Prior to the discovery of Yeşilova Höyük, the earliest settlement in İzmir was estimated to date back 5,000 years. There have been several mounds in Western Anatolia and within the İzmir province that were traced back to the Neolithic Age. However, the discovery of Yeşilova in the city center not only highlighted İzmir as a rare city that has harbored human civilization since ancient times, but also introduced a new link between the Neolithic Age in Near East and Europe.
Yeşilova Höyük Documentary
Early Settlers in İzmir
The early settlers in İzmir established their settlement 8,500 years ago by the Manda Creek in Bornova Plain. The sea level was lower then, therefore, the coastline was a few kilometers further away. The settlers decided on an advantageous location with fresh air in the middle of fertile and well-watered land not far from the sea and, probably most importantly, safe from flies as it is constantly breezy.
Here, they built their huts from reed and tree branches. They sowed seeds, grew plants, and harvested them when it was time. In their villages, they had guard dogs and raised livestock for meat and hide. They survived on agriculture, husbandry, hunting, and fishing in the heart of the nature’s abundance. Soon, they figured out that coating the reed and branches with mud resulted in more durable and sheltered houses. These round and bigger houses could shelter large families.
The early population in İzmir was growing. Over time, they became masters in house construction. They raised buildings on rectangular plans and stone foundations several meters apart from each other. Some of these buildings were used as housing while some were allocated to handicrafts such as stone, weaving, and pottery workshops.
However, after almost 800 years, life in Yeşilova became more and more challenging. Located on a flat valley, the settlement constantly flooded and alluvium raised the land over time. Constantly rebuilt over generations, the village was eventually abandoned following the 5700 BCE fire.
After around 200 to 300 uninhabited years, another community, presumed to be Southeastern European, settled in Yeşilova and 800 meters further in Yassıtepe. The remains of settlement discovered in Yassıtepe and in the upper layers of Yeşilova Höyük from the Chalcolithic Age, the 3000-year period between the Neolithic and Bronze Ages, shed light on another lost piece of history in İzmir.
Where is Yeşilova Höyük?
Yeşilova Höyük is located in the Bornova district of İzmir, within the borders of Karacaoğlan Neighborhood. It is 10 km from İzmir city center and 4 km from Bornova town center. You can reach the Yeşilova Höyük and the visitor center by exiting from the Yeşilova connection point of the İzmir belt highway.
How Was the Yeşilova Höyük Discovered?
In 2003, the history of İzmir was rewritten by a groundbreaking discovery in the middle of Bornova Plain, on a piece of land under construction to become a highway intersection. The earth excavated from the construction site was dumped in a park in Buca. A conscious citizen in İzmir (retired art teacher Ali Beke Özkan) noticed stone tools and pottery remains buried in the dumped earth and notified the authorities. Collected and examined by the museum, the remains revealed a surprising conclusion. The pottery remains dated back to the Neolithic Age. A surface survey at the excavation site confirmed the findings and shed new light on the early history of İzmir.
The initial archaeological excavations were conducted in 2005 in cooperation with İzmir Archaeology Museum under the scientific guidance of Assoc. Prof. Zafer Derin of Ege University. In 2008, excavations were passed on to the Ministry of Culture and Tourism in cooperation with Ege University, with Assoc. Prof. Zafer Derin as the director of excavation. Another settlement, Yassıtepe Höyük, was unearthed in 2005 when the digs in the mound began and as of 2010, Yeşilova Höyük excavations extended to Yassıtepe.
Yeşilova Höyük is located in the Karacaoğlan Neighborhood of Bornova District, at the intersection of Manda Stream with Gökdere. Right in the heart of Bornova Plain, these lands harbored İzmir's first prehistoric settlers. In addition to Yeşilova, there are five more mounds in the plain all dated to prehistoric ages. Yeşilova Höyük is the most ancient of these settlements.
Currently coated by thick layers of alluvium, the settlement extends over 70,000 square-meters. Research concluded that Yeşilova Höyük was home to various cultures from the Neolithic Age to the Roman Empire. Archaeological digs identified fourteen settlement layers remaining from these cultures. These layers are grouped under four main categories: Roman Period, Bronze Age, Chalcolithic Age, and Neolithic Age. The oldest and thickest of these culture layers is that of the Neolithic Age.
The Neolithic Age layer divides into three sub-layers and 10 architectural layers were identified within that period. The mud and clay deposits between the layers indicate frequent floods and overflow in the area, prompting inhabitants to constantly rebuild their settlements. Extending further by the end of the Neolithic Age, the settlement expanded towards Yassıtepe Höyük. However, a heavy flood around 5800-5700 B.C. ended all Neolithic settlement.
Fast-forward around a thousand years, and a different culture resettles in the area during the Chalcolithic Age. But this time, life mostly shifted towards Yassıtepe and Ipeklikuyu Höyük. Yeşilova Höyük was buried entirely under alluvium in the Bronze Age following the Chalcolithic Age, and the remaining area was converted into a cemetery. Recent findings in the area indicate sparse settlement consisting of farmhouses dating back to the Roman Empire, and particularly to Late Antiquity.
Eating and Drinking Habits
The first Neolithic communities in İzmir were hunter-gatherers and survived on fruit, pulse, and berries they gathered in the wild and the protein consumed by hunting and fishing. They hunted wild boar and fallow deer, and collected oysters, cockles, and other shelled sea creatures in the shallow waters of the sea. During the late Neolithic Age, the sea level rose and the coastline drew closer to Yeşilova, subsequently increasing the amount of sea food in the diets of ancient İzmir populations. Large amounts of batoid, bream, sea snail, bivalve mollusk, and tower snail remains were recovered from the mound layers pertaining to that era.
As life in Yeşilova proved sustainable and permanent, agriculture and husbandry began to play a key role in food supply. In addition to grain such as wheat and barley, they learned to grow pulse, including lentils and chickpeas, and raised cattle, sheep, and pigs. Permanent settlement and predictable food production soon increased the number of households in Yeşilova and the population in İzmir. Surplus harvest was stored for future use.
Production and Tools
Neolithic people were not familiar with metal yet, so they made tools out of stone and bones. Flint was the most popular as it is durable, hard and easy to find. When they wanted higher quality tools, they replaced flint with obsidian, which they obtained through trades. They would carve flint and obsidian into various tools, including projectile points, blades, scrapers, and arrowheads. Grinding stones were often made out of basalt.
Bones were easy to obtain as hunting and husbandry were prevalent. Animal bones from front and rear legs, ribs and horns were carved into tools. Bone pieces knapped into pointy ends were often employed in leather crafting.
A significant source of nourishment at the time, sea creatures were also substantial in productivity. Sea shells were used to make jewelry such as necklaces and bracelets. Potters used sea shells in their craft and they were equally important in trade. Highlighted terracotta items include pottery and seals. Terracotta spindle whorls were used in weaving.
Agriculture and husbandry encourages settled life, which comes with a need for shelter. The first settlement in Yeşilova, founded on a 2 to 2.3 meter high natural alluvial hill, is currently around 4 or 5 meters below the plain surface. The first settlements included oval or rectangular huts with cob walls and mud coated branch or reed roofs.
There were fire pits used for daily activities nearby these huts. Considered as the Renaissance of the Neolithic Age, 6000 to 5700 B.C. witnessed the highest population of the Age. Around 1 to 2 meters below the surface soil, pit houses and stone foundations were discovered. Individually built, the western facades of these houses often had stone platforms. These one-room huts also contained special areas to grind wheat and soil. Entrances were located in the middle of the longer walls on the southern facade. The remaining spaces between individual houses were used as workshops. Ovens, at this stage, were located either within the houses or in the common courtyards. Roofs were presumed to be thin cob walls, bolstered by wooden pillars. Neolithic settlements were buried under alluvial layers due to frequent floods.
In the Chalcolithic Age, life continued in the pit houses dug into the Neolithic layers. Houses in the Chalcolithic Age were half buried in the ground, simple round or oval huts built with braided branches. Chalcolithic people constructed their houses in the 6 to 8 meter oval pits hollowed out 1 meter deep into the Neolithic layers. The centers of these pits contain stone piles that are often correlated with architectural infrastructure. Moreover, the hollowed floor was filled with tree branches and grass. No remains were found indicating wooden material in housing architecture, which might be the result of natural decomposition over time.
Flaked Stone Disks and Terracotta Seals
As the concept of personal belonging grew stronger, people felt the need to supervise production. There are two specific findings in Yeşilova Höyük, possibly correlated to such control mechanisms. The first of these is a flaked stone disk unearthed in a workshop. While the exact function of the disk is yet to be discovered, it was likely part of the control mechanism on production size and used to estimate production amount. The other significant findings are the terracotta seals. Rectangular, oval or round terracotta seals reflect various figures, such as labyrinth, spiral, chain, braid, flower, and particularly the sun. Based on archaeological and ethnographic data, experts speculate that these seals were used as identifiers on bread or baskets, as decoration or in pottery or to identify herd animals. These flaked stone disks or terracotta seals might have been a sort of record to monitor production or to identify belongings. Estimated to date back 8,000 years, these findings provide substantial clues to contemporary social and economic life.
Anatolian Leopard and Yeşilova Höyük
Yeşilova contains archaeological evidence of a panther subspecies of which there are no other existing traces. Commonly known as Anatolian Leopard, this big cat lived all across Anatolia, including the vicinity of İzmir, during the Prehistoric Period. The Panthera Pardus Tulliana is a subspecies of the Persian Leopard, a common inhabitant of the Middle East and Anatolia. A significant figure of Neolithic fauna, the creature appears on pottery unearthed in Yeşilova, in the layer dated to 6000 to 5730 B.C. Pieces of a larger cube and a smaller red pot both show a leopard figure in a walking position. The spots on long-tailed leopard figures were filled in with white paste. On a piece of pottery is a leopard figure with lines drawn in as feet, though the head and the tip of the tail are missing. Another piece of pottery, on the other hand, depicts the head with an open mouth and eyes of small holes. Both pieces realistically depict the leopard.
The leopard figure drawn on ceramics, thought to be special-use pots, shed light on the beliefs during the period. They are thought to be sacred to inhabitants, similar to contemporary pots depicting the mother goddess. People might have depicted leopards to pray for no harm to themselves or their herds. These figures reflect people’s fears, faith, and spirituality, and point to their animism belief system. A substantial piece in the rich Neolithic symbol inventory and a reflection of contemporary culture, the leopard is believed to be a sacred animal that was honored by the people.
Having roamed these lands for 8,000 years, the Anatolian Leopard has not been observed in İzmir or its surroundings since the 1940s, when the last of this carnivore that is an inherent part of the natural history of İzmir was seen. Currently considered extinct due to lack of evidence of their current existence, two specimens are exhibited in the General Zoology Gallery of the Natural History Museum within Ege University to represent İzmir’s fauna during the Prehistoric Period. Leopard bones found not only in Yeşilova Höyük, but also in nearby Neolithic settlements including Ulucak and Çukuriçi Höyük, provide evidence of their existence during the Prehistoric Period.