A bird’s eye view - of a leopard’s spots. The Çatalhöyük ‘map’ and the development of cartographic representation in prehistory.
The striking wall paintings uncovered in the excavations at Çatalhöyük have fascinated archaeologists and non-archaeologists alike, and many interpretations of their content and meaning have been proposed. This article re-evaluates the claim that one of these paintings is a map of the village, with Hasan Dağ erupting above it. It is argued that the excavator’s first interpretation of the objects depicted in the painting, i.e., that they are a leopard skin above a panel of geometric design, is in fact a far more reasonable one, when this painting is contextualised within the entire corpus of painting and other art objects found at the site. Implications of this re-interpretation for our understanding of Neolithic spatial and symbolic representation, and the origin of map-making are considered, as well as the importance of the depiction of animals and felines in the Neolithic period.