Plaster, as a vital material: The agency of plaster in the curation of the Çatalhöyük skull

Graham, Catherine Anne (2021) Plaster, as a vital material: The agency of plaster in the curation of the Çatalhöyük skull. Masters thesis, University of Wales Trinity Saint David.

Graham, Catherine MA (2021) Plaster as a vital material thesis.pdf - Accepted Version
Available under License CC-BY-NC-ND Creative Commons Attribution Non-commercial No Derivatives.

Download (2MB) | Preview


The discovery of Neolithic plastered skulls has attracted widespread interest but there has been a disproportionate focus on the construction and meaning of the skulls, with little regard paid to the material, plaster, itself. In 2004, in Çatalhöyük, a plastered skull was excavated, which had been found nestled in the arms of a female skeleton. Focussing upon this skull, this dissertation seeks to bring plaster, as a “vital material,” into the conversation, co-equal to other actors in this mortuary rite. Using evidence from contemporary artists and ethnographic data, this paper seeks to explore the symbolic role that plaster played in the cosmological expression of Neolithic Çatalhöyük, and argues that this gave plaster the power to act as a force, or “flow,” enabling it to transform the skull into an “über-ancestor,” in which the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. It explores how plaster became synonymous with value by being used on valuable objects, with both the material and the skull gaining further prestige from this transaction. It continues with an evaluation of the role of plaster in the social construction of the new memories and new identity, expressed through the performative act of plastering the skull. Exploring how plaster as a dynamic material can be equated with flesh, it argues that by plastering the skull, the artist was not only refleshing it, but also affirming life over death in a repeated act of regeneration. The vitality of plaster allowed the skull to transcend the immediate present and situate itself in a trans-dimensional location. The dissertation concludes with a discussion on the idealisation of the über-ancestor upon which socially constructed concepts of personhood were projected through the agency of the plaster acting upon the skull.

Item Type: Thesis (Masters)
Subjects: D History General and Old World > D History (General) > D051 Ancient History
D History General and Old World > DE The Mediterranean Region. The Greco-Roman World
Divisions: Theses and Dissertations > Masters Dissertations
Depositing User: Victoria Hankinson
Date Deposited: 07 Feb 2024 14:48
Last Modified: 07 Feb 2024 14:48

Administrator Actions (login required)

Edit Item - Repository Staff Only Edit Item - Repository Staff Only