This essay starts from the assumption that the careful distinction of different temporalities indicated by the material evidence from the Çatalhöyük site may advance the study of whatever kind of specially marked “religious” or “transcendent” experiences occupied the life of its inhabitants. In writing it, however, I found that I needed a certain theoretical and methodological framing to make sense of my arguments about how “temporalities of religion” can become useful to analyze the material record of Çatalhöyük. As someone without archaeological experience, I was struck by the extent to which archaeological analysis is suspended between the twin anchors of the material record, on the one hand, and theoretical narratives of the longue durée, on the other. The effort of bringing these together in a process of abduction seems to be the essence of archaeological interpretation. My effort to contribute to this process of abduction in the case of Çatalhöyük, therefore, entails the following steps: First, I try to answer the question of what one may be looking at when looking for different timescales in the material record, and part of this answer is that one inevitably seems to look at facts that ultimately take their meaning from within a narrative of the longue durée. Second, I have to question the relevance of notions of “symbolism” and “religion” when applied to the Neolithic. Third, this effort has to be translated to my own version of the narrative of the longue durée as it appears to me on the basis of the material record of Çatalhöyük so far. It is, finally, only on this basis that a consideration of the temporalities of religion at Çatalhöyük becomes feasible.
In this process, several things will, I hope, come to stand out:
first, that generalizations about human material entanglements and their relationship to larger narratives of evolutionary change will have to explicate their temporal scales more explicitly if they are to make good their claims;
second, that making sense of the material evidence at Çatalhöyük may be more dependent on what one can call the “local” evolution of the settlement – its particularity – than on any universal evolutionary scheme;
third, that assessing the role of religion, the transcendent or the sacred at Çatalhöyük may be helped more by comparisons with – partly secularized – social arrangements in the modern world than with analogies with what seem to be more “traditional” predecessors; and
fourth, that it is in the overlap between timescales that we are most likely to find traces of the religious or transcendent characteristic of Çatalhöyük.
While working this out, however, I was struck by the numerous occasions on which I turned out to be mistaken or premature in my conclusions in the face of analytical insights already provided by the archaeologists working at the site. The following notes offer little more than suggestions about possible shifts in interpretive emphasis or preferences for one storyline over another, and often end up in a kind of interpretative limbo that should remain extremely modest in its claims to contribute anything to the interpretive and methodological rigor of the archaeological work done at the site since 1993.