Çatalhöyük. For archaeologists, this excavation in Turkey has assumed almost mythic proportions. First discovered in 1958 by British archaeologists ...

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“The Goddess and the Bull: Çatalhöyük: An Archaeological Journey to the Dawn of Civilization”

by Michael Balter

Free Press, 416 pp., $27

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Çatalhöyük. For archaeologists, this excavation in Turkey has assumed almost mythic proportions. First discovered in 1958 by British archaeologists James Mellaart, David French and Alan Hall, Çatalhöyük (pronounced Chah-tahl-hew-yook) was excavated in the 1960s by Mellaart. In four years of digging, he discovered some of the earliest complex remains of housing, religion, art and agriculture. And then he was banned forever from the site and Çatalhöyük was closed for nearly 30 years.

In “The Goddess and the Bull,” Science magazine correspondent Michael Balter weaves together the story of Mellaart and of Ian Hodder, who led and still leads the excavation of Çatalhöyük. In addition to working for Science, Balter is also the official biographer for the excavation. His book shares his passion, knowledge and insight to create a story that raises multifaceted questions about some of the earliest stages of humanity. Why did people start to farm? How did religion begin? Why did humans settle down and stop hunting and gathering?

Mellaart was a young, iconoclastic archaeologist when he began at Çatalhöyük. His fast-paced excavations found numerous painted walls, many with goddesslike figures and bulls, and nearly 200 buildings, most built one atop of the other. Çatalhöyük clearly showed that 9,500 years ago, humans lived in cities of up to 10,000 people. Mellaart was at the height of his profession when valuable Turkish artifacts that he had recently described disappeared and he was banned from Çatalhöyük. Although later exonerated, Mellaart did not return to Çatalhöyük until the 1990s, this time as the guest of Hodder.

Coming Up

Andrew Sean Greer

The author of “The Confessions of Max Tivoli”

will read

at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Elliott Bay Book Co., 101 S. Main St., Seattle. Free (206-624-6600; www.elliottbaybook.com).

By the time that Hodder, also a rebel, reopened Çatalhöyük in 1993, much in archaeology had changed. Hodder’s team moved at a glacial pace relative to Mellaart, employed new technology, and brought new interpretations of how people had lived thousands of years ago. Their work confirmed that Çatalhöyük is one of the most important archaeological sites ever found.

Balter has written a compelling story of the people, controversies and discoveries at Çatalhöyük. Combined with his discussions of how archaeology has evolved and the complex questions about our early ancestors, this is a thought-provoking book for anyone who wants to know more about our past and the importance and passion of studying it.

Reviewed by David Williams

“The Confessions
of Max Tivoli”

by Andrew Sean Greer

Picador, 267 pp., $14

As we age we gain experience; from that experience we obtain (we hope) wisdom. But what if we were to grow younger — instead of our experiences etching themselves into our skin, we were to become more childlike and youthful to our acquaintances? What if you ended your life as a man in a child’s body?

Andrew Sean Greer’s novel “The Confessions of Max Tivoli” purposefully explores human nature through a man who ages in reverse. As his soul grows older, his skin grows more youthful. Yet Max’s inverse story isn’t so much about his age or appearance but is an exploration of love and human nature through the eyes of a tortured man.

For a character so out of sync with time, Max does little to live in the moment. He constantly struggles against those who love him, unknowingly pushing them away, nurturing an obsession with obtaining one woman, Alice. He attempts to win her love at three different stages of his life, but because of his backward maturation, in each instance is unrecognizable to her.

Max seeks love for the purpose of attainment, not for the sake of loving. He seeks to obtain Alice as if it were a contest, a battle with her own heart. He loves with dark secrets and lies; his love and his condition are invariably linked. “She joked about her wrinkles and her chin, her new gray hairs … and I told her over and over that she was lovely. You see, I wanted to see her old.”

Max and his struggle are wholly human, with failings and inconsistencies and foolhardy mistakes. Greer weaves themes of solitude, love, friendship and family together into a portrayal of a unique, vital character.

Reviewed by Rebecca Taylor