This post offers a summary of information on the exciting discovery of the oldest farming village in the Mediterranean islands, at Cyprus’ Klimonas region.
The oldest agricultural settlement ever found on a Mediterranean island has been discovered in Cyprus by a team of French archaeologists involving CNRS, the Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle (National Museum of Natural History), INRAP, EHESS and the University of Toulouse II-Le Mirail. Previously it was believed that, due to the island’s geographic isolation, the first Neolithic farming societies did not reach Cyprus until a thousand years after the birth of agriculture in the Middle East (ca. 9500 to 9400 BCE).
However, the discovery of Klimonas, a village that dates from nearly 9000 years before Christ, proves that early cultivators migrated to Cyprus from the Middle Eastern continent shortly after the emergence of agriculture there, bringing with them wheat as well as dogs and cats. The findings, which also reveal the early development of maritime navigational skills by these populations, have been published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Science (PNAS).
Sedentary villagers of the Early Neolithic began cultivating wild grains in the Middle East in about 9500 BCE. Recent discoveries have shown that the island of Cyprus was visited by human groups during that period, but until now the earliest traces of cereal crops and the construction of villages did not predate 8400 BCE. The latest findings from the archaeological excavations of Klimonas indicate that organized communities were built in Cyprus between 9100 and 8600 BCE: the site has yielded the remnants of a half-buried mud brick communal building, 10 meters in diameter and surrounded by dwellings, that must have been used to store the village’s harvests. The archaeologists have found a few votive offerings inside the building, including flint arrowheads and green stone beads. A great many remnants of other objects, including flint chips, stone tools and shell adornments, have been discovered in the village. The stone tools and the structures erected by these early villagers resemble those found at Neolithic sites from the same period on the nearby continent. Remains of carbonized seeds of local plants and grains introduced from the Levantine coasts (including emmer, one of the first Middle Eastern wheats) have also been found in Klimonas.
An analysis of the bone remains found on the site has revealed that the meat consumed by these villagers came from the hunting of a small wild boar indigenous to Cyprus (the only large game on the island at the time), and that small domestic dogs and cats had been introduced from the continent. This would indicate that these early farming societies migrated from the continent shortly after the emergence of agriculture there. In addition, their ability to move a whole group of people long distances shows that they had already mastered maritime navigation at the dawn of the Neolithic period.
The Klimonas site will be excavated until the end of May 2012, and a new round of excavations will begin in 2013. Uniting several laboratories, (1) the research is funded by CNRS, the European LeCHE project, the Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle (French National Museum of Natural History, or MNHN), INRAP, the French Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs and the Ecole Française d’Athènes (French School at Athens).
Abstract A trial trenching archaeological evaluation at Klimonas (Ayios Tychonas, Limassol, Cyprus) evidenced the presence of an open air archaeo-logical site with abundant chipped stone and bone industry, and with well preserved animal bones, beads and pendants. The preserved site appeared to cover more than 700 m². The lithic material was characterized by a unidirectional blade debitage and small arrowheads corres-ponding to the PPNA tradition. The fauna comprised only two species of large mammals: a small dog (earliest attestation of a dog in Cyprus) and the small Cypriot wild boar which has already been evidenced in Cyprus previously, ca. 10,000-9,500 cal. BC. A series of radiocarbon dates from charcoal, burnt bone and tooth enamel indicate that at least one of the occupations dates to ca. 8,700 cal. BC. Together with Ayia Varvara – Asprokremmos, the radiocarbon dating being strictly contemporaneous, Klimonas moves back the earliest Cypriot Pre-Pottery Neolithic to the beginning of the 9th millennium, synchronous with the PPNA on the mainland, and ca. 500 years earlier than the earliest PPN occupation at Shillourokambos. Subsequently Klimonas is due to be further excavated.
Presented in this paper are the main results from a recent trial evaluation at Klimonas, a site which produced dating evidence from the first half of the 9th millennium. This unique discovery brings together not only newly discovered information but also perspectives on the human groups which lived in Cyprus during the late PPNA and on their animal resources.
Klimonas produced the most abundant material for radiocarbon dating in the form of suid bones, and as dating the remains from hunted animals was also the most direct way to date human presence here we de-cided to focus on bones in this area. Collagen, when preserved, is the most reliable support for bone radio-carbon dating. Unfortunately climatic conditions did not favour bone collagen preservation in Klimonas.
Other fractions, however, can be dated; either organic (decomposed collagen from burnt bones) or mineral (biogenic carbonate present in bone, tooth enamel and dentine apatite, as well as in calcined bone apatite) but they cannot be considered a priori immune to contamination or isotope exchange with the burial environment. An indirect way of checking for sample contamination consists of dating different bone fractions from the same individual (Zazzo and Saliège 2011). The underlying assumption behind the convergence criterion is that it is highly improbable that contamination would cause the same error in different fractions. A contrario, concordance in the 14C dates obtained on different fractions of the same bone provides strong evidence of the accuracy of the dates inferences.
Discussion and Conclusion The first archaeological assessment at Klimonas revealed several kinds of archaeological deposits spread across a large area; stretched ca. 70 m north to south and at least 35 m east to west. However, the roadside profile and the northernmost trenches evidenced that, though very rich in archaeological material, the sediment deposits from the upper part of the terraces were the colluviums and fillings of erosive gully channels. These caused the amalgamation of sometimes high densities of archaeological material from various Neolithic periods, from an early phase of the Pre-Pottery Neolithic (the most dominant) to the Sotira Ceramic Neolithic.
Conversely, from the lower part of the terrace, reflected in trenches 168.3, 168.5 and 168.6, we recognised thick, rich and undisturbed PPN archaeological layers.
Trench 168.5 evidenced a one metre thick succession of stratigraphic units containing rich archaeological material, exclusively referring to the Pre-Pottery Neolithic, and sealing a probable feature. In both these trenches the archaeological material was abundant, well preserved and diverse. Lithics were especially profuse and of high quality.
Though far from being as numerous as lithics, beads, pendants and bone industry were surprisingly plentiful for such a small excavated area. Animal bone accumulation was dense and better preserved than at Asprokremmos. Klimonas, therefore, appears to have been much more than purely a hunting camp, and was probably a small PPN settlement.
Both lithic and faunal material evidenced that the deposits in trenches 168.3 and 168.5 were undisturbed and date to a phase of the Cypriot PPN.
The fact that no obsidian has so far been found in Klimonas (and in Asprokremmos too) also speaks for an occupation earlier than the one of Shillourokambos. Regarding fauna, the absence of any ungulate except the small endemic Cyprus wild boar which is, to date, only attested at Aetokremnos (ca. 9,700-9,400 BC) also indicates a phase comprised between this date and the earliest layers of Shillourokambos (ca. 8500 BC) where goat and cattle appear for the first time.
Altogether, the lithic and faunal material and the set of radiocarbon dates indicate that the fillings of trenches 168.3 and 168.5 at Klimonas date to the first half of the 9th millennium; more precisely to 9155-8615 cal. BC (2σ).
Lithic material, animal bones and radiocarbon dates at Klimonas were very similar to those from Asprokremmos (McCartney et al. 2006, 2007, 2008, in press; McCartney 2010; Manning et al. 2010). The core technology is dominated by well developed unidirectional blades debitage and the production is characterized by an abundance of arrowheads, primarily short with triangular bases or with a short tang, which is unusual in Cyprus. Suids are the only ungulate and overwhelmingly dominate the other vertebrate species of mainly bird and freshwater tortoises (Vigne et al. in press). At both sites, beads and pendants were rather numerous in relation to the later Cyprio-PPN sites. And finally, the time range defined by the two oldest dates of Klimonas overlaps the time range defined by the six dates obtained at Asprokremmos (9141-8569 BC, Manning et al. 2010) with no statistical difference between them.
The excellent preservation of the faunal remains at Klimonas strengthens the idea that these human groups based their animal subsistence on the exploitation of the local resources; principally a small endemic suid.
The archaeozoological data retrieved has also enabled us to demonstrate that the domestic dog had already been introduced to Cyprus at that time, and to evidence that it was living with human groups possibly helping them to hunt or control small suids.
Although the archaeological information extracted from the two small trenches of Klimonas is of course much less significant than information gathered from several excavation sessions at Asprokremmos, it has provided us with intriguing confirmation that humans were living in Cyprus during the first half of the 9th millennium BC. It also confirmed that Asprokremmos was not an isolated settlement and, because it is located far from Asprokremmos, suggests that, at that time, several human groups lived on the island during several decades or centuries at least. Therefore, documenting this period is of the utmost importance for understanding not only the early prehistory of Cyprus but also the behaviour of its human societies.
Far from being solely dependant on the west Asian mainland, Cyprus appears to have had its own complex and original neolithization process, in which local cultural evolutions, technical inputs from the mainland, and adaptations to particular island conditions would have integrated to form a new, uniquely Cypriot, Neolithic way of life. The abundance and quality of the lithic and faunal material found during these test excavations augur for promising perspectives to address these questions. New excavations at Klimonas will be conducted in the near future.
(Source: “A New Early Pre-Pottery Neolithic Site in Cyprus: Ayios Tychonas – Klimonas (ca. 8700 cal. BC)”, by Jean-Denis Vigne, François Briois, Antoine Zazzo, Isabelle Carrère, Julie Daujat, and Jean Guilaine – 2011)
Abstract Early Neolithic sedentary villagers started cultivating wild cereals in the Near East 11,500 y ago [Pre-Pottery Neolithic A (PPNA)]. Recent discoveries indicated that Cyprus was frequented by Late PPNA people, but the earliest evidence until now for both the use of cereals and Neolithic villages on the island dates to 10,400 y ago. Here we present the recent archaeological excavation at Klimonas, which demonstrates that established villagers were living on Cyprus between 11,100 and 10,600 y ago. Villagers had stone artifacts and buildings (including a remarkable 10-m diameter communal building) that were similar to those found on Late PPNA sites on the mainland. Cereals were introduced from the Levant, and meat was obtained by hunting the only ungulate living on the island, a small indigenous Cypriot wild boar. Cats and small domestic dogs were brought from the mainland. This colonization suggests well-developed maritime capabilities by the PPNA period, but also that migration from the mainland may have occurred shortly after the beginning of agriculture.
The inhabitants of Klimonas cultivated a primitive wheat introduced from the mainland and hunted the only large mammal living on the island—namely, an extinct species of wild boar. The occupation at Klimonas coincides with a period on the mainland when agriculture was still becoming established; it shows that at this time human groups in the eastern Mediterranean could be highly mobile and participated in complex exchange systems. These groups also had the capacity to adapt to new environments with a low density of food animals. The findings from Cyprus reveal unsuspected sea-faring capabilities and provide unique information regarding the beginnings of plant and animal domestication, including that of dogs and cats.
That the inhabitants of Klimonas had a complex society is demonstrated by the discovery of a circular building 10 m in diameter. Although the building’s upper part had been destroyed, it was possible to show that it was dug into the ancient land surface to a depth of at least 1 m. At the outer edge of the building was a foundation ditch, dug for the surrounding wall, and containing its remains at the time of excavations; this wall varied in thickness, perhaps for decorative reasons. The base of the wall contained numerous hidden caches with flint arrowheads and blades; shell pendants; and green stone beads. A series of caches were also found in the floor, along with numerous hearths, pits, and post holes. These finds, together with the possibility that there was a surrounding interior bench, confirm that this structure ST 10 was a collective building rather than a domestic dwelling.
In addition, we partially excavated several smaller rounded buildings (4–5 m large) adjacent to and above communal building 1. These buildings are associated with hearths and work areas and are arranged around and above the communal building, representing different phases of the village’s history.
Eleven charcoal fragments from building 1 were submitted for radiocarbon dating. The dates cluster tightly and range from the end of the 12th to the mid-11th millennium cal BP, with the highest probability being between 10.8 and 10.6 cal kyBP.
The combined evidence indicates cereal consumption and probably cultivation only five centuries later than the earliest evidence of cultivation of predomesticated wild cereals and pulses on the mainland (11.5 cal kyBP).
Discussion Our findings demonstrate that human groups occupied villages in Cyprus during the first half of the 11th millennium cal BP. These groups cultivated plants and hunted the local wild boar, the sole ungulate species on the island at that time. Klimonas is the earliest known Cypriot village and predates the Cypriot Early PPNB settlements by several centuries; its close contemporaneity with the site of Asprokremnos, located 30 km to the north, on the opposite slope of the Troodos Mountains, demonstrates that several villages had been established in different regions of the island by the first half of the 11th millennium BP.
Settling on Cyprus implies frequent, successful sea crossings of >70 km, suggesting that navigation was more advanced than previously suspected.
The introduction of the dog and a species of cat demonstrates that the domestication process of these two carnivores preceded that of ungulates. Dogs were possibly used in hunting activities, and cats could have helped to protect stored crops from rodent pests.
(Source: “First wave of cultivators spread to Cyprus at least 10,600 y ago”, by Jean-Denis Vigne et al. – 2012)
Research-Selection for NovoScriptorium: Philaretus Homerides