Research conducted by a team who travelled to Mount Hasan near Çatalhöyük in Central Anatolia points to strong evidence that an approximately 8,600-year-old painting.
Presumed to have been inspired by a volcanic eruption of the mountain — could indeed be the world’s oldest known painted landscape or map backed by scientific evidence.
Çatalhöyük was a Neolithic and Chalcolithic proto-city settlement with a population reaching 8,000 people and covering an area of roughly 13 hectares. It existed from approximately 7500 B.C. to 5700 B.C. From 1961 to 1965, James Mellaart, a British archaeologist working with the University of Istanbul, excavated the site and discovered a three-meter-wide mural inside a mud-brick house. The mural is on display at the Museum of Anatolian Civilizations in Ankara.
Then last year, a research team led by Axel Schmitt, a geologist from the University of California, Los Angeles, travelled to Mount Hasan, which is located approximately 130 kilometers northeast of Çatalhöyük, to find evidence of a volcanic eruption. Schmitt’s theory was that if the painter or painters of the mural lived during an eruption, then it is highly likely that the mural is the earliest depiction of a landscape showing a volcanic eruption instead of simply showing a geometric pattern as was originally presumed. After collecting and analyzing pumice samples taken from the cone and base of the volcano, Schmitt’s team documented the presence of andesitic pumice veneer on the summit of Mount Hasan and dated it by using (U-Th)/He zircon geochronology. In their research paper, edited by the University of Oxford, Schmitt’s team proved that Mount Hasan erupted around 6960 B.C., which is around the time that the mural was done. Speaking to Nell Greenfieldboyce on US National Public Radio on Jan 9, Schmitt said: “In volcano textbooks or textbooks about cartography and mapping, they would always in their introduction mention this mural and that it’s potentially the oldest map, and the oldest depiction of a volcanic eruption.” There is strong evidence that this has now been proven due to the accuracy of these latest measurements. Nevertheless, Schmitt warns the public not to over-interpret his team’s findings. “You know, these people that lived in Çatalhöyük 9,000 years ago — they are fascinatingly strange to us,” he says, adding, “There is always a danger in taking our views and knowledge and trying to impose it onto a culture that is different from ours.”