The Mesolithic & Neolithic Aegeans must have had proper ships and not just primitive rafts and canoes; a crucial find from Franchthi Cave

We discuss here on one of the most important findings reported from Franchthi Cave (Argolis, Greece) during the initial excavations of the famous cave; tuna fish bones nearly 2.5 m. in length and 200 kg. in weight. Strangely enough, this finding seems to be ‘omitted’ on later reports or analyses.

Bluefin Tuna

First of all, let’s check some officially published information about the Atlantic bluefin tuna.

From the paper titled “Observations of in situ Atlantic bluefin tuna (Thunnus thynnus) with 500-kHz multibeam sonar” (2016), by Gary D. Melvin we read:

“Swimming speed was estimated for 130 individual targets identified as bluefin. Swimming speed of bluefin schools ranged from a mean of 1.30 to 10.70 m/s with an overall mean (25 schools) of 4.14 m/s (±0.82). For the 26 individual fish with multiple observations (i.e. those not observed swimming in a group), the mean was slightly slower at 3.65 m/s (±0.86), although a two-sample t-test assuming equal variance indicated they were not significantly different (p = 0.23). Systematic error associated with positioning the targets was estimated, based on angular resolution of the sonar, to be ±one beam or 0.25–0.75 m depending upon the range from the sonar head. A boxplot of swimming speed for the individuals and those swimming in groups illustrates the observed variability in speed. The median swimming speeds of the groups were generally within the distribution (whisker—1.5 times the 75% quartile) of the individual fish, with the exception of Group 10. The maximum observed individual fish speed was 10.98 m/s or 38.43 km/h. The distribution of swimming speeds for all fish had a mode of 5–6 m/s. Multiple estimates of speed for a single fish were available during observations. The distance travelled and speed varied slightly from interval to interval due to the meandering of the fish as it moved through the sonar swathe. A slight increase in swimming speed was also note for fish that came within 20 m of the boat; however, no significant (p < 0.05) relationship was observed for speed and distance to the vessel. “

NovoScriptorium: A mean moving velocity for the fish was found (in the above paper) to be around 16 km/h. Also, we read that the maximum velocity recorded for bluefin tuna was around 40km/h.

From the paper titled “Direct measurement of swimming and diving kinematics of giant Atlantic bluefin tuna ( Thunnus thynnus )”, by Adrian Gleiss et al. (2019), we read:

“The archival datasets have shown to date that tunas have a variable diving behaviour and respond to changing environmental conditions. Remarkable dives have been measured with vertical velocities exceeding 6 – 8 m/s (∼22-29km/h) and to depths exceeding 2000 m.” 

“Atlantic bluefin tuna were brought on to the deck for electronic tagging and released head first from the vessel following the deployment procedures using established techniques. In both cases, after release, the fish dove and exhibited a gliding descent (no tail-beating) to depths of 20–30 m. Both fish displayed strong tail-beating activity with higher tail-beat frequency of greater than 1.5 Hz for several hours followed by a gradual decrease towards a more sustained level of activity of less than 1 Hz after approximately 6 h. In the single fish (fish no. 2) for which swim speed was directly measured, the data were characterized by a post-release response of fast swimming speeds of approximately 2.5 m/s (approx. 1 body lengths/s), followed by a reduction to a routine speed of greater than 1.5 m/s (approx. 0.75 body lengths/s) over the course of 6 h.”

Bluefin tuna are extreme athletes with the capacity to rapidly travel across ocean basins, with remarkably quick migrations from low-latitude spawning grounds to high-latitude foraging grounds, underpinned by unique physiological and biomechanical adaptations. While archival tag records have revealed the remarkable depths to which these fish can dive and their use of the water column, this study provides a first effort to examine the swimming kinematics in wild tuna. The use of a high-resolution biologging tag coupled with a video device has revealed that in addition to morphological specializations for high-performance swimming, Atlantic bluefin tuna also showed considerable repertoire of swimming patterns that are hypothesized to improve their locomotor performance.”

NovoScriptorium: Also useful general information can be read in the Wikipedia (1, 2). Please keep in mind this part: “For powerful swimming animals like dolphins and tuna, cavitation may be detrimental, because it limits their maximum swimming speed. Even if they have the power to swim faster, dolphins may have to restrict their speed, because collapsing cavitation bubbles on their tail are too painful. Cavitation also slows tuna, but for a different reason. Unlike dolphins, these fish do not feel the bubbles, because they have bony fins without nerve endings. Nevertheless, they cannot swim faster because the cavitation bubbles create a vapor film around their fins that limits their speed. Lesions have been found on tuna that are consistent with cavitation damage“.

Cavitation is a phenomenon in which rapid changes of pressure in a liquid lead to the formation of small vapor-filled cavities in places where the pressure is relatively low. At deep-sea depths, the pressure is unimaginable, yet many creatures have no problem living there. This is because most things living in the deep ocean are largely water and water is incompressible. Without gas-filled spaces like lungs or swim bladders, organisms in the great deep are less affected by pressure than we imagine

The above testify about the impossibility to catch very large fish (weighing 200kg) from the coast; such large animals may only be -naturally- found in great depths and an adequate boat/ship and equipement are required for their capture.

Franchthi Cave

Now let’s have a look at some official reports concerning Franchthi.

From the paper titled “Franchthi cave and the beginning of settled village life in Greece, by Thomas W. Jacobsen (1981), which is one of the first official reports on the excavations, we read:

For the purposes of this paper, I would like to summarize the results of the Franchthi excavations in terms of a series of adaptive stages, i.e., successive human adaptations to changing environmental conditions. These stages coincide generally with the major chronological horizons as published (Jacobsen, 1976), but it must be emphasized that the latter are still provisional and are likely to be subdivided or modified with continued study of the remains.

Stage 1. The earliest, stratified material from the site belongs to the Upper Palaeolithic and was probably contemporaneous at least in part with the last major glacial advance (Wurm) in Europe. The climate seems to have been markedly cooler and drier at that time and vegetation sparse in the neighborhood of the site. Sea level would have been depressed by as much as 100 m. from that of today, and the nearest shore would therefore have been several kilometers distant. Although not abundant, the remains suggest that the cave was occupied on a seasonal basis by a small hunting band of perhaps 25-30 people at most (Service, 1971). Their tool kit consisted of bladelets and scrapers of local flint, and their primary quarry was wild ass and (to a lesser extent) red deer. There is no evidence of the gathering of wild plants. Stage 1 seems to have come to an end with a temporary abandonment of the site, represented by a depositional hiatus in the stratigraphy, for a few thousand years around 15,000 B.C. (in uncorrected radiocarbon years).

Stage 2. This is essentially the Final Palaeolithic, ca. 10,000-12/13,000 years ago, a time when post-glacial climatic and environmental conditions had already begun to be felt. Sea level was rising, and there is reason to believe (Van Andel, pers. comm.) that the availability of coastal lowland in the neighborhood of the site had been reduced by 10% or more from that of the glacial maximum.

Evidence of human activity on the headland of Franchthi is confined to the cave itself and seems to have become more intense than it had been earlier. A wider range of subsistence practices is also reflected by the excavated remains. Hunting of large game continued to be important, and red deer gradually came to be the dominant prey. At the same time, there are, for the first time, clear indications of small-scale fishing, shell-collecting (both marine [Shackleton and Van Andel, 1980] and terrestrial molluscs) and the exploitation of wild plants (Hansen and Renfrew, 1978; Hansen, 1978, 1980). These plants included the pulses (lentils and vetch), nuts (pistachios and almonds) and wild cereals (oats and barley), the earliest such yet recorded from Greece.

Microlithic tools begin to appear among the chipped-stone artifacts, and there are the first certified indications of the use of obsidian (Perles, 1979). If analysis proves the latter to be of Melian origin (as we should expect), we would have evidence of sea-faring far earlier than even we had expected from prior discoveries at the site. Thus it seems that we have here a group of hunter-gatherers who had already begun to exploit (perhaps tenuously at first) the rich resources of the sea.

[NovoScriptorium: At this point it would be useful for one to read one of our previous posts]

Although evidence of seasonality is still very incomplete, there are some indications of spring, summer and autumn occupation (Hansen, 1980). Winter activity is rather more difficult to demonstrate (Payne, pers. comm.), but, if dietal resources not likely to be preserved in the archaeological record (e.g., leafy greens; cf. Clarke, 1976; Forbes, 1976) are taken into account, year-round occupation at the site must already be considered a possibility.

Since we have no evidence of more extensive occupation at this time, it seems safest to assume that Final Palaeolithic Franchthi continued to serve at least as a “base camp” for a small band of foragers, perhaps now on a more regular basis. Its size and natural advantages, however, may have permitted the accommodation of more than one such group on special occasions or at certain times of the year (Flannery, 1972a).

Stage 3. The over-all climatic and environmental trends first observed in Stage 2 seem to have continued under the ameliorating conditions of the “Neothermal” in the eighth millennium B.C. (in uncorrected radiocarbon years). Higher temperatures can be assumed, and the macro- and micro-faunal evidence suggests (Payne, pers. comm.) significantly increased moisture, perhaps greater than in the area today. We can also assume a continuously rising sea level and, therefore, a further reduction of available coastal lowland and those biotic resources associated with it.

We can not as yet speak with certainty about the manner in which the occupants of the cave adapted to these changing conditions. That a modification of previous subsistence practices was necessary and did take place is implied by the apparent local extinction of certain faunal species (Payne, 1975) and a notable change in the composition of the tool kit (Perles, pers. comm.). Whether this happened during a brief abandonment of the site, as perhaps suggested by the radiocarbon dates, is not certain. On the other hand, it is clear that there was some measure of continuity with the past. The inhabitants of the cave continued to rely heavily upon the hunting of red deer and the gathering of many of the same fruits, cereals, and legumes. Since the occupied area of the cave is no larger than before and the likelihood of year-round habitation certainly no greater than in Stage 2, it seems that the site continued to serve as a base camp for a small group of hunter-gatherers. It should be noted, however, that we now have the first clear-cut indications of the use of the cave as a place of burial as well as human habitation (Jacobsen, 1969). The rather simple interment of an adult male (a primary burial without grave goods) contrasts somewhat with the impression of the generally more elaborate mortuary practices of Neolithic Franchthi (Jacobsen and Cullen, in press).

Stage 4. For the present, it seems that the climatic and environmental situation which prevailed in Stage 3 continued without significant change into Stage 4 (seventh millennium B.C.). Sea level continued to rise, and it has been estimated (Van Andel, pers. comm.) that at least 25% of the (Pleistocene) lowland to the west of the site had now been submerged. Likewise, the distance to the nearest shore may well have been reduced by at least one half, thus bringing it within a few minutes’ walk of the site.

It is still too early to know the full impact of these conditions on the Upper Mesolithic settlement at Franchthi. It seems clear that certain hunting and gathering practices were retained from previous stages, but there are noteworthy innovations as well. Particularly striking are the quantities of large fish bones which suddenly begin to appear at this time. These have now been identified (A. Wheeler, pers. comm.) as largely of the common (Blue Fin) variety of tuna and are of sizes which reach nearly 2.5 m. in length and 200 kg. in weight. Tuna vertebrae are extremely common in these contexts, comprising at least 95% of all the fish bones and nearly half of all the large animal bones. It is clear, therefore, that fishing came to be an important activity at this time, at least on a seasonal basis (Bintliff, 1977), and tuna a significant part of the diet of the cave’s inhabitants.

Geometric microliths reappear in some quantity during Stage 4, but they are technically different from those of Stage 2 (Perles, pers. comm.). Some of these tools were fashioned from obsidian, which was more abundant than ever before and has been confidently associated with a source on the island of Melos. It is still tempting to consider meaningful the correlation between tuna bones and Melian obsidian (e.g., Jacobsen, 1976, p. 81), but the relationship in terms of the technology of Mesolithic tuna fishing clearly needs to be better understood (cf. Bintliff, 1977). Likewise, until we know more about early habitation on Melos itself, the issue of pre-Neolithic “trade” (i.e., implying some form of bilateral exchange) must remain unsettled.

If the above suggests a certain intensification of fishing activities at Upper Mesolithic Franchthi, the results of Hansen’s (1980) preliminary study of the carbonized plant remains can arguably reflect an intensified exploitation of botanical resources as well. Although the data are still inconclusive (especially for the potential domesticates, oats and barley), an argument can be made on the basis of size change for the cultivation of lentils. When combined with the first appearance of plants (e.g.,; coriander) often associated with cultivars and stone tools normally found in agricultural contexts (a flint “sickle” identified by microwear analysis as having been used to cut grasses [P. Vaughan, pers. comm.] and a fragmentary andesite “millstone” [C. Runnels, pers. comm.]), the argument is slightly strengthened. Tantalizing as it is, however, this evidence is still not abundant, and we can only hope that additional study of the relevant remains will help to settle the issue of agricultural origins at Franchthi. In the meantime, it may be said that the situation is rather less clear than it once appeared to us (cf. Jacobsen, 1976), and the possibility of experimental manipulation of certain species by man prior to the Neolithic must now be seriously entertained.

Thus the seventh millennium witnessed a diversification and perhaps a certain intensification of food-procurement strategies at Franchthi. That this was in response at least partially to pressures created by a reduced landmass seems very likely, but the extent to which it might also be a reflection of an increase in local population or a tendency towards sedentism (as some might suggest) is rather less obvious. We have nothing yet to indicate that the size of our settlement was any greater in Stage 4 than it had been earlier, and the evidence for seasonal scheduling does not significantly alter the picture gained from earlier stages. Nor has the archaeological record as yet revealed signs of increased social complexity, as might be expectable in more populous and sedentary communities. The material assemblage is still relatively simple and of limited extent, the occasional pebble pendant being among the few non-utilitarian objects unearthed. Yet the presence of such objects and the increasing use of exotic raw materials may point to expanding social and economic horizons. This in combination with the new evidence from the subsistence record should draw our attention to the potentially pivotal role of the Mesolithic-a “prelude”, as one scholar has recently put it (Clark, 1980) -to the cultural achievements of the Neolithic. The time has clearly come to re-evaluate traditional ideas about the Mesolithic “hunter-gatherers”and their adaptive strategies (Bender, 1978; Lethwaite and Rowley-Conwy, 1980; Mellars, 1978).

[NovoScriptorium: At this point it would be useful for one to read one of our previous posts]

Stage 5. This is essentially contemporaneous with the advent of the Neolithic period, which begins ca. 6000 B.C. Leaving aside the still unsettled issue of an “Aceramic Neolithic”, the transition from Mesolithic to Neolithic at Franchthi seems to show evidence of both continuity and change. The latter is perhaps most striking, but the former should be kept in mind as we consider the following.

It is clear that agriculture (both plant and animal husbandry) was now practiced. This is demonstrated not only by the size and morphology of the plants and animals themselves but by the presence of various artifacts normally associated with an agricultural economy. It is also clear that at least some of the biological innovations which make their appearance in the Neolithic have non-local origins. The sheep and goats (mostly sheep), which appear suddenly and immediately dominate the faunal assemblage, and certain of the cereals (emmer wheat, einkorn wheat and perhaps two-row hulled barley) were not present in the Palaeolithic or Mesolithic at Franchthi. It is also of interest that some of the species common in earlier periods now disappear or decrease noticeably. Oats are not found at all in Neolithic contexts, and the hunting of red deer and tuna fishing dropped off markedly in the earliest phases of the Neolithic. When taken together, this evidence suggests that there was a rather dramatic shift in subsistence priorities at this time and that food production rapidly became the economic base of the community.“

[NovoScriptorium: This is an appropriate place for one to read two of our previous posts 1 & 2]

The relative abundance and variety of remains attributable to Stage 5 provide a more complete picture of the social and economic life of the settlement than in preceding stages. Contacts with other areas (principally the Aegean islands), already initiated in earlier periods, seem to have been expanded and intensified at this time. Melian obsidian is increasingly abundant, as are the andesites from the Saronic Gulf (C. Runnels, pers. comm.). In addition, marble and other exotic raw materials whose proveniences remain unknown make their first appearance in the archaeological record. This trend continues unabated into the later Neolithic when, given the first clear-cut indications of human settlement in the islands, we are entitled to speak with some justification about exchange as a reciprocal or bilateral phenomenon. Yet the extent to which trade had become formalized by the end of the Neolithic is still unclear. On present evidence Neolithic trade would seem to have been conducted on a reasonably local scale, and the exchange of goods or information, or both, over greater distances would largely have been accomplished by what Renfrew (1975) has called “down-the-line trade”. On the other hand, if rudimentary “middlemen” were involved in this exchange network, we might expect that seasonally mobile groups such as fishermen or transhumant pastoralists served in that capacity (Bintliff, 1977; Jacobsen, 1978).

[NovoScriptorium: At this point it would be useful for one to read one of our previous posts]

Whereas the artifactual record of the Palaeolithic and Mesolithic periods shows relatively little diversity or evidence of personal individuality, there is rather more variety and sophistication of form and manufacture in that of the Neolithic at Franchthi. Objects of personal adornment (beads, pendants, and so forth) are more common and give the impression of an incipient awareness of man as an individual human being. These objects as well as grave goods (the latter still not common) also suggest the emergence of a sense of personal property, a phenomenon not totally unexpectable in a society practicing an essentially agricultural economy. “

In summary, we have now traced the history of human settlement on Franchthi headland from the end of the Pleistocene well into the early post-glacial period, a span of some 20,000 years or more. These critical millennia witnessed a series of human responses, described here in five stages, to an environment and climatic conditions which seem to have been undergoing relatively rapid change. Whereas the earliest (Stage 1) indications of human activity at Franchthi point to a heavy reliance upon the hunting of large mammals, we observe in Stages 2-4 more diversified subsistence practices, with fishing and the exploitation of plant resources playing important roles. By Stage 5, mixed agriculture was established and seems to have become the dominant economic activity at the site. By that time, too, the original (seasonal?) habitation in the cave had grown to include an open settlement with many of the characteristics of a small village. “

Fish trap

From the paper titled “Food and ornaments: Diachronic changes in the exploitation of littoral resources at Franchthi Cave (Argolid, Greece) during the Upper Palaeolithic and the Mesolithic (39,000-7000 cal BC)”,by Catherine Perles (2015) we read:

(Abstract) The long Upper Palaeolithic and Mesolithic sequence of Franchthi Cave is often quoted for the importance of its marine resources. The first coastal resources to be exploited, from the very beginning of the Upper Palaeolithic, were ornamental shell species. Fish was captured since at least the 13th millennium cal BC, and Franchthi is well known for the episode of intense tuna fishing in the Upper Mesolithic (8th millennium cal BC). Shellfish, which include mostly gastropods, were introduced in the diet a millennium after fish, but were most intensely exploited during the Final Mesolithic (ca 7000 cal BC). With abundant marine remains and a distance to the coast that never exceeded 4 km, less than 2 km in the Mesolithic, Franchthi is thus an ideal site to study the patterns of littoral exploitation and their variations throughout the Upper Palaeolithic and the Mesolithic.

The successive introduction of the various marine resources was not correlated to sea level variations and the distance from the cave to the sea. The number of remains for each category varies importantly from phase to phase. To compensate for differences in the duration of each phase and frequency of occupation, I have standardized the numbers of remains for each category of coastal resource by the volume of sediment. This reveals that fish, shellfish and ornamental species were exploited independently, with important variations in intensity of deposition along the sequence. Except for two phases of more intense fishing, the exploitation of edible marine resources remained, however, rather modest. Terrestrial resources, game and plants, appear to have been predominant in most phases of occupation and terrestrial gastropods largely supersede marine gastropods in all phases from the Late Upper Palaeolithic to the Upper Mesolithic.”

“The occupational sequence is exceptionally long and covers the Late Pleistocene (Upper Palaeolithic) and Early Holocene (Mesolithic and Neolithic), from ca 39,000 to ca 3500 cal BC, albeit with several hiatuses lasting from a few centuries to several millennia”

“although Franchthi is especially known for the tuna-fishing episode of the Upper Mesolithic, the densest fish remains, in terms of NISP related to the volume of sediments, date back to the Upper Palaeolithic. Similarly, shellfish accumulation peaks at the end of the Mesolithic, not at the onset of the Holocene as is frequently observed elsewhere”

“Fish, at Franchthi, can be considered a coastal resource: the dominant prey are demersal species that can be found in shallow waters, barrier marshes and lagoons, where they could be captured with little technical elaboration (Stiner and Munro, 2011; Bar-Yosef Mayer, 2014). The precise introduction of fish in the diet at Franchthi cannot be ascertained: it is absent in the early Upper Palaeolithic levels (ca 39,000-26,000 cal BC), and present, albeit in small quantities, when the sedimentary record resumes in trench H1, during the 13th millennium cal BC (Franchthi Phase 4, Late Epigravettian). This long hiatus appears to be due to a severe episode of erosion of the deposits (Farrand, 2000), and fishing could have actually begun much earlier.”

[NovoScriptorium: Fish as large as 200kg can not be found and caught in shallow waters or lagoons]

“Fish remains in Phase 4 are scarce: a total of only 41 fish bones, mostly gilt-head bream and grey mullet, have been recovered from trench H1 (Stiner and Munro, 2011, appendix 1). A millennium later (Franchthi Phase 5, end of the 12th millennium), fishing appears far more intensive with a total of 1570 fish bones in H1B. The number of fish remains drops down again at the end of the Pleistocene (Phase 6, 11th millennium cal. BC), with 32 fish bones in H1B and 112 in FAS, where sediments are again preserved (Stiner and Munro, idem; Rose, ms. on file). During these three phases, fishing (or angling) concentrates on species characteristics of Mediterranean shallow littoral or estuarine environments: Sparidae are predominant, mostly gilt-head bream (Sparus aurata), followed by grey mullet (Mugil cephalus), with isolated remains of eel (Anguilla anguilla), bass (Dicentrarchus sp.) and conger eel (Conger conger).

Fish bones remain relatively scarce during the Lower Mesolithic (Phase 7, ca 8700-8400 cal BC): 367 fish bones in H1B, ca 850 in FAS, for an occupation that probably lasted for several centuries.

There is a clear shift of emphasis in the species exploited: sea bream only constitutes a small percentage of the assemblages (13% in FAS) and Rose identified grey mullet as heavily dominant in FAS (59% of the fish bones), followed by eel (18%) and sea bream (13%). In both FAS and H1B, barracuda (Sphyraena barracuda) increases at the end of the Lower Mesolithic.

The situation changed markedly during the Upper Mesolithic (Phase 8, ca 8000-7500 cal BC).M. Rose had weighed the fish bones and the total animal bones in trench FAS. The weight of fish bones, which never exceeded 1% of the total animal-bone weight in FAS, suddenly jumps to a minimum of 10% and reaches values as high as 58% in Phase 8. This is in most part due to the capture of the large blue-fin tuna, often in the order of 12 kg, but sometimes reaching 50 kg or more for a 2m long tuna. With over 2000 bones in FAS, tuna represents 50% of the fish remains, but white sea bream (Diplodus sargus/vulgaris) is abundant (31%), followed by barracuda. In contrast with the previous period in the same trench, grey mullet barely amount to 1% (Rose, ms on file). There is no doubt that the introduction of tuna marks a major transformation in fishing techniques. However, to some extent, tuna also may be considered as a ‘littoral’ resource: Mesolithic boats could not reach the minimum speed, 5 to 9 nautical miles per hour, necessary to catch tuna in deep water with a bait and a hook (Mouton, 2004). It had to be caught with a beach seine when the schools approached the coast, the prehistoric equivalent of the traditional Mediterranean ‘madrague’ or ‘tonnara’, a large net set by the coast and forming successive chambers that lead to the ‘death chamber’ of the fish (Mouton, 2004).”

[NovoScriptorium: As we can see, the crucial finding (200kg tuna) reported in the initial reports from Franchthi seems to have “disappeared” from this more recent report. We also notice an “effort” to convince that the Mesolithic Aegeans couldn’t have proper boats for the more open sea, required to catch such large animals.

Let’s have a closer look on the hypothesis of a possible ‘madrague’ or ‘tonnara’ near Franchthi, first with the help of the paper titled “The Eastern Atlantic Bluefin Tuna: entangled in a big mess, possibly far from a conservation red alert. Some comments after the proposal to include Bluefin Tuna in cites Appendix 1“, by A. Di Natale (2010). We read:

“The tuna trap fishery was apparently initiated by Phoenicians (Aubet, 1987, Bacci, 1982, 1984, Basile, 1992; Ben Lazreg et al., 1995) and then continued by the Romans and the Arabs, and all the following people inhabiting the Mediterranean coasts, the adjacent areas in the Strait of Bosphorus and the South Spanish and South Portuguese coasts in the Atlantic Ocean (Bresc, 1981, 1984, 1986, 1987).

It is not clear to understand with which gear this fishery was carried out in ancient times. According to some early engravings at the end of the 16th century (Braun & Hogenberg, 1572-1617), it is sure that tuna traps were using not only set trap nets, but also huge beach seines, sometimes of various types. This is something not commonly known, having a great relevance to better understand the distribution of tuna schools, which were clearly very close to the coast at that time.”

“Several tuna traps were used also to catch small tuna species together with the bluefin tuna (Mouton, 2004; Cattaneo Vietti & Bava, 2009), and this fact caused some confusion in the past to properly understand the number of traps effectively targeting only bluefin tuna.”

“Tuna traps were often very concentrated in some coastal areas, where the passage of bluefin tuna was more abundant or common

“From the maps provided both by Pavesi (1889) and Parona (1919), it is very clear that the areas having the highest concentration of tuna traps were those in the central Mediterranean Sea, with other peaks at the two geographic extremes, close to the Strait of Gibraltar and the Strait of Bosphorus.”

NovoScriptorium: We have also found some extra interesting information from a thesis (translated from  Greek) titled “Red tuna fisheries study“, by Demopoulou Evangelia & Sakkiotis Georgios:

“The Gulf of Mexico and the Mediterranean are the main  spawning grounds for Atlantic red tuna. The western Mediterranean seems to be the region where the spawning activity takes place for the most part. There are also signs of spawning off the coast of  Libya and in the Black Sea.”

“After reproduction they gather and following the warm currents go to the North (Atlantic) while those that were in the Black Sea come to the Mediterranean.”

Tuna fishing with tonnara requires a lot of effort, a lot of human resources and a constant presence. The number of boats working on a tonnara is about 12, with a crew of 95 people in total. Larger boats up to 20 meters long take up position in the catch chamber and at the entrance of the islet. For the transport and placement of nets and anchors, boats of 12 to 14 meters are needed, while the smaller boats of five to nine meters are located in the compartments of the cabins.”

“(Απλάδι τοννόδιχτο = a special tuna-net of length more than 5,000 m) – used only in the region of the North Aegean, where large animals are fished with this particular tuna-net (100—200kg) between December and March”

NovoScriptorium: We have found several other references, in Greek, for the same issue. It seems that mostly in the region of the North Aegean (and less in the Central Aegean) would professional fishermen look for large tuna. The East side of the Peloponnese (where Franchthi is situated) is certainly not among the places that a fisherman would choose for fishing large tuna. Additionally, in Greece the ancient tradition of “Θυννείο” is still active. There is no way though that a fish as large as 200kg can be caught from the shore/using this technique. It is confirmed beyond any doubt that one must move towards specific areas of the Aegean and certainly of great depths in order to find tuna as heavy as 200kg. In other words, coastal entrappement is totally out of the question for an animal weighing 200kg, while the tonnara technique requires many capable boats and men and, of course, equipement. The large tuna-net technique also requires a very capable boat.]

We return now to the paper:

“This episode of tuna fishing did not last. The final Mesolithic (Phase 9, ca 7000-6800 cal BC) could not be studied in H1B because of recent disturbances, but in FAS, tuna is barely represented in the Final Mesolithic. Sea bream is heavily dominant (81%), accompanied by a few barracudas and sardines.”

“Franchthi was never far from the coast, and can be considered a quasi-coastal settlement. The maximum distance of the shore during the Upper Palaeolithic phases of occupation did not exceed 4 km. During the Lower Mesolithic the nearest shore was less than 2 km from the cave, and the distance was reduced to less than 1.5 km during the Upper Mesolithic.

“The Mesolithic human bones that were tested for isotopic analyses no longer contained, unfortunately, exploitable collagen. We are thus deprived of the possibility to ascertain the importance of marine and terrestrial resources in the diet (Papathanasiou, 2011). The analyses performed on Neolithic human remains from Franchthi and other Greek coastal sites demonstrate that, despite the proximity to the sea and abundant fish remains, marine resources were only a minor part of the diet. All sites, whether coastal or inland, share a predominantly terrestrial diet (Papathanasiou, 2003) and this appears to hold true for the Palaeolithic and Mesolithic also. Game was an important component of the diet in the Palaeolithic, and carbonized seeds are exceptionally abundant in the Mesolithic (Hansen, 1991). More specifically, the preference for terrestrial resources is well illustrated by contrasting the exploitation of marine and terrestrial gastropods, i.e. of shellfish and land snails”

Modern Θυννείον (Thunneion)

From the paper titled “Early Prehistoric navigation in the Western Mediterranean: implications for the Neolithic transition in Iberia and the Maghreb”, by João Zilhão (2013), we read:

“In recent years, it has become clear that sea voyaging may well have deep pre-Neolithic roots in the Eastern Mediterranean

[NovoScriptorium: While this is true, the ‘generalization’ about ‘Eastern Mediterranean’ is deceiving. There is – so far- absolutely no evidence that there had been capable navigators of the Sea (coastal or -especially- open) during the Mesolithic/Neolithic times, in the whole Eastern Mediterranean, other than the Aegeans]

“the presence of obsidian from Melos in Mesolithic sites from other Aegean islands (e.g., Youra and Kythnos) and also from mainland Greece (Franchthi) implies routine navigation across open seas in pre-Neolithic times, possibly as early as the 12th millennium cal BP.”

“The navigation knowledge and equipment documented in the Aegean must also have been a prerequisite for the colonization of Malta“.

“Direct evidence that vessels sufficiently seaworthy for such a navigation existed at this time is provided by the >10 m–long dugout canoe found in 1993 in the submerged lakeside dwelling of La Marmotta, near Rome, where coupled tree-ring and radiocarbon dating of house posts places the occupation in the middle of the 6th millennium BC (…) By fastening two such canoes with planks to form a catamaran akin to those used a few millennia later by the Stone Age farmers who colonized islands of the Pacific (separated by sea crossings several times longer than those involved in the Western Mediterranean story; Irwin, 1992), substantial amounts of cargo could have been effectively transported over cabotage routes. Moreover, many ethnographic examples exist to show that, in calm seas, rafts capable of transporting 150 to 200 kg of cargo suffice to move around over short distances the number of humans and the amount of grain and live animals necessary to form a pioneer agricultural settlement (Vigne & Cucchi, 2005).”

NovoScriptorium: This is trully amazing! We notice an obvious effort to convince that there were no actual ships at the time, and all these Mesolithic/Neolithic expeditions from the Aegean towards the many corners of the Mediterranean took place on … monoxyles or a couple of monoxyles bound together! Forgive us, but this seems provokingly ridiculous. Especially if we recall that sea-faring in the Aegean is documented since the Middle Pleistocene, and hence, there must have been some progress/evolution in the course of some … hundreds of thousands of years! Additionally, in the Aegean itself we know that:

-materials like obsidian were transported from the island of Melos towards virtually every corner of it (even during the Mesolithic, but more intensely during the Neolithic)

-there had been a direct -naval- link of the Greek peninsula shores with Cyprus, Crete and Western Anatolia already since the Mesolithic

We conclude that, NO. These were not done with … monoxyles and … rafts. We are more than certain that the Mesolithic/Neolithic Aegeans  had proper ships, but, of course, we may not speculate a lot about their actual capabilities, as there is no direct evidence (a shipwreck) -only indirect. We can only make reasonable assumptions like anyone else would do after reading all the above information.

Research-Selection-Analysis for NovoScriptorium: Philaretus Homerides

6 thoughts on “The Mesolithic & Neolithic Aegeans must have had proper ships and not just primitive rafts and canoes; a crucial find from Franchthi Cave

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