The prehistoric settlement of Dispilio, Kastoria, Greece. Writing in Neolithic Greece?

In this article we present a summary of information on the excavation of the prehistoric settlement of Dispilio, Kastoria, Greece. Among the finds, there seem to exist various  ‘writing symbols‘. Even though specialists haven’t yet concluded on the issue, this remains an exciting possibility; humans using Writing during the Neolithic times.

αρχείο λήψης

Abstract The relation between man and water is well established in prehistoric Balkans, as the marshy wetlands of the lakes constituted an advantageous environment for human settlements. In 1992 the University of Thessaloniki, under the direction of Professor G. Hourmouziadis, began systematic excavations in the lakeside Neolithic settlement located at the bank of Kastoria’s lake. This paper is an attempt to approach the Neolithic life way in this particular ecosystem. The site was inhabited from the Middle Neolithic until the Hellenistic era*. The scientific study is determined by the abundance of the wooden piles and other wooden elements themselves, as the taphonomic conditions favour their preservation. The Neolithic man in Dispilio seems to be primary a farmer and, especially, a stockbreeder. Fish bones and fishing tools are not lacking, especially in the later Neolithic, but they do not necessarily reflect a community of specialized fishermen. Contacts with other settlements are suggested from archaeological and geological investigations in the direct and indirect vicinity. The finds represent a dynamic society that managed to live ‘in an imponderable, due to the wetland ecosystem. Dispilio, therefore, is a good example against approaches that regard Neolithic man as an ‘occasional’ human being who has lived under the fear of his environment and its seasonal variations and shortages.

*NovoSciptorium: Using simple logic, when we conclude that a site shows continuous habitation, with an evident cultural continuum, how can we then even discuss possibilities of invading populations who subtituted the older ones? Because this is exactly what ‘official Archeology’ teaches. The weird thing is that the (written) Tradition of the ancients is hardly ever taken into account; a Tradition which clearly claims an indigenous/native status in the area, ‘since the beginning’.

(Source: “The man and the lake : living in the neolithic lakeside settlement of Dispilio, Kastoria, Greece”, by Hourmouziadi, Anastasia & Touloumis, K.)

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Abstract Dispilio is the only excavated Neolithic lakeside settlement in Greece. Archaeological research provided evidence that the site was continuously used from the Early Neolithic (∼6000 BC) to the Late Chalcolithic period (∼1200 BC, Mycenaean period). During several archaeological campaigns, a portion of the settlement has been excavated that enabled a sufficient understanding of the architectural layout of homes, the building materials, and the organization of space, while the finds (fragments of pottery, stone and bone tools, anthropomorphic and zoomorphic clay figurines, miniature representations of objects also on clay, animal and fish bones, charred cereal grains, and other fruits) provided information on the everyday lives of the Neolithic inhabitants. A series of charcoal and wood samples, originating mostly from the Middle and Late Neolithic layers of the site, were radiocarbon dated and their dates range from ∼5470 to 4850 BC. The most unexpected of the finds, a wooden tablet from the lake bearing engraved symbols, was 14C dated to 5260 ± 40 BC. In addition, clay tablets and pottery vessels engraved with similar symbols were also unearthed from layers dated to the same period. If this proves to be a primary source of written communication, the history of writing should be reconsidered and Neolithic societies should not be considered “societies without writing.”


Based on the relative chronology, it was found that the Dispilio settlement dates to the end of the Middle and Late Neolithic period. The corresponding archaeological deposits range from 0.40 cm and in some cases reach 2.15 m in depth (Eastern trench). This is the horizon of the lake’s natural deposits, which has been possible to trace after running the drainage system that was completed in the eastern trench in 2009. However, during the excavation campaigns of 1997, 2001, and 2002, the drought at the time gave the opportunity to explore deeper deposits of the settlement. Thus, in some areas constructions and pottery fragments dated to the final phases of the Middle Neolithic or early phases of the Early Neolithic period were revealed, as evidenced by the relevant literature (Wace and Thompson 1912; Theocharis 1973; Perlès 2001; Anthony and Chi 2009; Papadimitriou and Tsirtsoni 2010). Therefore, the settlement probably developed during nearly the entire Neolithic period, as the excavation research has not yet identified an abandonment phase (Hourmouziadis 1996, 2002; Chourmouziadis and Sofronidou 2007; Sofronidou 2000, 2008).


Among the fauna (Stratouli 2002) and flora (Mangafa 2002; Ntinou 2010) remains, as well as the mobile excavation finds (e.g. pottery, tools), the whole range of economic activities of the prehistoric inhabitants of Dispilio (Touloumis 2002; Phoca-Cosmetatou 2008) has been represented: farming (Margaritis 2011); animal husbandry, hunting, and fishing (Almatzi 2002; Theodoropoulou 2008). Numerous bone hooks (Stratouli 2008) and traces of a boat (Marangou 2001), identical to those used to this day by the fishermen of Kastoria, provide clear evidence that fishing was practiced. Finds, such as leaf-shaped and triangular arrowheads of obsidian from Melos* (Tsagouli 2002), pottery similar to that of the neighboring Balkan areas** (Sofronidou 2000, 2002; Voulgari 2002), and a stone ring idol pendant, place the settlement of Dispilio within the exchange networks developed in Greece during the Late Neolithic period.

*NovoScriptorium: The distance from Kastoria to Melos island is about 700-800 km, and necessarily includes sea-crossing as part of the journey. Using logic, we must conclude that

a) The Neolithic societies had established organized trade routes

b) They had the means to establish those (i.e. primitive roads, transporting capabilities through land and water)

c) Economy, already in the Neolithic, was not centered/focused only on Agriculture but included Trade/Commerce, too.

**NovoScriptorium: The similar finds in the Balkans can only mean either ‘common culture’ shared by various nations/groups of people, or ‘exclusive culture’ of one and only group of people. Please read here.


The number of pottery vessels found in Dispilio record the morphological, stylistic, and technological choices of the people who lived there and tried to serve their needs during each prehistoric period. These changes are often obvious and distinct but sometimes indiscernible or nonexistent through time. The same decoration techniques continue to exist (painted, incised, grooved, channeled, pointillé, barbotine, and applied wares), but what changes is their combinations or abundance, while in some cases some decoration techniques are improved, e.g. the blacktopped wares. The raw materials used for the pottery production exhibit individual differences, but their basic structure remains the same and comes from the surrounding area of the village. There is a change in preference observed from the early to the later phases of the site occupation or use (end of Early Neolithic or beginning of Middle Neolithic to the Early Bronze Age) from the fine black burnished surfaces to the red or red-brown medium burnished ones and back again to the dark burnished ones towards the Late Neolithic and the Bronze Age. There is a predomination of the spherical or hemispherical shapes during the early phases of the settlement, which are gradually replaced by the biconical ones, while a significant increase of the carinated ones is observed in the Late Neolithic. At the same time, their individual morphological elements (rims, bases, or handles) are differentiated, presenting in the Late Neolithic and Bronze Age significant deviations from known shapes of previous periods. The repertoire of shapes includes open vessels of various types and sizes, which predominate, while the closed ones used for transport or storage of liquids or solids exist in smaller numbers.


Finally, regarding the dating of the settlement deposits as a whole, it should be noted that archaeological layers dated to the Bronze Age were also identified. Several finds from this period, mostly pottery fragments, were found in the upper deposits of the site. Moreover, significant quantities of pottery fragments dated to the same period and the late Mycenaean* phases were found in excavated trenches.

*NovoScriptorium: It is clear that there appears to be a cultural continuum in the habitation of the area. So far, Archeology and Genetics accepts the Minoans and Myceneans as ‘Greeks’, but not the Neolithic populations. Logic (and the ancient Greek Tradition, of course) dictates that we are talking about the evolution of the same people in the same areas. A cultural continuum could NOT have existed in the cases of mass invasions and mass population replacement. Peaceful admixture is the only other option one could accept, but this remains to be proven – we must note that such an option is NOT supported by the ancient Greek Tradition.


Two subgroups of “ideology” finds are presented here, which are both unique and important due to their strong relation to areas of social significance:

i) The first subgroup consists of a piece of wet cedar wood (Cedrus sp.) with an almost quadrilateral shape measuring 23 × 19.2 × 2 cm that bears traces of fire. The tablet was found during the July 1993 excavation campaign in a trial trench into the water very near the lakeshore. There are archaeological finds and traces of anthropogenic activity into the water in the entire area (Sofronidou 2009). This trench was performed some meters away from the northwestern side of the Eastern trench. An excavation square  was framed using wooden boards and the water was continuously pumped away. When the mud was gradually removed, the wooden tablet appeared floating on the water surface that was still entering inside the framed area, passing through and over the wooden boards due to the waters rippling. On the surface of the artifact, which is characterized as the front one, up to 10 rows of linear vertical and horizontal carved “signs” can be distinguished. Similar carved signs can also be seen on the upper thin side of the tablet. The signs were preserved due to the anaerobic conditions of the tablet’s taphonomic environment. However, during the drying process most of their engraving depth has been lost.

ii) The second subgroup consists of a small number of clay finds bearing signs that cannot be considered as decorative. Therefore, they cannot be dated according to their typology and most probably belong to the same category of “message-conveying” finds.


Conclusions Prehistoric Dispilio was a typical lakeside settlement, the first of its kind ever excavated in Greece. During several archaeological campaigns, a portion of the settlement was excavated that enabled a sufficient understanding of the architectural layout of homes, the building materials, and the organization of space, while the finds (pottery, stone and bone tools, anthropomorphic and zoomorphic clay figurines, miniature representations of objects also on clay, animal and fish bones, charred cereal grains, and other fruits) provided information regarding the everyday lives of the Neolithic inhabitants of Dispilio.

The 14C data show that the occupation began at the end of the Middle Neolithic period (5355 ± 125 BC) and was inhabited continuously until 3644 ± 118 BC. It appears that the excavated site was eventually abandoned between 3530–2460 BC. This abandonment is tentatively related to one of the lake-level rises in the Chalcolithic (Karkanas et al. 2010). There is also evidence of later occupation during the Bronze Age from 2300 ± 160 until 2129 ± 152 BC.

The most unexpected of the finds, a cedar tablet the lake carved with 10 rows of “signs” was 14C dated to 5202 ± 123 BC, and is the oldest known engraved wooden tablet. In addition, clay tablets and other clay finds engraved with similar signs were also unearthed from layers dated either to the end of the Middle Neolithic or to the Late Neolithic I period. The dating of the Dispilio engraved finds is similar to those that appeared in southeastern Europe around 5300 BC, some 2000 yr earlier than any other known writing. These signs and inscriptions are considered by some scholars a specific script of literacy (Winn 1981; Merlini 2005; Lazarovici and Merlini 2005; Owens 2009). If this proves to be a primary source of written communication, the history of writing should be reconsidered and Neolithic societies can no longer be considered “societies without writing.”

(Source: “Radiocarbon Dating of the Neolithic Lakeside Settlement of Dispilio, Kastoria, Northern Greece” by Yorgos Facorellis, Marina Sofronidou and Giorgos Hourmouziadis)


For more information on this very interesting issue please read “The “Dispilio Inscription” c.5260 +/- 40 B.C. and the “Neolithic Script(s)” in West Macedonia, North Greece, Hellas“,  by A. Blanta & G. Owens


Abstract The identification of burnt bones in archaeological sites is important as it provides evidence of human-processing activities and fire-related episodes. Past zooarchaeological analyses of burnt fish and mammal bones were mostly based on macroscopic features, such as bone color and structure, and microscopic features, such as crystallinity. Such studies, however, have shown that black coloring of bones can be caused not only by burning, but also by natural mineral staining. Therefore, it is essential to develop analytical techniques for the identification of burnt bones. This paper presents preliminary results from an interdisciplinary study on the possible causes of the «black-colored bones» recovered at the Neolithic lakeside settlement of Dispilio, Greece (5500–3500 B.C.). The frequent occurrence of charcoal and burnt cultural remains in the lower layers of the deposit suggested that the first village was destroyed by fire, followed by a period of site abandonment. Nevertheless, although fish bones are often reddish/black in color in archaeological deposits, macroscopic examination of these remains suggested that less than 6% were burnt and that their coloring was caused by waterlogged depositional conditions. These observations are of great significance in reassessing the nature of the so-called «destruction level». Selected fish bones were examined through Optical and Scanning Electron Microscopy (SEM), X-ray Microanalysis (EDXA), and Infrared Spectroscopy (IR). The alterations observed on fish bone histology, mineralogy, chemistry, and crystallinity due to diagenesis and/or possible burning are presented and their correlation to the archaeological context discussed

(Source: “Black Fish Bones in Waterlogged Deposits: The Case of the Neolithic Lake Settlement of Dispilio, Greece”, by Elizabeth T. Stathopoulou, Tatiana Théodoropoulou, Nellie Phoca-Cosmetatou)


This paper will focus on the plant remains retrieved from archaeological layers of the first occupation phase of the settlement of Dispilio, which is dated in the Middle Neolithic period (5459-5082 BC), although the site continues to be in use not only in the Late Neolithic and through the Bronze Age but also in the much later Classical period. According to data deriving from both excavation and soil micromorphological analysis it is evident that during the middle Neolithic the houses were located on a wooden platform, which was built near and above the water. The material discussed in this paper derives from the recently excavated east sector of the excavation.


The early habitation phase at Dispilio has, thus far, the highest potential for archaeobotanical analysis due to the larger quantities of plant remains when compared with the later phases (author’s observation). The plant remains will provide information focusing not only on diet and subsistence, but also the patterning of activities and refuse.

The samples can be distinguished between those indicative of storage or cooking refuse and those indicative of crop processing activities (e.g. chaff and weeds). The connection of refuse and storage with specific areas in the site can provide insights towards the relationship of society and refuse disposal, the relationship between refuse and space (Valamoti 2005). The location of storage inside or outside the household or the choice of communal storage and its management can also be related to the social and economic organisation of the site as a whole (Halstead 1999).

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The presence of Lathyrus could suggest its use both as animal fodder and for human consumption; in the latter case it could suggest a period of distress, which is not suggested by the rest of the archaeobotanical data (e.g. size of seeds that would propose hard agricultural conditions) or the variety of crops found. We should also consider, however, the possibility that prehistoric people have not necessarily been highly aware the ’’bad qualities’’ of grass pea, especially since humans are affected only if they consume high quantities and their diet consists mainly of this legume.

The significant concentrations of Rubus suggest an intensive exploitation of the natural environment, which, although previously suggested for the Neolithic, has never been proven by evidence for fruits and nuts, due to adverse preservation conditions.


Dispilio should also be viewed in a wider site-type context. The large body of archaeobotanical data from Neolithic sites in northern Greece has allowed comparisons between sites and their plant remains (Valamoti 2004). Tell and extended sites have been compared and it has been tentatively suggested that there is a connection between grain rich deposits at the former and chaffrich material at the latter. Dispilio does not belong to the usual site types of the Neolithic period in Northern Greece, and not only due to its location; both types of archaeobotanical material (grain and chaff rich) are present in the same horizons and in different contexts of the site, but certainly more samples should be studied before trying to draw any conclusions, in order to make valuable comparisons with the other Neolithic sites.


Wheats and legumes are very important not only in that they actually form the basis of the diet of the Neolithic people and it is important to connect the “natural’’ with the “cultural’’, their processing for edibility and their preparation into actual food takes up a lot of energy and time and entails the creation of suitable implements connected with them, as suggested by widely found objects: cooking installations, blades, sickles, mortars, large storage vessels and a large variety of cooking pots, disposal areas, indoor and outdoor activities. It is essential to connect all the information available from the archaeological material, the plant remains and the other organic material, such as the remains of fish processing for example in order to understand the use of space and reconstruct human activities at Dispilio.

(Source: “Storage, gathering and Lathyrism? at Dispilio”, by Evi Margaritis)


Abstract The excavation in the east sector at Dispilio has produced a considerable variety of shells from the lake, the area around the settlement, and the sea. The material falls into two large categories: lake and land shells, which are connected with the inhabitants’ diet (Unio) or with the environment of the site (Dreissena), and jewellery, made mainly of seashells (Spondylus, Glycimeris, Glaucum, etc.). Regarding the untreated shells, a summary account is given of the methodology by which they were catalogued and the findings from their study. The characteristics of the ancient site’s environment are described and the quantitative distribution of the shells is given, together with information about their use, their temporal and spatial distribution, and the inhabitants’ refuse practices and dietary choices. From the important and abundant Neolithic jewellery found at Dispilio, the paper presents the findings from the study of the shell jewellery, giving the quantitative and qualitative characteristics of the Types’ (rings, pendants, beads, and fibula pins) and details of their manufacture and use, their spatial and temporal distribution, and the practice of personal adornment as one of the «aesthetic tool-kits» of everyday life in a Neolithic agricultural and stockbreeding community.

(Source: “Unio pictorum vs. spondylus gaederopus : shells and shell jewellery from Dispilio, Kastoria prefecture”, by Veropoulidou, Rena & Ifantidis, Fotis)


Research-Selection-Comments for NovoScriptorium: Philaretus Homerides

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