July 21, 2011

Earliest Occupation of Crete May Date to 125,000 Years Ago

A recently published article in the Journal of Quaternary Science by Strasser and colleagues suggests new dates for stone tools discovered on the island of Crete.  Namely, the artifacts are associated with geological strata that date to the late Middle Pleistocene or early Late Pleistocene, meaning a terminus ante quem of 125,000 years ago.

An archaeological survey in the Plakias area of Crete between 2008-09 uncovered nine sites and over 400 artifacts.  The stone tools discovered were Acheulean in type, with bifaces, cleavers, cores, and flake tools made out of quartz, and are similar to tools found elsewhere on the Greek mainland:

Bifaces from Crete.  (Credit: Strasser and colleagues 2011, Figure 2)
Through an impressive array of geological and chemical analyses (which I don't have time to delve into at the moment), the authors conclude that these tools represent the earliest known occupation of Crete, placing it at around 125,000 years ago.  This date contradicts the assumption that Crete was not occupied until the advent of anatomically modern humans.  According to Strasser and colleagues:
The relatively large numbers of Palaeolithic artefacts found in this one small region (∼30 km2) – the first to be searched systematically for these materials and to be subjected to geological and chronostratigraphical analyses – suggest that a hominin presence on Crete may have been widespread and perhaps long lasting. This would indicate that early hominins were able to reach Crete from Greece, Turkey, the Near East or Africa by crossing open bodies of water. Only hominins with the technical means and cognitive skills required to build boats and to navigate among the islands would have been able to establish an enduring presence on the large and difficult-to-access island of Crete.
This is a really interesting finding, and I hope it's only a matter of time until archaeologists start finding hominin fossils on Crete.


References:
ResearchBlogging.org

T. Strasser, E. Panagopoulou, C. Runnels, P. Murray, N. Thompson, P. Karkanas, F. McCoy, & K. Wegmann (2010). Stone Age seafaring in the Mediterranean: Evidence from the Plakias region for Lower Palaeolithic and Mesolithic habitation of Crete Hesperia, 79 (2), 145-190.

T. Strasser, C. Runnels, K. Wegmann, E. Panagopoulou, F. McCoy, C. Digregorio, P. Karkanas, & N. Thompson (2011). Dating Palaeolithic sites in southwestern Crete, Greece Journal of Quaternary Science, 26 (5), 553-560. DOI: 10.1002/jqs.1482.

1 comments:

Fins said...

The implications of this are really exciting- not just for paleoanthropologists, but for archaeologists interested in the development of early watercraft as well. Thanks so much for posting this!

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