The damage city life did to the first city dwellers

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Have you ever looked at the damage being done in the world today and thought, how did we get here? How did we get to a position of vastly overpopulated cities, a widespread pandemic, terrible amounts of violence, and an incredible amount of stress? Is this how it all started or did we go wrong somewhere along the way. Well, new evidence from the ancient neolithic city of Çatalhöyük suggests we have been dealing with these problems and worse, for a very long time.

Çatalhöyük was a city 9,000 years ago and is referred to by many as the very first neolithic city. This would have been the first time that people started to come together as a large community instead of a number of farmers sharing some resources. At its height, around 8,000 people may have lived in the community. That may not sound like much by today’s standards but if you consider it as the first proper settlement it would have been a dramatic change in the way people lived and really paved the way for the modern communities we are now used to.

It didn’t work. At that time people didn’t how to plan a community to support that number of people and there was no plan at all. The results were incredible. Houses were built so close together that if you wanted to enter your home you had to use a ladder to get in through the roof there was no space for doors or windows.

As you can imagine this meant that the entire populace was living on top of each other. Experts have now analyzed the site and many of the bodies that remain. They suggest that it is clear by looking at the skeletons how badly life was. One in four people had some sort of damage to the skull that appeared to have been caused by a small heavy ball to the back of the head. It appears people were using slingshots to hit each other. The study shows it was mostly women that were hit too.

Aside from the violence, people didn’t live a good life. The sanitary conditions were terrible and around 33 of those bodies examined suffered from an infection. In this community, there was no special place for rubbish or personal waste. It all went right beside the house. Infectious disease was rampant.

Even looking at the teeth of the people shows that their diets were awful too. 13% of men and 10% of women had cavities. That may seem high but today over ninety percent of people will experience cavities at some point in their life, so maybe not much has changed there.

Further studies revealed that as time went on people started to leave the community more and more. The leg muscles of the people showed that the more recent the skeleton the more they walked. This is likely because people left to set up their own farms and smaller communities. Basically, the settlement had failed. 

This didn’t stop humanity from trying again and it appears we have never really learned our lesson. Although we now leave enough space to allow people to enter their homes through a door, little else has changed. Populations in some cities are so high that sanitation is a real issue. Violence and stress are still huge problems today. Perhaps we were just never meant to settle in such large communities. If we were evenly spread around the world would things be safer, cleaner, healthier? Do we really benefit from this city life that we have all become so used to?

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