Archaeologists have discovered an 8,000-year-old rare statuette of what could be a fertility goddess at a neolithic site in Turkey.
The figurine, discovered at Catalhoyuk in central Turkey, was wrought from recrystallised limestone between 6300 and 6000 BC.
It is a rare find in a place where most previously discovered pieces are sculpted from clay and deformed over millennia in the soil, said researchers led by Ian Hodder, professor at Stanford University in the US.
Conventionally associated with fertility goddesses, this figurine is also thought to represent an elderly woman who had risen to prominence in Catalhoyuk's famously egalitarian society, they said.
Hodder learned of the discovery earlier this year when he received a call from Arek Marciniak, a Polish archaeologist, whose team had been digging in the southern part of the site when they unearthed the figurine.
"I rushed up to find a group of Polish archaeologists staring down at this white shape that was beginning to appear in the soil," said Hodder, who "realised immediately that it was a very special find."
Excavators had hollowed out a large dwelling, where its former occupants had deposited the figurine in platforms built atop earlier structures. At the platform's far southeast corner, abutting the wall, archaeologists found the figurine.
The stone figurine measures 17 centimetres long and 10.96 centimetres wide, weighing in at one kilogramme.
Aside from oddly small hands and feet, it reflects "a good and pragmatic knowledge of the human body," according to Hodder's team.
What sets this figurine apart from so many others is not its appearance, but its craftsmanship. Goddess figurines at Catalhoyuk usually depict a woman with her hair tied in a bun, plump, with sagging breasts and a pronounced belly, suggesting maturity.
The figurine in question contains a few unusual features: elaborate fat rolls on the limbs and neck; the arms separated from the torso; and an undercut below the belly to separate it from the rest of the body.
Such detail is only possible with thin tools, like flint or obsidian, in the hands of a practiced artisan. Millennia of weathering in the soil has erased evidence of the figurine's handling, researchers said.
While of exceptional quality, this figurine was not of exceptional purpose. Goddess figurines were common in the Neolithic period, crafted throughout southeastern Europe, the Middle East and Anatolia, the region in central Turkey where Catalhoyuk once flourished. While they have long symbolised fertility, a more recent theory suggests otherwise.
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