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The Goddess and the Bull: Catalhoyuk--An Archaeological Journey to the Dawn of Civilization New edition Edition

24 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-1598740691
ISBN-10: 1598740695
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Editorial Reviews


"This is a clear and detailed account of how archaeological methodology and different avenues of scientific investigation (archaeobotany, micromorphology and physical anthropology) can be combined to help us understand cultural, religious, and ideological contexts at Çatalhöyük. Balter’s vivid image of a functioning archaeological community is a unique perspective that is thoroughly enjoyable." —Katie Jaye-Lipton, Minerva

"Balter uses the personlities of the people who have excavated the Turkish archaeological site of Catalhoyuk to draw in his reader and to help understand the passion, decisions and dedication that it takes to work for years at an archaeological site.... The Goddess and the Bull is the wonderful true story of one of the largest and most populated Neolithic settlements.... Highly recommended for undergraduates, because the book does a wonderful job of explaining various archaeological theories in a way that is easy to understand." —Melissa Aho, Anthropology Review Database

"The dawn of civilization means here the beginnings of living in cities and the emergence of complex social and symbolic systems. The author, a celebrated scientific journalist of Science, perceptively explores the way in which the archaeological record is interpreted over time. His study retraces some fifty years of excavation at Çatalhöyük, one of the largest Neolithic settlements in central Turkey’s Konya Plain, which was discovered in 1958 by British archaeologist James Mellaart. This 9,500 old prehistoric village, which was inhabited for a thousand years and whose population is estimated to have been approximately 8,000 at its peak, is made of well preserved mud-brick houses in which artworks depict leopards, vultures, bulls and 'Mother Goddesses'. Balter’s skillfully crafted report should be of interest to semioticians not so much for his descriptions of the artifacts as for his vivid rendering of the archaeological process. His main focus is indeed on the archaeologists themselves, who are not mere names appended to scientific articles or books reporting data and interpretations, but embodied minds embedded in institutions and complex webs of influences. Each one is introduced by a life story and his/her involvement with Çatalhöyük is described in both intellectual and emotional terms. But, perhaps more importantly, this book dramatizes the theoretical and methodological changes that occurred during the last fifty years in archaeology. The paradigm shifts from 'traditional' to 'New', then from 'Processual' to 'Post-processual' archaeology are lucidly explained as well as their consequences in the field. Balter exemplifies, without using the word, the semiotic turn in archaeology, the explicit quest for the meanings that prehistoric artifacts had for the people who made them and used them." —Semiotix

"(Balter) has produced a compelling read, one that achieves the double act of educating and entertaining." —Science Magazine

"All in all, this book is an exciting read. Balter knows his stuff and anyone interested in the origins of civilization and the ultimate foundations of the modern world we live in will enjoy and learn from it. Besides that, there is basically an undergraduate education in archaeological theory included." —Political Affairs

From the Inside Flap

Veteran science writer Michael Balter skillfully weaves together many threads in this biography of the excavation one of archaeology’s most legendary prehistoric sites— Çatalhöyük, Turkey.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Left Coast Press; New edition edition (January 15, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1598740695
  • ISBN-13: 978-1598740691
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.8 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (24 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #818,306 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Michael Balter is a Contributing Correspondent for Science and Adjunct Professor of Journalism at New York University. He covers archaeology and human evolution and occasionally travel and food. In addition to regular contributions to Science, his work has appeared in Discover, The Smithsonian, National Geographic, the International Herald Tribune, Islands, the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, National Geographic Traveler, Bon Appetit, Saveur, Travel & Leisure, and many other publications.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Believe me, if you're interested in the archaeological site of Catal Hoyuk, don't waste your money on this book. It's a monumental disappointment.

Catal Hoyuk is one of the most important archaeological sites in the world, yet the current excavator, Ian Hodder, has published next to nothing about it -- even though he's been excavating there since 1993 and is getting funded handsomely by some of the largest multinational corporations going. So it was with great interest and excitement that I off-loaded my precious cash for a copy of this book -- one that promised not only info about the lives of the ancient people who lived at this early Neolithic site, but also about the stately, powerful, obviously other-worldly, and mysterious ancient female figurines and other art found there.

What a let-down. Not only does Balter not tell anything about the people being excavated at Catal Hoyuk -- who they might have been, how they might have lived their lives -- he barely mentions the female figurines. Despite his title -- which I think he knew would sell the book -- he barely mentions any goddess or goddesses (except to ridicule people who think Catal Hoyukians might have "believed in" or had anything to do with such an outlandish notion as female divinity). As the anthropologist Pat Shipman wrote recently, this book is "about neither a goddess nor a bull.... Indeed, *The Goddess and the Bull* is not really about the archaological site of Catalhoyuk either..." (Nature, Vol. 435, 19 May 2005: pp. 278-79).

If you want the life histories of some of the 100 or so people helping excavate this site, however, by all means, plunk down your dollars and grab a copy.
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28 of 35 people found the following review helpful By G. Joy Robins on May 23, 2005
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I had hoped to be able to imagine the life of the ancient Catalhoyuk community. Instead, Balter emphasises the lives and works of the modern Archaeologists. It was a good read, but I learned precious little about what I really wanted to know. There were too many "year book pictures" and too few photos of artifacts. It portrayed the dig as a kind of Archaeology Camp. I am glad they had so much fun, but what did they find out?
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31 of 40 people found the following review helpful By William Holmes VINE VOICE on January 2, 2005
Format: Hardcover
"The Goddess and the Bull" is a fasinating and well written book, enjoyable at many levels. Michael Balter began thinking about Catalhoyuk when Science magazine assigned him to write a story about the excavations back in 1998. He became fascinated by the subject, found reasons to go back to the dig to write follow up articles, and eventually became the excavation's official biographer.

The story begins with James Mellaart's discovery of the mound at Catalhoyuk and the stunning realization that it was Neolithic (New Stone Age) from top to bottom--to use Mellaart's phrase, no "filthy Roman muck" cluttered this site. Balter describes the excavation of the site in the 1960s, the excitement about the discovery of "Goddess" figurines, Mellaart's expulsion from Turkey in the aftermath of the mysterious Dorak Affair, and the long hiatus between Mellaart's departure in 1965 and the arrival of Ian Hodding's team in 1993. The narrative offers many insights about the debates among "processual" and "post-processual" archaeologists, as well as the backgrounds of the many interesting people who choose to live and dig at Catalhoyuk year after year.

But the stars of the book are Catalhoyuk and its people. What do we know about these villagers, those generations that occupied the site for nearly 1,000 years? Did they worship bulls or goddesses? Were their cattle domesticated or wild or something in between? Why did they bury their dead beneath the floors of their houses? Why did they bury and sometimes burn their houses, only to build new structures on top of the old, over and over again? And why did they choose to live together in such large numbers in the middle of what was then a marsh?
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16 of 20 people found the following review helpful By Matthew Krohn on January 5, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Michael Balter is a writer for Science magazine, and does a very good job of writing a book which is interesting on many levels. Not only is the book informative, but skillfully written so as to be enjoyable. The book begins with a history of the excavations at Çatalhöyük carried out by James Mellaart in the 1960's. By the fourh chapter, it is discussing the events leading up to the site being reopened by the eminent archaeologist Ian Hodder, who has assembled an all-star team to determine the feasibility of a new archaeological methodology. Part biography, part adventure, it is one of the few works of non-fiction which I have been unable to put down.

The book serves well to provide a degree of transparency to the Çatalhöyük excavations that I've never seen before. Many of the excavators are put under a microscope, just as one of the specialists, Wendy Matthews, does to fragments of the houses they excavate. Indeed, this may be a useful metaphor: in understanding the meaning of the houses unearthed, we need to understand how it was constructed; to understand the conclusions reached by the Çatalhöyük team, we need to know the makeup of the crew.

I n an email I sent earlier today to the author, I commented that the book "feels similar to an adventure novel along the lines of a Clarke novel, except that it
is all real." I hold to this. The book as a whole is an exciting read, and it's rather a relief to sometimes read about an archaeological project without having to stop and reflect deeply every two pages. This is not to say that the book doesn't stimulate the mind. It is, however, written so as not to be a burden.
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