The Neanderthal finds from Kalamakia, Mani peninsula, Peloponnese, Greece

In this article we present a summary of the Neanderthal finds from Kalamakia, Mani peninsula, Peloponnese, Greece.

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The “Kalamakia” cave, on the west shore of Mani, shows significant deposits of the last Mesoglacial and Glacial period.The archaeological strata date from the first half of the last Mesoglacial period and belong to the Middle Palaeolithic period. The discovery of successive layers of habitation supplied information about the “dwelling” habits of Palaeolithic man and the organization of space, while it also brought to light stone “structures”. Almost all bone remains belong to wild goats and deer. The implements, mainly scrapers and points, are of good quality; they are made of a great variety of rocks, some of which had been brought from far away.


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Kalamakia Cave. A. Darlas (ΕΠΣΝΕ) reports on the12th season of excavation during which investigation of Stratigraphical Unit IV was completed and that of Stratigraphical Unit VI continued.

Stratigraphical Unit IV contained the largest number of strata and was relatively undisturbed (17 successive occupation floors have so far been excavated to a depth of 2m). The upper 0.1m excavated, which contained dense archaeological remains, represents the lower part of a 0.25m-thick level first investigated in 2003 and 2004. It contained a large quantity of bone both from mammals and tortoises, worked stone, and evidence of intense burning. A hard ash deposit (1m²) in the centre of the excavated area indicates the presence of a fireplace set directly onto the floor with no further construction. Ash, carbonized material and burnt bone was scattered across the excavated area. At the base of the stratum lay large stones and pieces of stalagmite: the density of the deposit suggests human action. The level as a whole is too dense, and its contents too varied to distinguish individual occupation floors within it. But it represents a main settlement location, in contrast with most of the later floors which represent brief periods of activity of distinctive character, to judge by the dominance of particular kinds of material (e.g. bones from a particular part of the skeleton or the dominance of one type of stone in the lithic assemblage).

Below this level, a layer of red clay 0.1-0.15m thick, containing very little archaeological material, represents a deposit of med when the cave was very damp and largely unoccupied. A few bones (largely ribs and long bones) of a (probably bovine) mammal, and a thin layer of ash in the northeast corner of the trench reflect one brief period of activity.

Preliminary examination of the large quantity of bone indicates the presence of: Ursus arctos, Panthera pardus, Lynx cf. lynx, Vulpes vulpes, Felis silvestris, Bos and/or Bison, Capra sp., Cervus elephus, Dama dama, Sus scrofa, Leporidae (probably Lepus), and Testudo sp. Most material came from the upper 0.1m excavated (i.e. from the base of the main level). Deer and chamois bones dominate among mammals (as in all the overlying occupation floors in the cave). Tortoise remains are less common than those of mammals, but include large pieces of shell. Many bones were burnt at high temperatures. Very few bones had cut marks from stone tools, but a number had been bitten and chewed. One tooth (the canine of a boar) bore traces of retouch on the long sides similar to that on stone tools.

The stone tools (which were generally very small) were similar in character to those from overlying layers (Mousterian with much evidence of Levallois technique). There was a high proportion of tools in relation to unworked items. All stages of production are represented, using locally available stone. One piece of limestone had been used as a percussion tool, noting also a number of limestone flakes from the manufacture of similar tools.

One further human tooth (an upper incisor from an adult on the basis of wear) was found to add to the five previously retrieved from this level (and from the cave as a whole, six teeth, and single fragments of a cranium, vertebra and radius). This is the largest collection of Neanderthal remains yet found in Greece.

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Stratigraphical Unit VI. Following the removal of the upper 2m of archaeologically sterile deposits, excavation reached an occupation floor which proved to be the only archaeological layer in the unit. The upper part of the layer, which contained dense archaeological material, was removed, leaving the floor to be excavated separately. Finds include a number of well-preserved coprolites, stones and a few bones of large mammals (deer are noted). Stones were absent from the upper layers and in general coincide with evidence of human activity. The coprolites were large in size and come from omnivores (probably bears): further analysis (e.g. for phytoliths and mineral content) will follow. They were probably preserved because after a brief period of human habitation, the cave was abandoned and then used as a refuge by flesh-eating animals (and bears). Thereafter it was abandoned altogether and flooded (perhaps because the entrance was blocked).


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Anthropologists have discovered a beautiful Greek waterfront paradise once inhabited by generations of Neanderthals up to 100,000 years ago, according to a new study. This particular population was based at what is known as The Kalamakia Middle Paleolithic Cave site on the Mani peninsula of southern Greece. Previously, only one other Neanderthal tooth suggested that the now-extinct hominids settled in Greece.

Katerina Harvati, head of paleoanthropology at the University of Tübingen’s Senckenberg Center for Human Evolution and Paleoenvironments, studied the remains and identified multiple Neanderthals representing a child, a teen and both male and female adults. It is unclear if all were related. The Neanderthals chose a scenic place to live, with the Mani area to this day drawing tourists. «The site is currently very close to the sea,» said Harvati, lead author of the study, published in the Journal of Human Evolution. «During glacial times the sea level was lower, so there likely would have been a coastal plain exposed in front of the site. This habitat would be ideal for the kinds of animals that humans hunted.»


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Over the course of 13 years, a group of archaeologists from Greece and France excavated a cave in Greece, known as Kalamakia. The cave is about 65 feet deep, and is situated in limestone cliffs on the west coast of a peninsula on the Greek mainland. The team, led by Katerina Harvati, found archaeological deposits from 39,000 to 100,000 years ago. The team found scrapers and tools which were characteristically Neanderthal in design, made of flint, seashells, and quartz. In addition, they also found portions of 14 skeletons in the cave – mostly small bone fragments and teeth. This, however, was enough to show that there was a “thriving and long-standing” population of Neanderthals that lived in the area. This is the first discovery of Neanderthal remains in Greece, and inspires the idea that there may be many more undiscovered remains of Neanderthals in the country.

The remains date to the Middle Paleolithic, during the ice age. Like similar sites in France and other areas around the Mediterranean, the site had a mild climate, and supported human and Neanderthal populations, in addition to a wide range of wildlife. The team says that there is evidence that the populations in the area coexisted with “deer, wild boar, rabbits, elephants, weasels, foxes, wolves, leopards, bears, falcons, toads, vipers and tortoises.”


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Harvati and colleagues from Greece and France analyzed remains from a site known as Kalamakia, a cave stretching about 65 feet (20 meters) deep into limestone cliffs on the western coast of the Mani Peninsula on the mainland of Greece. They excavated the cave over the course of 13 years.

The archaeological deposits of the cave date back to between about 39,000 and 100,000 years ago to the Middle Paleolithic period. During the height of the ice age, the area still possessed a mild climate and supported a wide range of wildlife, including deer, wild boar, rabbits, elephants, weasels, foxes, wolves, leopards, bears, falcons, toads, vipers and tortoises.

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In the cave, the researchers found tools such as scrapers made of flint, quartz and seashells. The stone tools were all shaped, or knapped, in a way typical of Neanderthal artifacts.

Now, the scientists reveal they discovered 14 specimens of child and adult human remains in the cave, including teeth, a small fragment of skull, a vertebra, and leg and foot bones with bite and gnaw marks on them. The teeth strongly appear to be Neanderthal, and judging by marks on the teeth, the ancient people apparently had a diet of meat and diverse plants.

“Kalamakia, together with the single human tooth from the nearby cave site of Lakonis, are the first Neanderthal remains to be identified from Greece,” Harvati said. The discoveries are “confirmation of a thriving and long-standing Neanderthal population in the region.”


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“The Kalamakia cave, a Middle Paleolithic site on the western coast of the Mani peninsula, Greece, was excavated in 1993–2006 by an interdisciplinary team from the Ephoreia of Paleoanthropology and Speleology (Greek Ministry of Culture) and the Muséum national d’Histoire naturelle (Paris). The site is dated to between ca. 100,000 and >39,000 years BP (Before Present) and has yielded Mousterian lithics, a rich fauna, and human remains from several layers. The latter include 10 isolated teeth, a cranial fragment and three postcranial elements. The remains represent at least eight individuals, two of them subadults, and show both carnivore and anthropogenic modifications. They can be identified as Neanderthal on the basis of diagnostic morphology on most specimens. A diet similar to that of Neanderthals from mixed habitat is suggested by our analysis of dental wear (occlusal fingerprint analysis) and microwear (occlusal texture microwear analysis), in agreement with the faunal and palynological analyses of the site. These new fossils significantly expand the Neanderthal sample known from Greece. Together with the human specimens from Lakonis and Apidima, the Kalamakia human remains add to the growing evidence of a strong Neanderthal presence in the Mani region during the Late Pleistocene.”

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Seventeen successive occupation floors have been distinguished in Unit IV. Two archaeological layers composed of successive occupation floors, one in the upper part and another at the bottom of Unit IV, are thick, containing dense varied remains, and they correspond to longer occupation episodes. On the other hand, the intermediate floors have much fewer remains and indicate very brief occupations of the cave. Stone structures and several hearths,of various types, have also been excavated (Darlas and de Lumley, 2004). The lithics from Kalamakia belong to Mousterian assemblages with frequent Levallois elements. Raw materials used include flint, which can be found within a distance of 15 km from the site, quartzite and quartz (10 km), but also andesite originating further a field approximately 30 km from Kalamakia. The features of the lithic industry vary from one occupation floor to another, and the differences observed include the choice of raw materials, the tool-kit, and to a lesser extent the technological features. However, it must be emphasized that the main technological as well as typological features of the assemblages (Mousterian Levallois) remain unchanged throughout the entire stratigraphic sequence. These are: very small dimensions of artifacts, very small number of cores, which are extremely wasted (extremely small size), total absence of cortical flakes, small number of  ‘debitage by-products’, abundant micro flakes (‘retouch by-products’) and a high percentage of retouched tools. These features are likely due to the remoteness of the sources and the scarcity of raw materials, which arrived at the cave in an advanced stage of processing or even in the form of ready tools. Levallois products are mostly flakes displaying centripetal and unipolar (rarely bipolar) negatives. Levallois blades are very rare, while points are absent. A high percentage (22%) of  flakes is retouched. The most common tools are scrapers (77%) of good quality and small dimensions.

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The results of the zooarchaeological analysis suggest that humans were responsible for the formation and modification of the larger part of the mammal and tortoise assemblages. A complete taphonomic analysis with emphasis on body part representation, fragmentation and cortex alteration of the bone material indicates systematic and complete processing of medium-sized ungulates at the site, especially fallow deer and ibex.

The site has yielded 14 specimens identified as human remains. These include isolated teeth, but also postcranial remains and a small cranial fragment.

(Source: “New Neanderthal remains from Mani peninsula, Southern Greece: The Kalamakia Middle Paleolithic cave site”, by Katerina Harvati, Andreas Darlas, Shara E.Bailey, Thomas R.Reina, Sireen El Zaatari, Luca Fiorenza, Ottmar Kullmer, Eleni Psathi)

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Abstract A study of the avifauna from Kalamakia Cave (Southern Greece) collected during the course of the excavations between 1993 and 2000 is presented. 95 bird remains belonging to 21 taxa, at least 39 individuals, are identified. The agents causing the accumulation of these bird remains in the cave and the contribution of birds to the reconstruction of the prehistric man are discussed. The high number of taxa in spite of the low number of remains makes the bird assemblage of Kalamakia one of the most diversified assemblages found in a Middle Paleolithic site of mainland Greece.

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Kalamakia Cave is situated on the western coast of the Mani peninsula in the southern Peloponnese near the town of Areopoli. The Cave belongs to a vast karstic system. Entrance of the cave opens in front of the Oitylo bay. Excavations, undertaken since 1993 by Andreas Darlas and Henry de Lumley have allowed to define the stratigraphy of the Quaternary filling. It has been divided into seven stratigraphic units (Lumley and Darlas, 1994; Lecervoisier, 2003.

From excavations provides a typical mousterian industry with ‘Levallois Débitage’ and Mou-sterian points. The macrofauna is composed of Caprines, Cervidae and Carnivores (Gardeisein, Tantralidou and Darlas, 1999). The Dama dama (fallow deer) and Capra sp are dominant. Neanderthal remains have been discovered (Darlas and Lumley, 1998).

Study of bird bones found during the excavation of Kalamakia Cave between 1993 and 2000 has permit to identify 95 bird remains belonging to 21 species. The Galliformes are the most numerous. Birds show a very open environment under temperate climate. There is no sign of cool period. These results are according with rodents study (Roger and Darlas, 1999) even if cortege of rodents show a mediterranean climate more pronounced. Bird bones from Upper pleistocene of Kalamakia Cave are not numerous but the cortege of species is quite diversified.

(Source: “Upper-Pleistocene Bird Remains from Kalamakia Cave (Greece)”, by Thierry Roger, Andréas Darlas)

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This study investigates two Neanderthal lower fourth premolars from Kalamakia, Greece, in order to better explore and document the morphology of the Kalamakia assemblage. The material consisted of micro-CT scans of the Kalamakia premolars (KAL6 and KAL9), and a comparative sample of 51 specimens, including 10 Neanderthals, one early Homo sapiens, and 40 recent Homo sapiens. The premolars were analyzed applying geometric morphometric methods on crown outlines as well as collecting measurements on internal dental structures. Data were subjected to principal components and other standard statistical analyses. A between-group principal components analysis of the outline shape coordinates separated our Neanderthal sample from the modern human one with little overlap. KAL9 showed the most extreme Neanderthal shape while KAL6 fell within the NEA shape range. Additional measurements of internal structures, especially the lateral dentine and pulp chamber volume, strengthened these results.

(Source: “Geometric morphometric analysis and internal structure measurements of the Neanderthal lower fourth premolars from Kalamakia, Greece”, by Catherine C.Bauer, Stefano Benazzi, Andreas Darlas, KaterinaHarvati)

Research-Selection for NovoScriptorium: Philaretus Homerides


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