Wednesday, May 16, 2012

The Prehistoric History of Turkey, Part I, the Paleolithic

Turkey is one of those countries that straddles Europe and Asia. For me, trying to do a European History podcast, Turkey marks a dilemma. I can't leave it out, because the Thracians, Greeks and Byzantines are certainly a part of Europe's heritage. So too are the Seljuk Turks and the Ottomans. But at the same time, it's east of the Bosporus and technically an Asian country. I'm at a loss!!! But, because the peoples of modern day Turkey have had such an impact on Southeastern Europe and the Balkans I have to include them somewhere. Turkey didn't make the cut in the Paleolithic, Mesolithic or Neolithic podcast except through tangential relationships so I'm going to blog about them. While modern day Turkey continues to debate admittance to the European Union, I won't dally any longer. Turkey has a rich European history and we'll include them in our studies. So here is a sweeping overview of her history up to the Chalcolithic period.

The Turkish region of Anatolia is one of the longest, continuously inhabited places in the world. Paleolithic evidence dates to sites like the Karain Cave, the Belbaşi Culture and a whole host of sites we'll not really cover here because of space reasons. The earliest sites of Anatolia, or Asia Minor in Latinized terminology date to around 500,000 BC. While this rich cultural heritage deserves about a hundred thousand pages of a well documented book, we'll do our best with a couple of blog posts. So let's just focus on the two aforementioned Paleolithic sites.

Karain Cave shows evidence of human inhabitation dating from around 200,000 years ago. It's located in the Antalya region of modern day Turkey, near the Southwest coast along the Mediterranean Sea. The artifacts found at this cave are hosted in the Museum of Anatolian Civilizations located in Ankara, established in 1921. It is an UNESCO World Heritage Site, that contains everything from prehistoric hippopotami bones to early Greek inscriptions carved into the walls. Basically the cave complex has a rich million year history that shows some of the earliest human endeavors in Turkey.

The Belbaşi Culture is an ancient Paleolithic/Mesolithic Culture of tool making that spawns from a number of cave sites in the Southwest of modern day Turkey. It has findings of tanged arrowheads and other artifacts. Its artifacts are similar to those of the Kebaran Culture, a site named after the artifacts found near Haifa in modern day Israel and the Natufian Culture, a Levantine Culture that existed from 13,000 - 9,800 years ago in modern Israel, Syria, Lebanon and Turkey. But, while the Belbaşi Culture had eastwards roots, it expanded and changed westward. The Belbaşi Culture seems to have taught the cultures of the Balkans and Southeastern Europe how to farm and domesticate animals, making it an important predecessor culture for our studies.

The culture learned to craft tools from obsidian, flint, bone and antler. It coupled this technology with new farming techniques that made it a Neolithic culture. In addition to to adapting to farming techniques it created pottery that would revolutionize Southeastern European pottery in the coming times. These cavemen would eventually build houses in the Balkan countries of Greece, Macedonia, Serbia and Bulgaria before branching north to Romania to follow the Danube and become subsumed by the Danubian Cultures. It's truly fascinating that prehistoric peoples in Turkey would have an impact on those in Germany.

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