The experience of the Çatalhöyük Web site

Analysis of the log data for the Çatalhöyük project web site ( for the month of November 1998 revealed an average of 107 users (not hits) daily, the total number of user sessions was 2,306 and the average session length was 10 minutes. The most active use of the site came from the United States (1,351 user sessions), the United Kingdom and Europe (including Turkey), with minimal but very widespread use from elsewhere.

Thus, very quickly, the Web site has become by far the most effective way of transmitting information about the archaeological research at Çatalhöyük. The audience size and diversity are far greater than is attainable using traditional means. In comparison, very few copies of the first monograph (Hodder 1996) describing the projects work have been sold, and mainly to specialist libraries.

However, the maintenance of an up-to-date Web site is expensive in terms of the time and skills required. There are other disadvantages. In particular, much visual material and certainly large amounts of video record cannot be provided because access times for most computer systems become unacceptably slow. Thus, at present, the Çatalhöyük Web site is very text heavy. Further difficulties and limitations will be described below.

But the advantages and potential are equally clear. For example, the Web site has rapidly become the most important way of publishing the archaeological site, not only because it is widely read, but also because it is up-to-date and frequently edited and renewed. The speed of publication is such that an archive report, Newsletter and context and other data are available on the Web site 3-4 months after the end of each excavation season. Those interested in the archaeological site are thus able to keep in touch with the most recent findings.

While a Web site is usually in a constant state of addition or editing, the articles and papers published are treated like the print medium, in that they become fixed (and are dated) when they are released, and no subsequent editing is generally undertaken. The Web site itself, and the interface to the database, in itself a dynamic resource, will keep changing over time. Changes are documented and central document names are maintained.

Immediate provision of site archives and site data from context forms to plans and diary entries allows greater access. It becomes possible to provide information so that interested parties other than the field team can evaluate and study the data. However, accessibility requires a user-friendly path of entry into the database; it is unlikely that outsiders could understand directly the recording mechanisms employed in the field and the details recorded. To redress this situation the crib sheet employed to train excavators are accessible from the web site and are linked into the database query pages. We have still much work to do on this for the Çatalhöyük Web site. Indeed the design requirements for open access to a codified and specialised set of data are complex, and there is much experimentation that is needed in order to provide appropriate entry systems for a wide range of different constituencies.

Another aspect of the Web site is that it allows the placing side by side of specialist and public perspectives - this can be construed as the merging of high versus low culture, so often touted as a characteristic of postmodernism. However, such a distinction is increasingly difficult and many of the alternative voices heard at Çatalhöyük are extremely well-informed, well-educated and from high income groups. On the Çatalhöyük Web site we have been able to include a discussion with a member of the Goddess community. This not only opens up debate and suggests new lines of research, but it also provides links to Goddess sites. Indeed, one of the sources of interest in the Web site is via links from Goddess or New Age pages. People interested in such pages become exposed in this way to archaeological inquiry. As another example of the inclusion of non-dominant voices, the Web site contains the winning essay by a Turkish high school student who took part in a competition sponsored by British Airways to write about why Çatalhöyük is important for Turkey.

The Web site allows more than the inclusion of alternative views. It also allows dialogue. As well as the example of the conversation with the member of the Goddess community, the Web site has a comments section. A wide range of comments from a great diversity of sources is received here, and members of the project staff endeavour to respond to these by individual emails.

Thus it is clear that the provision of archive reports, the database, and other material on the Çatalhöyük Web site opens up the site to a wider variety of people than would otherwise have been possible. Certainly the Web site plays an important role in allowing members of the project staff to gain access to each others data, even though the staff are scattered across the globe. So the Web site plays a primary role in data handling by the project staff. But there are also many non-specialists who can access the data and comment on it. Interactivity, multivocality and reflexivity are encouraged. But it is also undoubtedly the case that this process excludes many people. For example, the local community from the villages and towns near Çatalhöyük have no access to the Web site, and they do not understand the English it is written in. We are pursuing alternative methods of involving the local communities in the process of interpretation. In particular, Ayfer Bartu has organised a community exhibit in the site's visitor centre. This allows the local community to participate in Turkish and to use photographs which they quickly learned to do. The visitor centre also has a copy of the CD-ROM based on the project, and it is hoped to work towards providing Internet access there also. We hope to place a version of the community exhibit on the Web site. In these ways, the voices of the local communities too can begin to be heard in the global debate.

Some people are excluded from the Web site because of the style or rhetoric used. For example, the Web site is very much aimed at adults. The Web site about Çatalhöyük produced by the Science Museum of Minnesota ( has chosen a very different style in order to reach middle school children in the United States. The site uses cartoons and speech bubbles and personal introductions. And yet, again, it is important to note that this Web site for children opens up rather than closes off. What I mean by this is that it is planned that this Web site has links into the adult version described above, and that it has email links so that the children can talk to members of the project staff. There are also plans to use the educational Web site within museum exhibits so that museum visitors too can experience a variety of different types of data and information. If they desire, they too can move from a museum exhibit, through an educational Web site about Çatalhöyük, into the archaeological database.


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Last updated: Mon March 8 1999