breastfeeding a baby. Her right hand passes child’s legs and supports it from below.

Seated Figure with Disc-Shaped Face
Afyonkarahisar, Bolvadin. Early Bronze Age I, early 3rd mill. B.C. Baked clay Afyon Museum.
The woman is depicted with hands on cheeks as if in mourning. The long thin arms are bent immediately below the shoulders and raised to the face. At the front of the exaggeratedly long neck four deep horizontal grooves represent necklaces.

 

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