The importance of the Aegean Mesolithic & the implications of the most recent findings – No “massive migration from the East” appears to have been responsible for the “Neolithization” of the Greek peninsula and the Aegean

In this post we present very important information, sourced from official publications, on the Aegean Mesolithic (9th-8th mil. BC).

From the paper titled “The importance of the Aegean Basin for the Neolithization of South-Eastern Europe”, by Janusz K. Kozlowski (2005), we read:

“In the classical hypothesis of Ammerman and Cavalli-Sforza (1984) the process of Neolithization in Europe was conceived as a ‘wave of advance’ that started in Anatolia and gradually, at a constant rate, spread to south-eastern Euorpe. For the purposes of this hypothesis the most convenient route of Neolithic transmission to Europe was the route from north-western Anatolia to Thrace. However, the early dates for the Neolithic economy in Crete (Evans 1977) and Argolide (Demoule and Perles 1993), earlier than the dates from western Anatolia and Thrace, compell us to treat with caution the hypothesis about the northern route of the first Neolithization in the Balkans.

Intensive invesstigations in north-western Anatolia and Turkish Thrace show most decidedly that in the earliest period of the Neolithic there is no evidence from these territories of links with the Balkans. (…) The diagnosis of absence of Balkan links has also been confirmed in the territory of Turkish Thrace where, in the sequence of Hoca Cesme site, the development of lithic industries was based primarily on flake technology which made use of local raw material deposits and multiplatform cores for the production of flakes and relatively small blades. This technology has nothing whatever to do with the macroblade technology known from the Early Neolithic Balkan sites, particularly those with white-painted ceramics using imported honey-coloured north-Balkan high-quality flints. In the Hoca Cesme sequence (starting from phase II) individual macroblade artifacts occur that may have been produced in the Balkans and may be evidence of only sporadic contacts – in the opposite direction – with the Early Neolithic of the eastern and north-eastern Balkans. (…) The absence of Balkan – NW Anatolian contacts makes us inclined to seek other routes of the neolithization of the southern Balkans, especially Greece. It is in the coastal plains of Argolide and Thessaly where the earliest known sites in Europe are found that represent the full package of Neolithic innovations such as a farming-stock breeding economy, macroblade industries, stone and clay architecture, and painted ceramics (van Andel and Runnels 1995). The most likely route of the diffusion of these innovations was by sea, via the Aegean islands.”

“In terms of blade technologies and gradual changes in the tool-kit, the evolution of lithic industries is totally different in southern Turkey from the post-LGM sites in the Levant. The sequence from Okuzini differs distinctly from the KebaranGeometric KebaranNatufian sequence which characterizes the Syrian-Palestinian coast. On the other hand, the Okuzini sequence exhibits more analogies with Balkan sequences representing the various phases of the late glacial Epigravettian.”

“we can hypothesize that at the end of the Pleistocene the north-Mediterranean Epigravettian province embraced the whole of the Balkans and the western part of Anatolia. (…) There are no traces of Late Palaeolithic settlement in eastern Anatolia”

“in contrast with the Syrian-Palestinian coast and the northern part of the Near East, in the Epigravettian of western Anatolia at the Pleistocene/Holocene transition, greater mobility is recorded (Yalcinkaya et al. 2002), not the stability of settlement which is seen in the Natufian and the Zarzian areas.”

“Although the macroblade technologies and surface retouching specific to the BAI ( = Big Arrowheads Industry = Pre-ceramic Neolithic B) complex persisted until the ceramic Neolithic in central Anatolia, they did not spread to the west and are unknown in western Anatolia. The farthest western extent of macroblade technologies and surface retouch is from the Preceramic level at Hacilar (Mellart 1971).”

The discoveries of the first obsidian artifacts in the Late Palaeolithic levels in Franchthi Cave suggest that Epigravettian groups, already at the very end of the Pleistocene, made trips to the island of Melos to obtain obsidian (Perles 1987, 1990) which, even during the maximum sea recession was not connected with the mainland. To reach Melos required the knowledge of seafaring. It was much easier for the Epigravettian people to settle such islands as Thasos (possible traces of mineral dye extraction at about 20400 years BP) or Kefalonia which were connected with the mainland during the sea regression.

It is only with the early Holocene that we can associate the first traces of colonization of the islands which were with all certainty unconnected to the mainland even when the sea regression reached about 35 to 40 m. These are Gioura island in the norhern Sporades archipelago (Sampson et al. 1998) and the island of Kythnos in the western Cyclades (Sampson et al. 2002). The Cyclopes Cave on the island of Gioura provided a long sequence of occupational levels spanning the Mesolithic, the early/middle Neolithic and the Late Neolithic.(…) The Mesolithic levels yielded evidence of a subsistence economy based on fishing and food-gathering. The large quantitities of fishbones, primarily of Serranidae and Sparidae families (and 12 other species), confirms deep-sea fishing which is further evidenced by numerous hooks for fishing rods and bone spearheads (Powell 2001). However, the same levels also yielded bones of mammals such as goats and suids. The status of these animals is uncertain; a possibility cannot be excluded that they were half-way to domestication (Trantalidou 2003). The side yielded, moreover, the evidence of consumption of land malaco-fauna (mainly Helicidae) and marine malacofauna (Ptellidae) (Karali 2002).

The lithic industry of Gioura is based primarily on flake and splinter techniques markedly exhibiting the Epigravettian tradition. The links of the continental Mesolithic with the Epigravettian tradition are confirmed by the occurrence of robust flake end-scrapers, truncations, perforators and retouched flakes.”

It is interesting that all the tool types enumerated above are made of different silicous rocks, whereas microliths that appear in the late Phase of the Mesolithic are made exclusively from obsidian from the island of Melos.”

“The example of the Mesolithic from the island of Gioura provides evidence that the settling of the Northern Sporades took place from continental Greece. Some contacts with Anatolia are evidenced by the presence of animals in a pre-domesticated state which were imported to the island from Anatolia (goats, pigs) and, possibly, some stylistic elements of geometric microliths. The lithic style exhibits the use of pressure technique for the production of obsidian blades, providing the blades exhibiting the distinct features of this technique indeed belong to the Mesolithic layers and do not constitute Later Neolithic intrusions.”

“The second Mesolithic site on the Greek islands is Maroulas on the island of Kythnos (Sampson et al. 2002). Maroulas is an open air site situated on a peninsula. At present the site is located directly on the sea. A part of the site is below the sea level, and submarine investigations identified graves cut in the rock. (…) The dwelling features in Maroulas are oval stone constructions; some of these dwellings were constructed within limestone basins where caliche type carbonates had deposited. The dating of the carbonates shows that the oldest of these basins reach as far back as the end of the Pleistocene, while the youngest carbonate covers are later than the youngest dates for the dwellings. The houses in the basins were occupied several times as evidenced by repeated stone pavements associated with the consecutive stages of the occupation of the dwellings. (…) In addition to the dwellings sunk into the basins, flat pavements also occur. The archaeological context of these is relatively poor as they are situated directly beneath the modern soil surface. (…) The presence of grinders and grind stones, with the simultaneous occurrence of macrobotanical remains and grass grains, point to the importance of plant food. (…) Blade elements are represented almost exclusively by an obsidian industry where, too, flake and splinter techniques play a considerable role. However, microliths relating to the Epigravettian tradition such as thick segments on blades and flakes, truncations, etc., also occur. (…) In general, the industry from Marouas exhibits similarities to other Early Holocene industries in the Aegean Basin that are derived from the Epigravettian tradition. But the problem of architecture from Maroulas is more enigmatic. It has a number of parallels in the circular stone houses that are known on the Syrian-Palestinian coast in the Pre-ceramic Neolithic. But it is equally possible that this architecture is the result of a semi-settled way of life”

“Another example of early colonization comes from Crete where layer X at the site of Knossos yielded a lithic industry based on flake and splinter technologies accompanied by a few flake tools. This industry occurred in the context of clay architecture of Near East type and fully domesticated plants and animals also originating from the Near East (Evans 1971). While the lithic industry resembles, by its technology and the occurrence of obsidian artifacts, the technological traditions that are typical for the Aegean Basin, the architecture and the food producing economy at Knossos, on the other hand, indicate the diffusion of elements of the Pre-ceramic Neolithic from the Near East.

An intersting fact is that at Knossos the same technological tradition as in layer X occurs throughout the whle of the Early Ceramic Neolithic (layers IX-VIII). This technology continues to evolve on the basis of local raw materials and imported obsidian from Melos. The appearance of the first ceramics in layer IX at Knossos is not connected with the continuation of contacts with the Near East but could be the effect of contacts with north-western Anatolia, if we take into account the impressed and incised ornamentation of the ceramics which is similar to the ornamentation in the Fikirtepe culture from Pendik or the Orman Fidanligi culture.”

“The first diffusion of Neolithic elements via the Aegean Sea was possible thanks to the development of seafaring in the eastern Mediterranean. On the substratum of the Mesolithic with the Epigravettian tradition from mainland Greece a specific cultural province formed in the Aegean Sea Basin. This province absorbed some Near East impulses which modified the picture of culture and economy. Initially, these were merely some components of the Neolithic package such as animals prior to domestication, fully domesticated animals, stone architecture and occasionally (on Crete) clay architecture. These components prepared the conditions for the expansion proper of the Ceramic Neolithic. (…) The sources of the inspiration for the style of the earliest ceramics are different in Crete from those of painted ceramics in continental Greece. The continuation between the Aceramic and Ceramic phases can also be seen in the Cyclope Cave on the island of Gioura where the tradition of geometric microliths continues from the end of the Mesolithic until the Early/Middle Neolithic. At the same time the presence of macroblade elements from Balkan flint indicates associations with the Early Neolithic on the continent.

Location of Cyclades in Greece

From the paper titled “Mesolithic occupations and environments on the island of Ikaria, Aegean, Greece”, by Adamantios Sampson et al. (2012), we read:

“(Abstract). The most important Mesolithic site on the Island of Ikaria, Kerame 1, extends 80 m along the sloping edge of the cliff and is up to 40 m wide. The site is a sum of repeated sojourns of Mesolithic groups that had left behind concentrations of lithic artefacts, which were subsequently displaced by post-depositional agents, first of all by erosion. As a result, the site reveals now a large concentration of finds in Trenches E, C, and G. Moreover, post-depositional agents caused the destruction of permanent features such as the hearths associated with the various khsemenitsas, or – possibly – stone rings surrounding the dwelling structures. Only in trenches D, B and E the remains of a circular stone rings, probably around hearths, were registered. The lithic industry of Kerame 1 displays considerable similarity to the site of Maroulas on Kythnos; the techno-morphological differences are, probably, the effect of differing raw materials structure at Kerame 1 and at Maroulas. At Kerame 1, the distant interregional contacts and the influx of extralocal raw materials (documented by the flow of obsidian nodules from Melos and Yali) caused that production in a full cycle was carried out on-site. Thus, there was no specialization of lithic production, and unworked nodules of raw material were exploited in the particular social clusters in a full cycle, whose outcome were tools to be used by a given unit. Regretfully, because organic materials (also bones) have not been preserved we have no data to determine seasonality at Kerame 1. Nevertheless, we can say with all certainty that Mesolithic groups visiting Kerame 1 were mobile, which is evidenced by the network of interregional contacts. The most noticeable similarity between Kerame 1 and Maroulas can be accounted for by the chronological closeness of the two sites. The AMS determinations from Maroulas concentrate in the first half of the 9th millenium cal. BC (Facorellis et al. 2010). Similarly, the dates from obsidian dehydration from Kerame 1 (if their broad standard deviation is overlooked) correspond to the first half of the 9th millenium cal. BC.

“Since 2003, new prehistoric sites have been located in the western and eastern sides of the island and, more importantly, in the area between Agios Kirikos and Faros. In 2004, a systematic survey of the island was started with students of the University of the Aegean and more than 20 sites were located. (…) The fact that five sites featuring Mesolithic stone industry have been found, and others from the Neolithic, is indicative of a network of sites and not just of casual usage of the area. Kerame 1 is interpreted as a major site of the Mesolithic, which would be even larger if we added to it the eroded segment of the peninsula.”

“Between the assemblages of the “Aegean Mesolithic” the most noticeable similarity can be seen between Kerame 1 and Maroulas, which can be accounted for by the chronological closeness of the two sites. The AMS determinations from Maroulas concentrate in the first half of the 9th millenium cal. BC (Facorellis et al. 2010). Similarly, the dates from obsidian dehydration from Kerame 1 (if their broad standard deviation is overlooked) correspond to the first half of the 9th millenium cal. BC”

Map of Cyclades prefecture (Greece) with administrative divisions (municipalities and communities) numbered in alphabetical order (in greek). Legend: 1 Δήμος Ερμουπόλεως – Ermoupoli 2 Δήμος Αμοργού – Amorgos 3 Δήμος Άνδρου – Andros 4 Δήμος Άνω Σύρου – Ano Syros 5 Δήμος Δρυμαλίας – Drymalia 6 Δήμος Εξωμβούργου – Exomvourgo 7 Δήμος Θήρας – Thira 8 Δήμος Ιητών – Ios 9 Δήμος Κέας – Kea 10 Δήμος Κορθίου – Korthio 11 Δήμος Κύθνου – Kythnos 12 Δήμος Μήλου – Milos 13 Δήμος Μυκόνου – Mykonos 14 Δήμος Νάξου – Naxos 15 Δήμος Πάρου – Paros 16 Δήμος Ποσειδωνίας – Posidonia 17 Δήμος Σερίφου – Serifos 18 Δήμος Σίφνου – Sifnos 19 Δήμος Τήνου – Tinos 20 Δήμος Υδρούσας – Ydrousa 21 Κοινότητα Ανάφης – Anafi 22 Κοινότητα Αντιπάρου – Andiparos 23 Κοινότητα Δονούσης – Donousa 24 Κοινότητα Ηρακλείας – Iraklia 25 Κοινότητα Κιμώλου – Kimolos 26 Κοινότητα Κουφονησίων – Koufonisi 27 Κοινότητα Οίας – Ia 28 Κοινότητα Πανόρμου – Panormos 29 Κοινότητα Σικίνου – Sikinos 30 Κοινότητα Σχοινούσσης – Schinoussa 31 Κοινότητα Φολεγάνδρου – Folegandros

From the paper titled “An extended Mesolithic settlement in Naxos”, by Adamantios Sampson (2016), we read:

“(Abstract) Over the last two decades of excavations and surveys, a Mesolithic cultural stage was discovered for the first time in the Aegean which until then had appeared in a few places in mainland Greece. The first Mesolithic site appeared at the Cyclops Cave in Youra of Northern Sporades in 1992 and then the Mesolithic settlement of Maroulas in Kythnos was excavated (1996-2005). The following excavation of the Mesolithic site of Kerame in Ikaria (2007-2008) showed that the Mesolithic culture of the Aegean extended to the eastern side of the Aegean too. The next few years, surveys in the central and southern Aegean yielded new Mesolithic sites such as the sites of Roos in Naxos and Areta in Chalki. So far, nearly all the sites are located next to the sea and seem to have been related to sea movements from island to island. Apparently, the obsidian sources of Melos must have been the main reference center for this period while secondary were the obsidian sources of Yali in Dodecanese. The site Roos in Naxos is particularly important because, besides presenting all the features of a typical Mesolithic site, it expands to an area of dozens of acres, much greater than those of Maroulas in Kythnos and Kerame in Ikaria. The stone industry includes Melian obsidian and flint from Stelida quarry of Naxos. The typology of artifacts refers to stone tools that have also been found in Ikaria, Kythnos, Chalki and the earliest layer X of Knossos. Some types of implements probably indicate that the site of Roos could be dated to a later Mesolithic stage than those of Kythnos and Ikaria.”

“The general tool repertory in Roos does not diverge from other sites of the Aegean Mesolithic, such as Maroulas in Kythnos (Sampson et al 2010) or Kerame 1 in Ikaria (Sampson et al 2012). Similarities can be demonstrated to the inventory from the island of Chalki (Sampson 2010), and to some degree also to the aceramic (X) level in Knossos (Kaczanowska and Kozłowski 2011).”

“It is the first time that such an old settlement is located in Cyclades, except from the already excavated Mesolithic settlement of Maroulas in Kythnos, thus extending to the southern Aegean the already known Mesolithic network of sites. All indicate that the cultural stage of the Mesolithic (9000-7000 BC) was widespread in the whole Aegean area, from the north (Cyclops Cave in Youra, Sampson 2008) to the south, where the last five years the Aegean University’s research under the direction of prof. A. Sampson has spotted another large Mesolithic site in Chalki, Dodecanese (A. Sampson, Mesolithic Greece 2010, 139). The Mesolithic habitation on the islands presupposed early seaways from all the Aegean areas to the reference center of the major sources of obsidian on the island of Melos and these, although inferior in significance, of Yali Island in the Dodecanese.”

Map of Ikaria with archaeological sites

From the paper titled “The Transition from the Mesolithic to the Neolithic in a Circum-Aegean Perspective: Concepts and Narratives”, by Agathe Reingruber (2017), we read:

“Most examples of the Final Mesolithic stage in the Aegean derive from caves with or without stratigraphical gaps during the transition from the Mesolithic to the Neolithic, such as the caves of Youra and Sarakenos (Kaczanowska and Kozłowski 2015; Sampson et al. 2009:206–215) or Theopetra (Kyparissi-Apostolika 2000). A very convincing situation for the Mesolithic–Neolithic interface has been revealed in Franchthi, with a continuous stratigraphical sequence from the Final Mesolithic to the Initial Neolithic. Domesticated plants appeared during this interface in units FAN163 and FAN162 (Figure 4; Perlès et al. 2013:Tables 1–2). Other than expected, a gap of 500  years occurred not before but after the first domesticated plants were integrated around 6600/6500 cal B.C. into the daily life of the caves’ inhabitants. This situation does not really speak to new people (“colonists”) arriving in a forsaken region, but rather to the community of final foragers/early farmers that can be related to lithic phases Franchthi IX/X that was still mobile and  moved into other areas better suited for farming.”

“When looking at the transformations occurring during the middle of the seventh millennium B.C. from the Mesolithic side, from the perspective of hunters, fishers, and gatherers, the changes can be described as the result of adoptions and adaptions to novelties circulating at that time, such as the new techniques being applied in the lithic industry. (…) Traditional tool shapes being produced by applying new techniques has been reported also for eastern Greece, where the Mesolithic flake technique was substituted by the Neolithic macroblade technique (Gatsov et al. 2017)—but the shape of arrowheads, in this case trapezes, was maintained. Technical replacement and morphological maintenance (i.e. older technologies persisting, but becoming more and more marginal) could have been the result of advantageous innovations spreading through the Aegean rather than packages reaching the area with new populations moving in.

Interestingly, at most of the earliest sites known from the circum-Aegean, a (short) initial occupation phase was followed by an interruption—at least as can be inferred by the 14C dates. Hence, a still highly mobile way of life can be assumed. These mobile groups of intra- and/or  extra-local provenance—conceived by other authors as “pioneer groups” (Horejs et al. 2015:295; Thissen 2017)—can be envisaged as the first generation of “innovators” and “early adopters” in the terminology of Everett Rogers (2003). The (still) seafaring foragers/farmers of the coastal areas are understood in this model as initiators of an experimental phase, adopting and adapting to new techniques and attitudes, accepting some, refusing others. But only with the strong commitment to a certain location that resulted in the formation of magoules was a “point of no return” reached, the new economy with all its entanglements (Hodder 2012) firmly adopted. As Robb (2013:672) observed, such a process was irreversible, “a one-way door,” no single farming community in the whole of Neolithic Europe switching back to foraging.

An important contribution to understanding the dimension of movements is expected from genetic studies. For the time being, samples with ancient DNA are still very sparse, especially from the Neolithic–Mesolithic interface. In the study by Hofmanová et al. (2016:Table 1), the smallest time interval between two individuals was up to 1,000 years. Certainly, mobility (“migration” and “colonization,” in the terminology of the authors) is warranted not only during the appearance of the Neolithic way of life, but also before and after it. Importantly, the study also pointed at genetic continuity, since Aegean Neolithic farmers belonged to lineages observed in the two Mesolithic individuals from Theopetra (Theo1, Theo5).”

“Mobile groups or single persons regularly prospected for obsidian sources on Melos, reaching the island from at least three different cardinal points. And it is precisely this obsidian that is indicative of a flourishing over-regional network operating ever since the Mesolithic (Reingruber 2011). Its occurrence throughout the Aegean might have been based on face-to-face contact and mutual negotiations. These observations lead us to the conclusion that the connectivity is twofold: first, there were strong, provable links between the Aegean coasts that were working in both directions (domesticated plants and animals were certainly introduced from western Anatolia, but the obsidian used there was derived from Melos). Second, the bonds with the Mesolithic were equally strong because it was the knowledge of seafaring foragers and their networks that were expanded and amplified. (…) New techniques, new fashions, and new ideas were constantly integrated into the undeniable Mesolithic substratum, first by the late foragers/early farmers, and then by the subsequent generations. This model is well supported by the material culture itself, since pottery, tools, figurines, stamps, weaving implements, and new species did not appear suddenly as a “Package”. The transformations spanned several centuries, changing only slowly the daily life of each generation.

“as far as we can judge by today’s evidence, the single elements of the Neolithic way of life did not arrive simultaneously in the Aegean. The so-called “Package” is a palimpsest of 600 years of technical and cultural innovation.”

“Not all elements of the Neolithic lifestyle appeared in uniform dissemination throughout the Aegean. For example, the rich repertoire of ceramic vessels in southwestern Anatolia with predominantly closed shapes, to which tubular lugs were attached, or special shapes with an anti-splash rim, were not produced in Thessaly. Instead, rather simple shapes of mainly small-sized and well-polished vessels with ring bases occurred there. Specific regions maintained not only specific pottery styles but also specific bone tool inventories (Reingruber 2012). Not every new feature of the Neolithic repertoire was readily adopted throughout the Aegean. (…) contacts were not only trans-Aegean and east-west-east oriented, but indeed circum-Aegean, as they were also north-south directed. Especially in the final stage of the EN, exchanges occurred also with the Balkans to the north (Reingruber 2017).”

“a concentration of sites can be pinpointed in Thessaly after 6300 cal B.C. (in the EN II). From there, impulses emanated to neighboring regions as well, Thessaly acting as an innovation center for more southern (Boeotia and the Argolid) and western (west Thessalian plain) regions. This pioneering task was later taken over by western Macedonia, the geographical innovation center shifting toward the north, from where the Neolithization of the Balkans commenced (Figure 5; Reingruber et al. 2017).”

From the paper titled “Τhe Mesolithic Hunter-Gatherers in the Southeastern Mediterranean and Their Contribution in the Neolithisation of the Aegean”, by Adamantios Sampson (2018), we read:

“(Abstract) The excavations in the Aegean since the 1990s onwards have revealed a new cultural stage, starting from the beginning of 9th millennium down to the end of 8th. 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 began already in 9th millennium BC. It means that active Mesolithic groups from the early 9th mill. till the end of 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 full Neolithisation of the area.”

“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 BC at Maroulas on Kythnos island and locating several contemporaneous sites (Sampson et al., 2010), the characteristics of this cultural stage were defined, 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 8thmillennium 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 Skyros (Theocharis, 1959).
2) Cyclades.
3) Western Aegean including the Mesolithic Franchthi (Perlès, 1990), the rockshelter 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 and Plakias
(Strasser et al., 2015).”

“Τhe research in the Pre-Neolithic Aegean begun 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, p. 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, pp. 53-54) while subsequently deciding for the domesticated variants; are they considered still gatherers or farmers already?

“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).”

“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, pp. 5-6), accross the eastern Aegean island of Chios”

“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.”

“Recent research in SW Turkey revealed a flake-based assemblage in Kirmeler Cave (Takaoǧlu et al., 2014, pp. 112-113) coming from deposits of the late 9th and beginning of 8th mil 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.”

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 for aging. 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”. ”

“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 & Runnels, 1988; Broodbank & Strasser, 1991; Perlès, 2001).”

“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 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?).”

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 east (Anatolia) and the west (Aegean), who exchanged knowledge, also intermarried, and over many decades or even centuries, enlarged the basis of their economic, cultural and social lives.”

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”, the movements from the east to the west and the Aegean in particular, are purely theoretical and are not evidenced in the archaeological record.”

Since the beginning of 9th mill BC, for 2000 years, there has been 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 exchange of raw material and sharing common technological types during the whole period. The people 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.”

“The intense mobility of Aegean populations, since the 9th millennium, shows that these populations were looking for new sources of food 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 into which, have already been introduced animals such as goats, sheep and cattle, but also through the opposite 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?

Mesolithic Aegean sites

NovoScriptorium: We believe that the above -and especially the last paper cited- need not much of a commentary from our side. We may only repeat that

Greek Mythology, the surviving written Tradition of the indigenous populations of the area under discussion, is categoric that there had never been a “massive population replacement” in Greece and the Aegean. It does inform us though of:

a) Aegean movements/expeditions towards every part of the MediterraneanAnatolia and Europe

b) mingling between Aegeans and other populations that occurred away from the Aegean

c) population movements from Anatolia towards the Aegean and mingling with the locals

All the above have been confirmed by Modern Science to a greater or lesser degree.”

For those unfamiliar with our original type of Research, we suggest a read of some of our previous relative posts: 12345678910111213141516, 17.

Research-Selection-Comments for NovoScriptorium: Philaretus Homerides, Isidoros Aggelos

8 thoughts on “The importance of the Aegean Mesolithic & the implications of the most recent findings – No “massive migration from the East” appears to have been responsible for the “Neolithization” of the Greek peninsula and the Aegean

Add yours

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Blog at

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: