© John Swogger Rendering of a wall painting discovered at Shrine 14 during the original excavations of Çatalhöyük by British archaeologist James Mellaart in the 1960s and said to depict Hasan Dagi erupting
A mural excavated at the Neolithic Çatalhöyük site (Central Anatolia, Turkey) has been interpreted as the oldest known map. Dating to 6600 BCE, it putatively depicts an explosive summit eruption of the Hasan Dağı twin-peaks volcano located 130 km northeast of Çatalhöyük, with a birds-eye view of a town plan in the foreground.

This interpretation has always been controversial, not least because independent evidence for a contemporaneous explosive volcanic eruption of Hasan Dağı has been lacking. However, recent volcanic rock dating suggests the painting of the Çatalhöyük mural may have overlapped with an eruption, according to results published in the open access journal PLOS ONE by Axel Schmitt from the University of California Los Angeles and colleagues from other institutions.

Analysed volcanic rock samples

Scientists analysed rocks from the nearby Hasan Dağı volcano in order to determine whether it was the volcano depicted in the mural. To determine if Hasan Dağı was active during that time, scientists collected and analysed volcanic rock samples from the summit and flanks of the Hasan Dağı volcano using (U-Th)/He zircon geochronology. These ages were then compared to the archaeological date of the mural.

An eruption around 6900 BC

© Janet C. HarveyHasan Dagi
Volcanic rock textures and ages support the interpretation that residents of Çatalhöyük may have recorded an explosive eruption of Hasan Dağı volcano. The dating of the volcanic rock indicated an eruption around 6900 BC, which closely overlaps with the time the mural was estimated to have been painted in Çatalhöyük. The overlapping time frames indicate humans in the region may have witnessed this eruption.

Alternative interpretations of the mural include the depiction of a leopard skin, consistent with other art at the Çatalhöyük site.

Schmitt adds, "We tested the hypothesis that the Çatalhöyük mural depicts a volcanic eruption and discovered a geological record consistent with this hypothesis. Our work also demonstrates that Hasan Dağı volcano has potential for future eruptions."

Source: PLOS ONE