Mesolithic findings from the Aegean suggest a ‘polycentric neolithization’ in the Eastern Mediterranean – Settlement at Maroulas site on Kythnos island; the earliest identified so far in the Aegean area, contemporaneous to the PPNA of the Near East

This post is an almost complete reproduction of the enlighting scientific contribution of archaeologist A. Sampson (2014) titled “The Mesolithic in the Aegean“, in Manen C., Perrin T. & Guillaine J.et al. (eds), “The Neolithic transition in the Mediterranean“, Errance, 193 -212).

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Over the last two decades a hitherto unknown cultural stage has been defined in the Aegean basin. In 1992, excavations in the Cyclops Cave yielded evidence for Mesolithic occupations underlying the Neolithic levels. In 1996, the excavation of the Mesolithic open air site of Maroulas on Kythnos revealed huts with circular ground plans including burials below the floors. Moreover, a survey on the island allowed identification of further five Mesolithic dwelling places. In 2004, on the island of Ikaria in the Eastern Aegean a survey permitted to recognize a cluster of Mesolithic sites, and, in 2007, during the excavation in Kerame 1 a large Mesolithic settlement has been unearthed of which the lithic industry shows similarities with the one of Maroulas. In addition, Mesolithic sites have been discovered on the Cycladic islands of Naxos and Melos as well as on the island of Chalki in the Dodecanese. Most recently, Mesolithic sites have been reported from eastern Crete and the island of Gavdos. Consequently, it appears that the Mesolithic stage is not an isolated phenomenon but extends over the entire Aegean basin. In parallel, surveys in the Greek mainland and excavations in caves (Theopetra, Sarakenos) revealed new variants of the Mesolithic culture.

The main Mesolithic sites

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Cyclops Cave on Gioura The Cyclops Cave on the Gioura island in the Northern Sporades has been investigated between 1992 and 1996 within a research project (Sampson, 2008a and 2011). The vestigial remains were dated by radiocarbon to the Early Holocene, more specifically to the 9th-7th millennium cal. BC, implicating contemporaneity with the Early Holocene level at Franchthi. Local flint and Melian obsidian were used for the manufacturing of the chipped stone industry of Gioura suggesting the existence of an early network of exchange at that period of time. The deposits in the Cyclops Cave yielded a rich assemblage of bone tools, for example fish hooks of various sizes and shapes, ranging from U-shaped to bipointed types (Moundrea-Agrafioti, 2011). Large concentrations of fish bones, sea shells, land snails, mammal bones and bird remains indicate that this island has been occupied on a seasonal basis by hunter-gatherers who specialized in fishing and bird hunting (Mylona, 2011; Powell, 2011).

The sector investigated within the cave has yielded 179 lithic artefacts in total. Comparison of the raw material composition between the Early and the Late Mesolithic layers highlights slight increase of the proportion of obsidian in the more recent layers. It is likely that the residents of the Cyclops Cave produced tools from flakes including cortical flakes stemming from sources in mainland Greece (Sampson et al., 1998; Kaczanowska and Kozlowski, 2008). Within the toolkit, splintered pieces dominate. They are also used for the production of thin blanks. In addition, end-scrapers on flakes, retouched flakes and notched tools are present. Tools made from obsidian, such as trapezes with retouched sides and segments resemble the types recovered from Neolithic contexts dated to the Early/Middle Neolithic and Late Neolithic. These tools occur during a long period of time mirroring specialized activities performed by the inhabitants of the Cyclops Cave but also an adaption to local environmental conditions and an atypical economy characterizing this region during both the Mesolithic and Neolithic. This hypothesis can be confirmed through the presence of similar types in Middle/Late Neolithic contexts on the island of Kyra Panagia (Moundrea-Agrafioti, 1992). Intrusions from overlying deposits have to be excluded. In order to confirm the excavation data, the recent SIMS-SS obsidian hydration dating method has been employed for the obsidian artefacts (Laskaris et al., 2011).

The study of the faunal remains from the Cyclops Cave revealed the presence of wild goat (Capra aegagrus) at a transitional stage of domestication during the Early Mesolithic period (8600-7700 cal. BC). In the lowest levels assigned to the Mesolithic (at the end of the 9th millennium cal. BC) most of the caprid bones (discovered in very small numbers) belong to goats (Capra aegagrus) and only some to sheep (Trantalidou, 2003 and 2011). The spread of such an early domestication into the Aegean basin can be assumed given that early attempts of domestication in the Zagros Mountains have been dated to 8500-8000 cal. BC. As a matter of fact, goat domestication in the Zagros region (Helmer, 1994) has been first attempted between 8500 and 8000 cal. B.C., at the same time as in Anatolia and on Gioura. For this period, early exploitation of sheep is reported from Zawi Cemi Shanidar, Karim Shahir in Iran, Asiab, Cayonü in Turkey, and Mureybet in Syria (Uerpmann, 1981). However, according to K. Trantalidou, the absence of wild ancestors in the Aegean and mainland Greece at the start of the Holocene implicates that these animals have been introduced from the Near East where domestication was first completed (Masseti, 1998).

With regard to the economic relevance of domestic animals, it is important to mention that a trend of slaughtering young animals can be observed on Gioura in parallel to changes in animal management during the Mesolithic, for example the predominance of goat compared to boar and a higher age of the slaughtered animals. At the end of the Mesolithic period in the Cyclops Cave, the clear stratigraphy of the site indicates the presence of herding and farming, similar to the Neolithic. With regard to the presence of boar in the Cyclops Cave and at the site of Maroulas, K. Trantalidou (Trantalidou, 2003 and 2010) assumes particular management combining animal control and hunting (semi-wild animals roaming on the island), a theory, however, lacking substantial support given the small and heterogeneous samples. In any case, the abundance of oak trees and thus of acorns during the Mesolithic in the Aegean basin (the latter being suitable also for human consumption as argued for Mesolithic Europe and modern Kurdistan) may indirectly have favoured the free pasturage of boar. Contemporaneous ethnographic parallels showing the use of boar in order to clean fishing nets provide additional ideas about the possible management of animals by Mesolithic fishermen in the Aegean basin. As a conclusion, the domestication of boar, dated to the Mesolithic or PPNA in Hallan Cemi in Anatolia (Rosenberg, 1996), and also in Aetokremnos on Cyprus (Simmons, 1999) occurs much earlier.

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Maroulas on Kythnos The site of Maroulas on Kythnos is a coastal site, located close to the modern settlement of Loutra (Honea, 1975). Rescue work at this site started in 1996 (Sampson, 1996) and after an interruption of several years the excavation has been continued by the University of the Aegean up until 2005. In total, thirty-one circular or ellipse-shaped stone dwelling features have been excavated (Sampson et al., 2002 and 2010). They are mainly located in the eastern part of the settlement, close to the coast. Due to heavy erosion and in the absence of sedimentation, the features were seriously damaged. The paving of the dwelling features 2 and 3 was stratified indicating their repeated use. At the north-eastern margin of the site, a stone-paved floor of irregular dimensions has been uncovered, partly destroyed in the seawards area. Further to the south, in trench 3, an oval-shaped construction, probably the best preserved in the site, has been excavated including at least four superimposed floors. The settlement features on Kythnos seemingly have parallels in the Natufian and Harifian cultures (Valla, 1998; Lieberman, 1998) that developed in the Syro-Palestinian region 12000 and 9500 cal. BC, as well as in Eastern Anatolia (Rosenberg, 1999) and on Cyprus (Guillaine and Briois, 2001).

From the first excavation season on, eight individuals buried in a crouched position, typical for this period, have been discovered in different locations within the area. In 2005, additional human remains have been discovered in different parts of the settlement. In total, 26 burials have been found below the floors, except for the bone concentration grouping together four burials on the floor of feature C21. The practice of burying individuals below the floors of the huts is widespread in Mesolithic cultures in many parts of the world as in the Natufian (Perrot, 1966), and in almost all pre-pottery sites of the Near East and Anatolia, as for example in Çatal Höyük. The gracile skeletons suggest that the Mesolithic people of the area belonged to the Caucasoid or proto-Mediterranean anthropological type and confirm the local roots of the inhabitants of the Aegean islands (Poulianos, 2010). A sequence of five radiocarbon dates on charcoal stemming from trench 2 and six further samples from other parts of the site cover the first half of the 9th millennium (8800-8600 cal. BC). As a conclusion, the settlement features discovered in the site of Maroulas were contemporary and had been used during a time span of several centuries at the start of the 9 th millennium cal. BC. Thus, the settlement is dated to the beginning of the Early Mesolithic and is the earliest one identified so far in the Aegean area, contemporaneous to the PPNA of the Near East.

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The lithic industry recovered from Maroulas shows the adaptation of the human groups inhabiting the site to local raw materials, especially quartz (rock crystal) – the most important among them. Like other Mesolithic industries in mainland Greece (e.g. Franchthi, Perlès, 1990), the chipped stone industry of Maroulas is a flake industry including a minor component of microlithic shapes. The site yielded several thousand chipped stone artefacts made from quartz, flint, and obsidian. About 80% of the chipped stone artefacts were made from local quartz, 16.8% from Melian obsidian, and the other from flint with a white patina. The small number of microliths can be explained by decreasing importance of a subsistence economy based on hunting whilst foraging dominates, especially the gathering of land snails and plants. This type of subsistence economy favoured the production of scraping and cutting tools.

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The economy of the Mesolithic inhabitants of Maroulas primarily focused on marine resources, mainly fishing, but the faunal assemblage is much smaller than the one recovered from Cyclops Cave and Franchthi. Only a few mammal species were represented such as brown hare, marten and red fox, while 41.32% of the total vertebrate fauna collected at Maroulas belong to the Suidae family (Trantalidou, 2010). Ground stone tools and querns indicate the processing of wild cereals and grasses. Fishing was an important activity for the Mesolithic inhabitants at Maroulas according to a recent study (Mylona, 2010). The fishermen focused on two types of resources, the migratory, seasonal fish, and distinct inshore species. They caught medium size migratory fish and the large size inshore fish. Maroulas provides evidence for the processing and preservation of fish, and therefore the specific size range might have been chosen as being the most suitable for this purpose.

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The other Mesolithic sites of the Aegean Ikaria is a large island of the Eastern Aegean that remained isolated from Antiquity to more recent days due to its lack of natural ports and its rough and mountainous environment. To date, archaeological research has been rare, and the prehistory of the island has remained completely unclear. Since 2003 new prehistoric sites have been identified in the western and eastern part of the island and, more significantly, in the area between Agios Kirikos and Faros. During a systematic survey in 2004 more than 20 prehistoric sites including five pre-Neolithic sites have been located. The fact that five sites featuring Mesolithic stone industry have been spotted is indicative of a network of sites and not just an occasional frequentation of the area. Kerame 1 is considered as being a major site of the Mesolithic, while the other sites seemingly are smaller occupations. As a matter of fact, its area of settlement extends over a surprisingly large area, much bigger than the one of Maroulas on Kythnos. Adding the eroded part, this settlement presumably has been even larger. It therefore was not a small camp site, but a real settlement. The stone artefacts were scattered over an area of 8000 m², mainly in the low-lying eastern part of the site which probably corresponds to the westernmost part of the settlement.

Kerame 1 is a peninsula with steep coasts jutting into the sea. In the past it was much more extended as shown by large rocks that collapsed in the sea because of earthquakes or natural erosion. It can be assumed that only the westernmost part of the site has been preserved, while its main part was destroyed by erosion and the collapse of rocks in the sea. Recent terrestrial and submarine geological research performed in the area has shown that the peninsula extended over another dozens of square meters seawards. Prior to the excavation, artefacts of obsidian and flint have been collected from the entire area slightly inclined to the eastern direction.

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Field research in the area lasted three weeks in 2007 and three weeks in 2008. Within an excavation grid, eleven trenches have been opened. Their profiles have been documented and they revealed the same stratigraphic sequence. Three layers have been identified: the first and thickest (0.20 – 0.30 m) being composed of pure brown soil, followed by the second (0.30 m) constituted by light brown soil including small- or large-sized stones, and the third mainly containing gravel (Sampson et al., 2008). Apart from several thousands of stone artefacts made from obsidian and flint, no organic remnants or clear features have been recovered in that the archaeological remains have suffered damage from intensive cultivation of the area. Slabs in horizontal position identified in trenches C and E are most likely remnants of features and it cannot be excluded that one part may have been destroyed by erosion. These features were made of perishable material (timber and plant material) and left no traces. The eastern low-lying part of the settlement probably hosted further architectural remains or burials which have been submerged and destroyed as a result of the rise in sea level. It is striking that the lithic tools found in these sites bear close similarities with the ones recovered from the site of Maroulas on Kythnos (Sampson et al., 2010). These similarities help us to establish a comparative dating framework for the Early Mesolithic and may attest to contacts and movements in the Aegean from such an early period on.

More particularly, the presence in Kerame 1 of a large number of obsidian pieces stemming from Yali on Nissyros (Sampson, 1987, 1988 and 2006) is noteworthy. It highlights the introduction of raw materials of lower quality from nearby sources in parallel to Melian obsidian. Three samples recovered from the two upper layers of trenches C and D have been addressed for Optical Luminescence dating, but unfortunately the results of the analyses indicate more recent ages (2nd-3rd millennium cal. BC) than expected. Equally three samples of charcoal from the trenches provided quite recent dating. Finally, samples of obsidian artefacts dated with the recent SIMS-SS method (Laskaris et al., 2011) indicate ages that correspond to the chronology of the site (10152±1640 BP and 11085±3282 BP). In the last few years, numbers of new sites have completed the picture of Mesolithic site distribution and settlement. The recent discovery of a Mesolithic site in the south-eastern part of Naxos, on the supply route of obsidian from Melos to Ikaria, as well as the affinities of the lithic industry with those of Maroulas and Kerame 1 seems to enlarge the network of contacts during this period (Sampson, 2010). The long-lasting search for Mesolithic sites in the Dodecanese has been worth the effort with the recent discovery of an important site on the island of Chalki near Rhodos. The large quantities of Yali obsidian seem reasonable given the short distance from this source, whilst resemblances of the lithic industry with those of the Cycladic islands and Ikaria attests to the spread of networks of influence to the southern direction.

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The Aegean Mesolithic and its perspectives Notwithstanding the research progresses registered in mainland Greece and in the islands, gaps currently subsist given the still unequal distribution of Mesolithic sites. In northern Greece, recent research carried out in Thrace as well as in central and western Macedonia has been unsuccessful with regard to the detection of Mesolithic sites. A survey in the region of Langada (Kotsakis and Andreou, 1999) failed to detect Mesolithic sites, except for the site of Sarakina, probably representing a Mesolithic or Early Neolithic settlement (Kotsakis, 2000).

Although northwestern Greece witnesses particular dense distribution of Palaeolithic sites, the Mesolithic stage remains unknown. The survey conducted by C. Runnels in the region of Preveza (Runnels et al., 1999; Runnels and Van Andel, 2003) has been encouraging with regard to the presence of Mesolithic lithic artefacts in numerous sites. Although true camp sites have not been discovered there, the concentrations of artefacts near the current coast are noteworthy because they indicate an economic change for this period and are reminiscent of Holocene sites in northern Europe. The site of Sidari on Corfu (Sordinas, 1969 and 2003) provides evidence for the same type of economy. It is not a permanent settlement but probably a seasonal camp for the gathering of some special food. In the same area, further Mesolithic findings have also been reported from Thesprotia at the occasion of surveys carried out by Danish archaeologists. The cave of Theopetra in western Thessaly (Kyparissi-Apostolika, 2003) is a particular site. However, due to the lack of a reliable stratigraphy and to the thin Mesolithic strata, we cannot draw a clear picture of the lithic industry, neither of plant and animal remains. The cave may be considered as a base camp. However, in the absence of other Mesolithic sites in the area and given the thin occupation layers, this site corresponds rather to a temporary settlement. Nonetheless, the inland location of this site is very important, because it challenges theories on the desertification of Thessaly during that period. Moreover, additional open air sites dated to the same period may be expected in the area. Hopefully, the final publication of the excavations carried out these last years, will provide new data.

Further south, excavations in the Sarakenos Cave in Central Greece are still in an initial stage with regard to the Mesolithic layers. This cave, the only one amongst hundreds of small and large caves and rock shelters in the region of the former lake Kopais, which has not been affected by past lake fluctuations, may have been an important base camp. The outstanding preservation of the pre-neolithic layers, the presence of large hearth features and a large series of radiocarbon dates are promising discoveries on this dark period of the Early Holocene and particularly the transition between the Mesolithic and the Early Neolithic (Sampson, 2008b; Sampson et al., 2009). According to absolute dating chronologies, the beginning of the Mesolithic period in the cave starts in the 10th millennium cal. BC. In Attica, it is still uncertain whether the Keratsini Cave features a Mesolithic stage.

This discovery of a Mesolithic skull fragment in a cave in the region of Kokkinovouni, in the Mesogeia area, is not ascertained. Nonetheless, in western Attica the Mesolithic evidence in the cave of Zaimis (Markovits, 1933) should be considered as certain despite objections raised by other researchers. Research into the Mesolithic in the Peloponnese should be considered incomplete except for the region of the Argolid presenting substantial density of Mesolithic sites. Following the excavation of Franchthi Cave a survey carried out in this region resulted in lithic assemblages stemming from about thirty sites, and recently, a survey in the eastern part of the Argolid led to the discovery of numerous findspots but no settlement site (Runnels et al., 2005; Runnels, 2009). Rock shelter 1 in the Klissoura Gorge is another stratified site in the Argolid (Koumouzelis et al., 1996 and 2003) where the excavation results give rise to still open questions. Except for the caves of Franchthi, Klissoura in the Argolid, Theopetra, Sarakenos and Zaimis in Attica, there are no other stratified Mesolithic sites in the mainland.

Next to research in the mainland, research on the islands in the Aegean has been profitable. The Cyclops Cave on the isolated islet of Gioura was a small seasonal or permanent camp for hunters and fishermen who exploited the island. However, the important stratigraphic sequence that spans the entire Mesolithic period and the large amounts of fish bones led to the assumption that Mesolithic groups stemming from the area of the Northern Sporades frequented the cave mainly during the summer months when the fishing activities were at their peak.

The site of Maroulas lies off the Eastern Peloponnesus and seems to present a more direct connection with less distant Attica. Nomadic residential mobility is more suitable for the Mesolithic groups of Kythnos that probably exploited other islands or distinct regions of Attica on a seasonal basis. Maroulas has been a permanent or semi-permanent settlement in contrast to the other five small Mesolithic sites that were found in coastal areas in the eastern part of the island. The same model is also advanced for the eastern part of Ikaria where Kerame 1 seems to be a seasonal base connected with the other four sites in close vicinity. Currently, Maroulas is the only example for a true settlement including dozens of circular buildings and burials, but other similar sites should exist in the Aegean or in mainland Greece. However, the site cannot be considered as an isolated settlement of Mesolithic groups incoming from the Eastern Mediterranean as presumed by Runnels (Runnels, 1995). In our opinion the theory of their eastern origin has always been an easy explanation, while the indigenous origin requires reflection and careful research. Furthermore, recent strontium analyses (Nafplioti, 2010) performed on a small sample of human teeth stemming from the burials in Maroulas, indicate that the origin of the residents was most likely located somewhere in mainland Greece, more particularly in Attica or southern Euboea.

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Maroulas on Kythnos and Kerame on Ikaria are currently the only excavated settlements in the Aegean. Kythnos is part of a route between Melos and the Greek mainland related to the trade of obsidian (Melos – Kimolos – Siphnos – Seriphos – Kythnos – Keos – Attica – Argolid). By following this route, one could avoid the dangerous open sea from Melos to the Eastern Peloponnesus in the Myrtoon region as it is the case in Franchthi where obsidian from Melos had been imported since the end of the Palaeolithic period. The Mesolithic sites on Ikaria are of greatest importance with regard to the prehistory of the Aegean basin. No further sites of this period have been recognized to date in the Eastern Aegean or on the coast of Asia Minor. Undeniably, further sites of the same period must have existed on other islands in the Aegean, but as a result from the rise of the sea level up to 40-50 meters (Lambeck, 1996), most of them are no more accessible today as they are lying on the sea bottom. Nevertheless, research projects on the Mesolithic in the Aegean and in the Greek mainland are encouraging.

The similarities between the stone industries from Ikaria and Kythnos may lead to the assumption that an easier sea route had existed since the 9th millennium cal. BC connecting both sides of the Aegean along the chain of the Cycladic islands (Andros, Tenos, Mykonos, Ikaria, and Samos). Although between Mykonos and Ikaria lies the vast open sea (“Ikarion Pelagos”), the sight distance between the two islands as well as marine currents would facilitate seafaring. In fact, recent studies (Papageorgiou, 2008) have proved that the sea currents dominating during winter and summer in the islands of the Cyclades facilitate expeditions from Asia Minor to the western Aegean and vice versa.

However, the presence of Mesolithic sites in the Eastern Aegean cannot be considered as proof that this flourishing culture of the Aegean originated from the East. First, such early sites have not been detected along the coast of Asia Minor, and, second, the technology of the stone tools of the Mesolithic sites in the Aegean feature characteristics that originated in the West and not in the East. The specific Mesolithic culture of the Aegean with its Epigravettian tradition indeed was evidenced recently in the northern, central and southern Aegean, more particularly in the six important sites on Kythnos, in the Cyclops Cave on Gioura (Sampson, 2008 and 2011), the five sites on Ikaria and in Franchthi Cave in the Eastern Peloponnese (Perlès, 1990). However, the relationship of the Mesolithic with the preceding Upper Palaeolithic is not yet clarified. There appears to be a more or less long lasting gap between both periods (600-700 radiocarbon years in Franchthi, 200-250 years in Cyclops Cave and 150-200 years in Sarakenos Cave). This may be indicative of a decrease of the local population but could also be exclusively connected with the specific use of caves. Yet, it will be possible to answer this question in the near future. C. Perlès (Galanidou and Perlès dir., 2003) who studied the stone material from Franchthi noted resemblance of the lithic industries and assumed cultural continuity since the Final Palaeolithic period. It is, however, more likely that the Mesolithic residents stemmed from local populations, certainly not very numerous albeit existent. The gaps between the Palaeolithic and the Mesolithic are not proof that the region was unoccupied. The former residents may have changed settlement locations due to climate changes and/or radical economic transformations. After all, the Greek territory has never been unpopulated as its climate was suitable, providing food resources for the survival of foragers and hunters. More generally, the scarcity of Mesolithic sites hitherto results not only from incomplete research, but also from great difficulty to recognize such sites because they are usually eroded and covered by overlying deposits. A large number of sites have been found near to the sea, often destroyed due to the rises of sea levels. The lack of careful observation during past surveys may also be a reason. Most likely the settlements were small, made of perishable, locally available materials. Because of the great mobility of the groups the camps would have been temporary, seasonal or periodical. If we accept that Mesolithic people were few, they probably had, according to C. Runnels (Runnels et al., 2005), the possibility to select the best regions for food procurement, aiming at the exploitation of coastal areas and entering the hinterland through gorges or fluvial valleys. Rock shelters or caves would have been ideal places, because they provided view of the coastal areas and the interior. Anyway, abundant discoveries made over the last years have completed the distribution map of Mesolithic sites. Moreover, they have shown that the arguments in favour of uninhabited areas in mainland Greece have been advanced on weak methodological bases.

Admittedly, on-going research focusing on the Mesolithic is making great progress, although there are still open questions on the interpretation of the Mesolithic society and economy in Greece. Certainly, Mesolithic layers still remain undiscovered and have not been excavated because of the overlying deposits. Consequently, cave excavations may offer new material and show the real importance of Mesolithic presence in each area. Moreover, it is essential to apply a strategy of research in combination with excavations in rock shelters or caves and at the same time to carry out intensive surface survey and study of the material by means of stratigraphy and absolute dating. The identification of a Mesolithic site should not be based on typological assemblages including earlier and later periods but on the presence of specific Mesolithic tool assemblages exclusively (Runnels, 1995; Runnels et al., 2005). In our opinion, Thessaly is convenient for further research since the identification of numerous 7th millennium sites indicates the presence of Mesolithic sites that do not include earlier remains. Thus, Mesolithic sites are not necessarily located below Neolithic levels or in similar locations. On the contrary, research may also concentrate on environments suitable for hunters and food gatherers (Kotsakis, 2003). We take comfort from the fact that we begin to understand the methods of surveying in order to detect Mesolithic open air sites, especially in the Aegean basin.

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For the detection of sites in coastal areas it is essential to restore the coastline using terrestrial or submarine observations or geophysical methods. The rises of the sea levels of the Mediterranean Sea were rapid at the beginning of the Holocene (50 m in 10500 BP), while they stabilized towards the end of the Mesolithic. Consequently, new environments formed due to the continuous shift of the coast to the hinterland. To sum up, the Greek Mesolithic, as it has been evidenced so far, was a period characterized by considerable regional differentiation and economic complexity. General differentiation emerges primarily between the islands of the Aegean and mainland Greece, where the question remains still open when analysing the issue more in detail. During the same period in mainland Greece a different way of life is recorded, more conservative in its choices. For example, the Mesolithic hunters of the Sarakenos Cave in the Kopais plain used local limestone materials for the manufacturing of their tools (Sampson et al., 2009). At the same time, the occupants of Franchthi Cave and Maroulas employ obsidian and grinding tools. Similarly, elsewhere in the Near East (Cayönü, Gobekli Tepe etc.) from the 9th millennium cal. BC onwards, domestication of animals already existed, while in other sites such as Çatal Höyük in the 7th millennium cal. BC people still hunted wild animals. Equally, in the southern Syro-Palestinian region domestication is evidenced later, between 7200 and 5500 cal. BC (Horwitz, 1993), and in the region of the Black Sea considerably later, at approximately 6000 cal. BC.

Important differences can be identified among the Aegean Mesolithic sites, as some of them are closer to the stage of production by contrast to others still exclusively practicing hunting and gathering. Among the former, variants in the application of domestication practices exist with regard to the preference of distinct animals, or plants, as well as variants with regard to the treatment and the typology of stone tools, and to settlement and environment choices.

The Aegean Mesolithic as a stage of proto-Neolithization The important discoveries made during recent excavations in the Aegean indicate primary achievements such as incipient animal and plant domestication. On the one hand, these latter presume the possible existence of direct or indirect connections between the local populations and Eastern groups and, on the other hand, the possible existence of cases of local domestication triggered by particular economic and social habitats and land use. Unfortunately, the theories of the “demic diffusion” (Ammerman and Cavali-Sforza, 1984) have hindered the formulation of alternative theories that could identify the local processes contributing to the transition from hunting and gathering to food production without rejecting the participation of the Near East, placing it however on a different level. The opposed view initially expressed several decades ago by D. Theocharis (Theocharis, 1967 and 1973) and afterwards developed by K. Kotsakis (Kotsakis, 2000 and 2003), and others (Halstead, 1993; Sampson, 2005, 2006 and 2008a; Seferiades, 2007; Zvelebil dir., 1986) provided the theoretical framework to cast doubt on the theory of the “cradle” importing “neolithization”: the progressive adoption of production economy by the local populations of the Greek area with or without the help of the knowledge they acquired through networks of contacts (cultural diffusion). One wonders why foreign prehistorians instead of applying current processual approach, entrenched themselves in the conservative perception of the “demic diffusion” and, at best, assumed indigenist processing: C. Perlès (1990) excludes local development for Thessaly, but not for Franchthi, while J. Hansen (1991), without abandoning the idea of imported Neolithic, pointed out the need for further archaeobotanic analyses in the pre-neolithic sites of Greece.

The Aegean Mesolithic as a stage of proto-Neolithization The Aegean Mesolithic may also be considered as being a hybrid culture and a period of experimentation with regard to food production. Elements of proto-neolithization emerging in the Aegean during the Mesolithic may indicate, on the one hand, the existence of a centre of neolithization comparable to the one on Cyprus, and, on the other hand, sea routes transporting and diffusing ideas to the western direction (Sampson et al., 2010).

However, the centres of origin currently recorded place the Aegean islands inside a new framework. The Aegean basin is upgraded from the former regional area to a centre of origin on the map of polycentric neolithization (Sampson and Katsarou, 2004; Sampson, 2005 and 2006), which gradually replaces the one and unique “cradle” in the Eastern Mediterranean related to the theory of demic diffusion. A social area, open and creative, emerges in the islands that does not have neither the attribute of the exclusive receptor (demic diffusion theory), nor of the isolated and introvert model, notably the extreme “indigenist Neolithic” proposed by M. Seferiades (Seferiades, 2007).

A “model” of an Aegean area inhabited for roughly 2000 years by groups living in a mixed Mesolithic/Neolithic stage, familiar with the sea, navigation and geography, and participating into common networks of exchange of raw materials and sharing common technological types seems to become prevalent. This cultural diffusion is based on the Mesolithic sea routes between the Aegean islands and the Pre-Pottery Neolithic seafaring in the Eastern Mediterranean, especially between Anatolia, the Levantine coast, and Cyprus. It is very likely that these maritime communication and contacts were not unilateral but reciprocal and diffused into both directions, i.e. from the East to the West and vice versa (fig. below)

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NovoScriptorium: After reading this paper and counting in all our previous knowledge we are lead to some conclusions. Well, at least up to this day, as we are always waiting for the next evidence that can add to a standing theory or of one that can fully overturn it, while being open for anything even ‘completely new’. It appears that the Eastern Mediterranean as a whole had been one of the places on Earth that domestication of animals and seeds took place. The Aegean, Anatolia, Cyprus and Levantine appear to have not only similarities but from the findings we can even talk about direct contacts and exchanges of ideas and goods. Naval and land trade routes in the region are undoubted; we have evidence of them in all of these regions, even before the 11th millennium BC. Neolithization and proto-Neolithization looks to appear almost simultaneously all over these Eastern Mediterannean territories. Then, as it was suggested recently (through published researches),  the ‘revolution’ expanded all over Europe. It appears as a rather unnecessary hypothesis for populations to ‘must have migrated/invaded/etc’ so that Neolithization takes place. It now looks mostly like ‘ideas propagation’ and as an ‘economic-subsistence chain’ from the Levantine to the Aegean and backwards rather than anything else.

Research-Selection-Comments for NovoScriptorium: Philaretus Homerides

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2 thoughts on “Mesolithic findings from the Aegean suggest a ‘polycentric neolithization’ in the Eastern Mediterranean – Settlement at Maroulas site on Kythnos island; the earliest identified so far in the Aegean area, contemporaneous to the PPNA of the Near East

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