“Neolithic package” and “massive migrations” from East to West: purely theoretical and not evidenced in the archaeological record – Archaeological material provides more evidence of movements from West to East than the opposite

In this post we present extended parts from the enlighting paper titled “Τhe Mesolithic Hunter-gatherers in the southern Mediterranean and their contribution in the Neolithisation of the Aegean“, by A. Sampson.

Abstract The excavations in the Aegean since the 1990s onwards have revealed a new cultural stage, starting from the beginning of 9th millennium B.C. down to the beginning of 7th. A network of sites extends from the northern to the southern Aegean Sea and from the West to the East, having as reference points the obsidian sources of Melos and Yali (Nissiros). In recent years, we have an increase of Mesolithic sites in the insular Aegean, the mainland Greece as well as in the western Asian coast, Cyprus and Crete. Recent research changes the data and shows that, along with the navigation capability and the specialization in fishing, an early Neolithisation in the Aegean had already started in 9th millennium B.C. It means that active Mesolithic groups from the early 9th mill. till the end of the 8th could have been able to travel to the East, interact with local populations of the PPNA and PPNB and transfer plants and animals, domesticated or not, to the Aegean and the Greek mainland, contributing to the Neolithisation of the whole area till the beginning of the 7th mill B.C.


Introduction They’ ve been twenty five years since the excavation of the Cyclops Cave on Youra Island revealed undisturbed Mesolithic layers, hitherto unknown in the Aegean islands (Sampson, 1998, 2008, 2011). Then, by revealing a Mesolithic settlement of the beginning of 9th mill B.C. at Maroulas on Kythnos island and locating several contemporaneous sites (Sampson, et al. 2010), the characteristics of this cultural stage were identified, such as the architecture, the burial customs and the stone industry. The excavation of an extensive Mesolithic site on Ikaria Island (Sampson, et al. 2012) and the location of other sites on the same island showed that this cultural stage was expanding to the eastern Aegean.

Also, the location of other sites of the same period on the islands of Cyclades, Dodecanese and Crete, showed that in 9th and 8th millennium B.C., there was a wide network of sites in the following six different territories of the Aegean:

1. Northern Sporades including Youra (Sampson 1998, 2008, 2011), Alonessos (Panagopoulou, et al. 2001) and possibly Skyros (Theocharis, 1959).

2. Cyclades (Κythnos, Naxos, Sikinos and Melos).

3. Western Aegean including the Mesolithic Franchthi (Perlès 1990), the rock shelter 1 at Prosymna (Koumouzelis, et al. 1996) and littoral sites in the Argolid (Runnels et al. 2005).

4. Eastern Aegean, including Ikaria and Fourni Island (Sampson, 2014) and the site 35 in Karaburun peninsula on the coast of Asia Minor (Ҫiligiroĝlu, 2016; Ҫiligiroĝlu, et al. 2018).

5. Dodecanese – SW Anatolia, including Yali obsidian source, Areta on Chalki (Sampson, et al. 2016) and Kirmeler on the Asian coast (Takaoǧlu, et al 2014).

6. Crete including Livari (Carter, et al. 2016), Knossos (layer X) and possibly Damnoni at the Plakias region (Strasser, et al. 2015).


The Mesolithic in Northern Sporades and the early domestication in the Aegean

Apart from the excavation at Youra, which constitutes the center of this period in the NW Aegean, few surface finds of the Mesolithic were found on Alonessos (Panagopoulou, et al. 2001) and Skyros (Theocharis, 1959).

Τhe research in the Pre-Neolithic Aegean began from the Cyclops Cave, on the islet Youra, Northern Sporades, and lasted from 1992 to 1995. The C14 dates assigned the material to the Early Holocene, more specifically to the 9th – 8th mill. B.C., placing Youra at a contemporary stage similar to that of Franchthi (Early Holocene levels); however, the activities of an Aegean Mesolithic culture were revealed in the whole stratigraphy for the first time (Sampson, 1998, 2008, 2011).

Layers of three meters thick yielded an enormous number of fish bones, resulting to a food production economy based on fishing. Also in these layers, several dοzens of fish hooks were found. The absence of wild ancestors from the environment of the Aegean and the mainland Greece at the beginning of the early Holocene is a strong argument in Trantalidou’s view (2011) that caprins were imported from the East where the first attempts at domestication had already taken place (Masseti, 1998, 9). Indeed, the first attempts of domestication in the Zagros area (Helmer, 1994) date back to 8500-8000 B.C. and coincide with those in south Anatolia, Cyprus and Youra island. The earliest domestication of sheep is encountered in Zawi Cemi Shanidar, Karim Shahir, Asiab, Cayonu and Syrian Mureybet of the same period (Uerpmann, 1987).

The decision to transport wild animals to an island (Youra) and keep them there in captivity (Reingruber, 2017; Trantalidou, 2011) may have been followed by the decision to take over the already domesticated variant instead, and keep it near their own living space. Is the person, making this decision, still a hunter or already a herder? Or maybe is a “hunter in transition” (Zvelebil , 1986)? The same question can be posed in the case of a person using wild forms of barley, oat and lentils in the Mesolithic (Hansen, 1991, fig. 53– 54) while subsequently deciding for the domesticated variants; are they considered still gatherers or farmers already?

Cyclades Maroulas on Kythnos is the only example of a large-open site, a settlement with dozens of structures in round plan and 26 burials, primary and secondary, under the floors (Sampson, et al. 2010). Some similarities can be noted in oval semi-dug structures of the early phase of Lepenski Vir culture (e.g. Vlasac, layer I, house no 2a), which are mainly over-ground constructions with circular base and a rectangular hearth inside (Srejovic, 1969; Radovanovic, 1996).

The four islands of the Cyclades that have presented Mesolithic occupation along with Kythnos are Naxos, Sikinos and Melos. The site Roos in Naxos (Sampson, et al. 2016) is particularly important because, besides presenting all the features of a typical Mesolithic site, it seems to expand to an area of dozens of acres, much greater than those of Maroulas on Kythnos and Kerame 1 on Ikaria. The stone industry includes Melian obsidian and flint from Stelida quarry of Naxos. At Stelida, recent surveys and excavations yielded Palaeolithic and Mesolithic artefacts of undefined date (Carter, et al. 2016).

Another site, presenting Mesolithic industry, had been located few years ago by a team of the Aegean University on Sikinos, a small island in the southern Cyclades (Sampson, 2006, 169-171, figs 145, 146; Sampson, et al. in print). At the western edge of the island on the promontory Kara Pounta facing to the south, huge quantities of Melian obsidian cover an area of half an acre. The thousands of tools and fragments of debitage show an Aegean Mesolithic industry mostly based on splintered technique.

In Melos, it is understood that there would have been a Mesolithic presence of habitation, as the groups of hunters from the Cyclades and the other Aegean islands as well as mainland Greece could frequently visit it. A few years ago, Prof. Kozlowski located another site far from the obsidian sources and collected Mesolithic implements.

The eastern Peloponnese Franchthi Cave was till the 90’s the only excavated Mesolithic site in the Aegean since the 60’s. Mesolithic occupation starts from phase VII (9340±160 and 9060±110 BP) and there is a settlement hiatus of 600–650 radiocarbon years between Palaeolithic (phase VI) and Mesolithic (phase VII). Microliths in phase VII are replaced by a great number of retouched flakes and blades (32%), and notched-denticulated tools (32.5%).

Obsidian is rather poorly documented, increasing its proportion up to 2.5–3.5% in the Upper Mesolithic (Perlès, 1990, 2003). Phase X at Franchthi, attributed to the Initial Neolithic, has given radiocarbon dates around 7.9-7.8 Kyr BP. The lithic industry continues to be characterized by the traditional technology of Final Mesolithic (phase IX) that is the domination of flakes accompanied by microblades and regular blades.


The subsistence economy of the occupants of the cave presents almost the “full package” of the Neolithic economy; domesticated caprins, Sus scrofa, Bos and Cervus, Triticum turgidum sp. Dicoccum and Hordeum vul sp. distichum while are absent the Triticum monoccocum and Hordeum vulgare vulgare, cereals that are represented in Pottery Neolithic of Greece posterior of 7.7-7.6 Kyr BP.

In Cave 1 in the Klissoura Gorge (Koumouzelis, et al. 2003), the basic techno-morphological features are derived from the tradition of the local Lower Mesolithic, with an emphasis on flake blank production, with minor components of a microblade technology, and a production of a small number of microliths from flakes (triangles, trapezes, crescents). In the Upper Mesolithic layer, the number of flakes was greater, while in the lower one the microliths were more.

Eastern Aegean A survey conducted on the island of Ikaria revealed, apart from the site of Kerame 1 (Sampson, et al. 2012; Sampson, 2014), five more sites bearing the same characteristic Mesolithic stone industry.

It is about an indication of a network of sites and not just a casual usage of the area. Kerame 1 is put forward as the major site, while the others seem to be of limited extent. Indeed, the settlement spans over an unusually large area, much more extensive than Maroulas (Sampson, et al. 2010). The Mesolithic Ikarian model bears similarities to Kythnos’ settlement model.

It is strikingly odd, that the stone tools found in Kerame 1 consist of white patinated flint and obsidian from Melos and Yali bearing remarkable similarities to the ones found at the site of Maroulas on Kythnos. Αt small distance across the Kerame 1 at Fourni island complex, another Mesolithic site with the same lithic industry was identified (Sampson, 2014).

Another assemblage similar to those of the Aegean Mesolithic tradition comes from a survey at the Karaburun Peninsula on western Anatolia (Ҫilingiroǧlu, et al. 2016, 5–6), across the eastern Aegean island of Chios. The 116 artefacts of ‘white patinated flint’ from the site 31 (Mordogan) were products of a non-standardized flake-based tradition (only three blades recorded), with a few retouched pieces (approx. 10%) including scrapers and notches (Ҫilingiroǧlu, et al. 2016, 3–5, Figs 4–5). The artefacts’ raw material is exactly the same with this of Kerame 1 on Ikaria. The cores are highly reduced and microlithic while nearly half of all the identified blanks at the site are flakes.

Dodecanese-SW Anatolia Recent surveys in the southern Aegean yielded the lithic-rich site Areta on Chalki Island (Sampson, et al. 2016) in a rocky environment at the northern part of the island. Thousands of stone implements come from Melos and Yali islet near Nissiros, the second obsidian source in the Aegean. Close to the site, there is a cave which was used for a long time as a pen for animals.

Recent research in SW Turkey revealed a flake-based assemblage in Kirmeler Cave (Takaoǧlu, et al. 2014, 112–113, fig. 6) coming from deposits of late 9th and beginning of 8th mill. B.C. The excavators note the materials’ distinction from the lithic traditions of central Anatolian and Antalya region of this period, while also drawing tentative parallels with Aegean Mesolithic assemblages. The last place in the area of SW Anatolia is indicative of how far the sea networks of the Mesolithic hunter-gatherers of the Aegean Sea reached at the south.

Crete The other site at Livari in SE Crete (Carter, et al. 2016) fits the Aegean Mesolithic location model forwarded by Runnels (2009, 60–62) at the “intersection of woodland and aquatic habitats”, and is ultimately better viewed as part of the ‘Early Holocene Aegean Island lithic tradition’ (9000–7000 cal B.C.).

The material presents similarities with the lithics of Knossos layer X (c. 7000–6500/6400 cal BC), which are contemporary to those of Phase X at Franchthi Cave (Table 1). The study on the Knossos lithic material by Kaczanowska and Kozłowski (2011) led them to downplay the similarities with Mesolithic Franchthi and instead, locate Knossos X within the “Early Holocene Aegean Is land lithic tradition”. The lithic industry co-occurs with the “Aceramic Neolithic” (or the “Initial Neolithic”, 8.0 and 7.7 kyr BP) from layer X at Knossos (Evans, 1971, Efstratiou, 2005) and includes the complete “Neolithic package” indicative of links with the eastern part of the Mediterranean Basin. The simultaneous presence of numerous artifacts from Melian obsidian (69.7%) is the evidence of contacts with the Cyclades.

The tool groups from the Plakias region in the western Crete (Strasser, et al. 2010 and 2015; Carter, et al 2018) that the authors claim to be diagnostic for the Mesolithic, namely backed pieces, burins and geometrical microliths, predominantly from quartz, are questionable for the moment while they do not answer to the definition of geometrical microliths. According to Kaczanowska and Kozlowski (2014, 50) “the sites from the Plakias region area exhibit some features in common with flake industries made on quartz from the Cyclades (notably from the island of Kythnos), but they have not provided diagnostic forms that would allow to ascribe them to the Mesolithic”.

A scenario could be a social interaction in Knossos or Franchthi between populations that have remained hunter-foragers and populations that have been transformed into farmers. In the middle of the 7th millennium Mesolithic stone industry disappears and macroblades that originate from the East appear, possibly resulting in some movements from the East to the Aegean or from the Aegean to the East.


Navigation in Palaeolithic and Mesolithic

In recent decades, several researchers have dealt with the prehistoric navigation and occupation of the Mediterranean islands and especially of the Aegean, such as J. Cherry (1981, 1982), J. Cherry and Leppard (2017), C. Broodbank (2000, 2006), C. Agouridis 1997), J. Vigne (1987), A. Sampson (2006), V. Maxwell and A. Sampson (2018) and A. Simmons (2014).

Cherry’s disappointing view (1982, 208) that “it is probably advisable to set aside this evidence until substantiated in detail and for the present at least retain the null hypothesis: that there are no settlements of Mesolithic age in Cyclades he agrees with Broodbank’s also disappointing statement (1980, 220) that “until the end of Pleistocene Mediterranean people were reluctant sea-goers and the sea itself a largely empty expanse, still a de facto barrier far more than a bridge”.

Αfter the recent years’ dubious findings of Palaeolithic presence in western Crete (Strasser, et al. 2010; Runnels, et al. 2014) and the identification of Palaeolithic tools in Gavdos (Κοpaka and Μatzanas 2009), there are growing views that in the Middle and Lower Palaeolithic people could travel long distances to the open sea like that from Libya to Crete. Based on studies conducted to determine inter-visibility throughout the Mediterranean, neither Gavdos nor Crete would have been visible from the Northern African coast (McGail, 2009, fig. 4, 2). That is where the question arises; with what knowledge, organization and prediction could the people of Lower and Middle Paleolithic travel to the unknown for an uncertain period of time?

However, it’s very likely that at some phase of the Palaeolithic, people with primitive means of navigation travelled from the southern end of the Peloponnese through the island of Kythera, where there is visual contact with the mountains of Crete, and reached at the western Crete and Gavdos. The southern part of the Peloponnese (area of Mani) has presented important findings in caves dated at least since the beginning of the Middle Palaeolithic (Harvati, et al. 2013; Tourloukis, et al. 2016). The experimental trip with a raft made of canes, was organized by the historian Bob Hobman in 2014. It lasted for two days till the NW part of Crete, covering 97 miles while nine people travelled 40 more miles to reach the Palaeochora and another 37 miles till Gavdos. Alongside, Hobman proved that his undertaking was not so difficult and it could actually be completed within a few days.

In the case of the Northern Aegean, the seafaring from Middle Palaeolithic seems more reasonable because there is a visual contact between the islands and the mainland. In the Middle Paleolithic, most islands were not connected to the continent but there was a visual contact between Ag. Efstratios, Lemnos, Imbros, Kallipolis and the Asian continent; MP sites of this period have been located in all these areas (Özbek and Erdoĝu, 2016; Sampson, et al. 2018). We are certainly not talking about the Last Glacial Maximum period when the sea level has descended and the islands of the Northern Aegean were united to the continent. At the same time, sites of the Middle Palaeolithic have been identified at the Northern Sporades in the northwestern Aegean (Sampson, 1996; Panagopoulou, et al. 2001). Although the distances between NW and NE of the Aegean Sea are great, there is a visual contact of the deserted islands of Northern Sporades from Lemnos and Agios Efstratios.

In the central and southern Aegean Basin, hundreds of islands lie at short distances to each other; the area looks like a lake with many islands inside which at different times were joined. However, despite the relative ease of communication between the islands in the Palaeolithic and Mesolithic period, Aegean remains a sea with particular sailing conditions. Τhe short ripple is different from that of the ocean and becomes dangerous during the winter and also during July and August when the strong northern winds prevail; hence the name «ετησίαι» (annual) winds, in the antiquity. Furthermore, the wind power is getting bigger in the narrow channels between the islands.

Also, the sea currents which facilitate the sailing become dangerous in some cases. For the Aegean region, the importance of currents in navigation, especially in prehistoric times, has been studied and emphasized in recent years (Papageorgiou, 2008). There is a complex network of currents that changes during the winter and summer months, but there are also currents throughout the year in the Mediterranean (Simmons, 2014).


During the Upper Palaeolithic, the majority of the Cycladic islands, with the exception of Kythnos, Melos and few others, formed a huge island (Cycladia), equal to 2/3 of the extent of Cyprus. This enormous island would have offered rich fauna and flora, enough to support the needs of Palaeolithic hunters and food gatherers. Τhe site of Stelida on Naxos, being identified by Seferiades (1983) and Sampson (2006), while recently excavated by Carter (Carter, et al. 2016), has attributed tools of the Upper and probably the Middle Paleolithic. The tools of the Lower Paleolithic that have been reported are doubtful because they cannot be dated in a stratigraphic way. Another island in Cyclades with Palaeolithic presence is Kythnos, where in Maroulas’ Mesolithic settlement some blades of the Upper Palaeolithic were collected (Sampson, et al. 2010).

In Mesolithic, a network of sites in Cyclades, Dodecanese and the western Asian coast shows an intense mobility of a dynamic population originating from mainland Greece or the coast of Asia Minor, which uses an Epigravettian industry.


Τhe Aegean Mesolithic in Cyprus

Reingruber (in press) speaks about theoretical contacts of Aegean hunter-gatherers with inland Anatolia, while she possibly ignores Kaczanowska and Kozlowski’s publication about Nissi Beach in Cyprus (2014):

Theoretically at least some individuals or small groups could have reached inland Anatolia and returned to the Aegean with the knowledge of the Neolithic way of life. Yet, the push factors causing hunter-gatherer-fishers to leave the Aegean must be regarded as either nonexistent or insufficient or, at least at the moment, not conceivable”.

Nissi Beach in the southeastern part of Cyprus is an aeolianite rocky site, found and excavated by Ammerman (2008), which yielded an assemblage of lithic artifacts. For several years, the excavator was suggesting that the provenance of the site’s industry was the Palaeolithic Anatolia. However, some years later the scene changed as Kozlowski and Kaczanowska were invited to Cyprus in order to study the lithic material. From the beginning, it was evident that this industry had not any similarities with the known industries of Epipalaeolithic or Neolithic periods. The published material (Kaczanowska & Kozlowski 2014) proved that it resembles the Aegean Mesolithic assemblages! The lithic industries of the “Aegean Mesolithic” from Maroulas (Sampson, et al. 2010), Ikaria and other Aegean sites and the flake assemblages from Nissi Beach show similarities of major retouched tool categories although the frequencies of these categories are different.

According to Kaczanowska and Kozlowski’s view (2014, 2015), the industry represents the tool-kits of foragers who were occupying the SE part of the island during the PPNA and possibly were contemporaries of the earliest Cypriot farmers:

the groups of the Aegean Mesolithic must have been able to navigate across considerable distances arriving at the site of Nissi Beach on Cyprus where the pebble-flake industry shows several features common with their origins ”….and “the islanders from the Aegean Sea managed to combine elements of food producing economy, acquired via contacts with the territories in the eastern part of the Mediterranean Sea, with elements of traditional foraging. On Cyprus the sites with flake industries such as Nissi Beach are the evidence for these contacts”… “Thus as consequence of contacts with the Initial Pre-ceramic Neolithic on Cyprus the economy and architecture of the Aegean Mesolithic changed (e.g., Maroulas on Kythnos) supporting the observation concerning distant seafaring ”.

However, in an earlier paper, Kozlowski and Kaczanowska (2008) emphatically considered the recent discoveries of Mesolithic sites in the Aegean Basin as a confirmation of the eastern immigration of peoples with nautical knowledge and specifically, they linked them with the “exodus” of the population of PPNA from the eastern coast of the Mediterranean to Cyprus!

In this case, the occupation at the site by the Aegean Mesolithic hunters and gatherers should be closer to the sea and it is logical that they would engage in fishing activities alongside hunting or harvesting wild cereals. On the other hand, the restricted ecology of the aeolianite and the site’s exposure to strong winds in the winter months would make it a poor place for habitation on a more permanent basis. Probably, those hunter-gatherers should have penetrated to the interior of the island while it is likely that they had created other shelters on the coast of Cyprus. The above researchers believe that other higher-lying sites with similar industry will be found in the western and southern coasts of Cyprus and that sites 2 and 3 in the Akrotiri area (Simmons, 2014) confirm this assumption.

However, one would not expect a real migration to have taken place by the fishers-gatherers of the Aegean, because migration according to Albrecht (1972, 279) “is an interactive process and can be the source for fundamental changes in social organization”. Individual teams of experienced pioneering sailors could travel eastward looking for contacts with locals as in the case of the Nissi Beach in Cyprus. Interactions between newcomers and autochthonous populations should also be studied and in our case, between the native populations and the migrating hunter-gatherers.

It would not be necessary, the travel from the Aegean to Cyprus to start from the Northern Aegean (Youra), Kythnos or Franchthi; it could start from a southern Mesolithic site such as Chalki, or Kirmeler, a cave site in Adalya opposite Rhodes. The route to Cyprus would follow the coastline of SW Asia Minor (Antalya) having as background Kastellorizo and other surrounding islets. It should be noted that this small island complex, a short distance from the Antalya peninsula, is the only one on the southern and southwestern coast of Anatolia; it would have probably been a challenge for the early prehistoric groups, since the late Palaeolithic and Mesolithic times, for making trips to the sea and getting the acquisition of experience.


The Neolithic package

Even today, this alternative proposal for the launch of Neolithic in Greece continues to be overshadowed by conservative and unrealistic perceptions, rendering this research field a characteristic example of scientific subjectivity, in which different sides adduce the same “evidence” as arguments to support diametrically opposed views. It becomes clear how timely it is today to discuss the theoretical framework for the beginning of the productive economy in Greece. The international bibliography took into little account the formulation of alternative proposals declared for the first time by Theocharis (1967) for over 50 years ago, while expanded and maintained theoretically by Kotsakis (1992, 2000, 2003) and others (Halstead, 1993; Zvelebil, 1986; Sampson 2005, 2006, 2014a, 2015; Seferiades, 2007; Reingruber, 2018).

This ex oriente settled Neolithic “package”, that renewed its power with the demic diffusion theories of Ammerman and Cavalli-Sforza (1984), has for decades degraded the importance of Greek Mesolithic in the context of mainland Greece and the Aegean, emphasizing in the occupation of these regions from Eastern populations (Runnels, 1995; van Andel and Runnels. 1988; Broodbank and Strasser, 1991; Perlès, 2001). As Reingruber (in print) says “as a concept the term colonisation does not explain the complex transformations at the Mesolithic– Neolithic interface in the Aegean, because this model includes only half of the story: that of the newcomers as colonists and it completely ignores the local, Mesolithic population and the role it played”. Relevant is Simmons’ statement (1999, 26) about the significance of pre-Neolithic groups; “if the pre-agriculturalists could live in, for example, the deserts of the American west, or Australia, I find it hard to believe that hunters and gatherers, especially ones with a knowledge of sea-faring, could not have eked out some existence on many of the Mediterranean islands”.

Also, the “Neolithic package” seems incomplete because it refers only to the transport of domesticated species and not to objects of material culture as lithic industries nor to more important things such as burial customs and worship practices, elements that do not appear anywhere in the Greek area. Claiming that farmers have traveled from the East to the West transporting domesticated animals and plants, is very general and vague and, to a great extent, romantic! It is unlikely that so suddenly, people without experience at sea could make such long trips. But why should they try it? The various theories referring to overpopulation, war conflicts and climate changes are hypothetical and are not based on specific facts.

However, the question of why people (presumably) left the Anatolian highland to settle in an unfamiliar sea-oriented coastal landscape of the Mediterranean or Aegean Sea, where navigational skills were required, should be answerable. Even the question about how migrants from inner Anatolia and Middle East could have crossed the Aegean Sea is not addressed (e.g. while being non-coastal inhabitants, how did they know to construct and use boats?).

For the first time, social mobility (motility) has been included in the theories of Neolithisation processes in the Aegean (Reingruber, in press). Ammerman and Cavalli-Sforza (1973) based their wave of advance-model on the supposition of population pressure. As sociologists argue, overpopulation is not an exclusive cause for migration. In sociology, a reason for social disequilibrium is that of population surplus, since a reduction in overcrowding shows only short-term relief effects (Franz, 1984:63); indeed, in present-day archaeological studies, this constitutes the generally accepted cause.

However, as Reingruber says, “in order to prove that a mass-migration from Anatolia to the Aegean took place, one would have to also analyze the following: -Who was moving (age, sex, social status)? -How were people moving and how far? How big were the groups? -Why were some people moving and others not? Were whole communities moving or only parts of them? -Why were people moving at all? For the time being it is not possible to find conclusive answers to the first three questions because of the extreme paucity of human remains dating from the 8th to the 6th millennium BC in the whole of the circum-Aegean area. These most basic questions regarding the age and sex of specific individuals on the move must remain unanswered at the moment”.

The Mesolithic navigators must have been aware of the transformations happening further east in order to be led to their own decision-making process. The transformations of the mid-seventh millennium BC are probably supported by small mobile groups (individuals together with their families) from both the eastern coast of Asia Minor and the Aegean islands, who exchanged knowledge, also intermarried, and over many decades or even centuries, enlarged the basis of their economic, cultural and social lives.

We can assume that a person or persons who have been distinguished in distant journeys would have been the basic characters for creating a myth similar to that of Homeric Odysseus. Perhaps, the myth of this hero was based on an earlier legend that echoed the accomplishments of distinguished person or persons who acted in the Mediterranean. It is very likely that some people have been in the spotlight since the end of Pleistocene or the Holocene either because they discovered the obsidian deposits of Melos or Yali, which was of immense importance for the technology of the time, or because they had managed to build safer means (boats or rafts) for long sea trips.

Travels from west to east seem to have always been taking place since Paleolithic and continued in the Bronze Age and later in the dark period. The invasions of the “peoples of the sea” in the Late Bronze Age reflect massive voyages from the Aegean and the western Mediterranean to the Near East and should not only be related to pirate raids on the coasts of Anatolia and Syropalestine but also to the supply of raw materials, exchanges of goods having also social impacts. Thus, archaeological material gives us more evidence of movements from west to east than the opposite. Unfortunately, for the supporters of the “Neolithic package” and the massive migrations, the movements from the east to the west and the Aegean in particular, are purely theoretical and are not evidenced in the archaeological record.



The recent discoveries in maritime Aegean, Crete, western Anatolia and Cyprus are quite enough to put the debate for this intriguing theme of the pre-Neolithic movements in the Aegean and eastern Mediterranean on a new basis. The “Early Holocene Aegean Islands Tradition” (Kozlowski and Kaczanowska, 2009; Sampson, et al. 2012; Sampson, 2016) is distinct from both all the contemporary industries from the eastern Mediterranean and the blade-based industries using pressure-flaking of the western and eastern Aegean during the 7th-6th millennia cal BC. As such, the Aegean Mesolithic, c. 9000-7000 cal BC, displays an idiosyncratic character, with foragers exploiting marine and terrestrial resources both on the mainland and the islands and occupying seasonal, multi-seasonal or perhaps even year-round sites.

Since the beginning of 9th mill BC, there has been for 2000 years, a constant presence in the Aegean by populations familiar with the sea, navigation and geography, living in some areas in a mixed Mesolithic/Neolithic stage, participating in common networks of exchanging raw material and sharing common technological types during the whole period. The Mesolithic groups of the Aegean Basin had in advance the possibilities for long-haul trips having experience at sea due to their temperament and also due to the peculiarity of the area. They could spread much faster by sea new ideas and over time to turn themselves or others into permanently installed farmers. Since the agriculture and animal husbandry were established in Greece, it was a matter of time that they would be spread to the Balkans and then the West.

It is no coincidence that the earliest seafaring took place in the Aegean Sea and the rest of the Mediterranean since the Middle and Upper Palaeolithic, while Greek seafarers established colonies originally on the coasts of Asia Minor and Syropalestine, and then across the Mediterranean since the 9th century BC. At this point, we must not forget the early voyages of experienced Phoenician sailors who started at a later stage (beginning of the 1st mill. BC.). The intense mobility of Aegean Mesolithic groups, since the 9th millennium, shows that these populations were looking for new nutritional sources that would change or diversify the unpredictable and dangerous way of supplying food from the sea. It is certain that the transport of animals from the East to Northern Aegean (Youra) was not through their contacts with Mesolithic groups of southwestern Anatolia, since the finds of the caves in Antalya (Öküzini, Belbidi) have not given any evidence of domestication of animals during this period. Instead, it should have been taking place through Cyprus, where animals such as goats, sheep and cattle have already been introduced in 9th mill. B.C., and perhaps secondarily through the southern coast of Anatolia (Uerpman, 1981).

It is very likely that this marine communication and the contacts were not unilateral, but reciprocal and stemmed from both directions, namely from the west to the east and vice versa (Sampson 2014a, 2015); however, it’s estimated that pre-Neolithic populations of Cyprus had not, by that time, acquired expertise in fishing and navigation similar to that of the Aegean and probably were not able to sail for such long distances. Unlike the Aegean, Cyprus and the continental coast of southern Anatolia and Syropalestine are deprived small neighboring islands opposite them, except Kastelorizo, which would have been a trigger for specialization in sailing and exploitation of their food resources.

Αn intriguing issue is the interaction between the Aegean foragers and the Cypriot farmers and herders. The Aegean Mesolithic foragers, as evidenced, have settled on the southeastern coast of Cyprus, but their contact with local agro-pastoralists must be regarded as certain. It cannot be excluded that they were not limited to this point of Cyprus (Nissi Beach) and there are similar sites of the 9th millennium in other parts of the island that have not yet been found.

Two reasonable questions arise at this point concerning the movements of the Mesolithic populations. Since the Μesolithic occupants of the Aegean had the skills to travel since the 9-8th mill. BC to the Eastern Mediterranean and transfer caprids to the NW Aegean (Cyclops Cave) or some kind of cereals to anywhere else, why could not they spread the domesticated species to different parts of the Greek area like the Aceramic Knossos and Franchthi Cave, the lithic industries of which are of Aegean Mesolithic type and not of Eastern origin (Kaczanowska & Kozlowski, 2006, 2011), as it ought to be if occupants of the above two sites were settlers from the East? And also why to ascribe the “Neolithic package” to a sudden and uncertain “migration” of farmers and herders who came from the East (Broodbank & Strasser, 1991; Efstratiou, 2013; Horejs, et al. 2015, Cherry & Leppard, 2017) around 7000 BC, a period during which an active Late Mesolithic population still exists in the Aegean Basin, capable of travelling everywhere and experiment in new patterns of productive economy?


Research-Selection for NovoScriptorium: Philaretus Homerides


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