The Konya Plain Survey, Central Anatolia

The University of Liverpool has been conducting an archaeological survey of the Konya plain in south central Anatolia, around the famous Neolithic site of Çatalhöyük, since 1995.

About the Project

The University of Liverpool has been conducting an archaeological survey of the Konya plain in south central Anatolia, around the famous Neolithic site of Çatalhöyük, since 1995.

There are historical questions of some interest that our survey can help to address, eg.

  • What sort of importance did such potentially rich agricultural settings have in the Hittite empire?
  • The Konya plain possibly being part of the 'Lower lands'?
  • How did settlement develop during the politically fragmented Iron Age?
  • What affect did Hellenistic, Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman empires have upon settlement in the plain?

Survey evidence allows us to context past societies in an unique fashion, allowing us to approach the question of relative population levels, demographic fluctuations and the way in which populations were distributed across the landscape. The ultimate goal is the reconstruction of the social, economic, political, and environmental factors that underlie such distributions. The Konya plain offers particular advantages to the study of such questions. These are the good preservation of the settlement record and the high degree of visibility of much of that record. The relatively even distribution of resources and limited topographical variation minimize the complications of considering highly variable catchments in analysing settlement structure and central place theory can thus be used to good effect. The survey area currently encompasses c. 450km2 of the Çarshamba alluvial fan.

The application of innovative methods has allowed us to retrieve less visible components of the record, vital for the proposed reconstruction of settlement history.


Site identification

  1. Remote sensing using satellite imagery: this method yielded previously unrecognised sites of several periods (courtesy of Stephen Holmes, Edinburgh University)
  2. Canal walking continued to yield sites not on the topographic maps
  3. Field walking recovered sites not on maps and artifact scatters, the latter probably relating to ancient agriculture, specifically in the Classical period
  4. Visual inspection of the topography revealed new sites.

These methods have added significantly to the site record detailed on the topographic maps.

We have located and surveyed 74 sites (many sites are multi-period and there are min. 145 distinct occupational episodes) in the 450km2 survey area. These range from sites less than 1000m2 in area to sites of 45 hectares. This density and range of site types will allow us to address the structure underlying settlement distributions.

Site comprehension

Contour survey and intensive collection continue to produce vital and detailed information about site histories on the many multi-period sites. We have had particular success in isolating site components of particular periods or types and documenting the complex histories of particular sites.


In 1997 a second Epipalaeolithic period occupation was documented within the survey area further attesting to the activity of such communities within this area pre-8000 BC calibrated.

Several smaller Neolithic sites exist in this part of the plain around Çatalhöyük. Where size information is available they are much smaller than Çatalhöyük. Clear differentiation in the nature of communities is indicated. The possibility that Çatalhöyük served as some sort of 'centre' for such sites is at least feasible. This pattern and indeed site locations continue unaltered into the Early Chalcolithic, with the large site of Çatalhöyük West contrasting with a number of much smaller sites, but there is a clear increase in site frequency.

A major change would appear to mark the Late Chalcolithic when the alluvial fan is occupied by a swathe of small sites up to 3 hectares in area and there is no evidence for a significantly larger site.

The massive increase in frequency of sites and appearance of a classic rank size hierarchy of settlements indicates the development of urbanism in the area c. 3000 BC. Whilst the aggregate site area for the fan in the Neolithic and Chalcolithic periods is relatively constant, suggesting only low scale fluctuations in population, the increase in site area in the Early Bronze I-II periods is massive. This clearly indicates that population increase had a direct role to play in emergent urbanism on the plain. Central place models designed to analyze such urban systems in such settings indicate valuable insights into the emergent urban pattern and the location of key first (over 35 hectares) and second order centres (c. 15-20 hectares). These suggest that the relationships between subsidiary settlements and centres were governed by administrative considerations.

Settlements virtually disappear from this area in the late third and are very scarce in the second millennium BC. In the 97 season we identified a few sites of these periods, classic small tells and small components on large sites. A number of explanations can be offered for the collapse and radical transformation of settlement following the mid-third millennium BC and the persistence of this situation throughout the second millennium. The basic phenomenon must represent either the shift or decimation of populations in the late third millennium or a combination thereof. The decimation of population might be ascribed to war or disease. Population shift might be related to both negative features of life on the fan and the attractions of opportunities elsewhere. The growth of major sites like Konya Karahöyük at this period could suggest that the attraction of alternative major centres had a role to play. Environmental degradation on the fan is an attractive explanatory option, but one would have to explain why sites like Konya Karahöyük on an adjacent alluvial fan were not affected. The very absence of a dense 'rural peasantry' in this area of the Hittite empire is an interesting insight and invites scrutiny of comparable settings within 'Hittite' Anatolia.

Whilst the second millennium BC appears to be one of transition to that of the Iron Age in terms of the settings of sites settlements only reappear in numbers in the late Iron Age. A number of contemporary clusters of small sites can be documented in this period. No site currently documented exceeds 6 hectares.

The Hellenistic period, contrary to previous perceptions, is characterised by a dense distribution of what are presumably small sedentary agricultural villages packed on the fan, spaced every 2-3 kms. A significant number of these suggest continuity with the Iron Age settlement pattern. In 1997 we documented one significant local centre c. 25 hectares in area. There is clear continuity from the Hellenistic into the Roman-Byzantine period in site location and presumably the partitioning of the landscape. The new feature of this period is the development of a few smaller Hellenistic sites into evenly spaced larger settlements, c. 12-18 hectares, small towns, and one major centre (c. 45 hectares - documented this year) whose distribution and that of their smaller neighbours accords very closely with one of the classic central place models indicating these centres grew up at least partly to minimize transport costs of goods to centres. Another consistent feature of Roman-Byzantine sites is their expansion onto the level plain off tells and this may be indicative of significant developments in land management, particularly drainage and irrigation. The graph of aggregate site area suggests that this period witnessed a population maximum on the plain. We may now be able to date these developments more precisely because of the recovery of a number of coins of these periods.

In 1997 a number of Selcuk-Ottoman period sites were recovered, many were small and located away from tell situations. We may be beginning to define the nature of settlement at these periods more clearly.

Dramatic fluctuations in the demography and structure of settlement on the plain are apparent. The evidence is such that we will be able to address questions of the role of communities using the plain in the appearance of sedentism, agricultural villages, urban communities and early empires. We will be able to define the economic, political and social factors that may have had a role in the nature of settlement structure at different periods. Related environmental projects (Roberts, Loughborough) will allow us to gauge the role of changing environments in the fluctuations in demography and the structure of settlement.

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