Aegean Sea Travels Since 260,000 years ago

The Stélida Naxos Archaeological Project [SNAP], a geo-archaeological excavation of a chert source and associated early prehistoric stone tool workshops, conceivably first exploited as long as 260,000 years ago, with some of its early visitors likely including Neanderthals.

The project is directed by Dr. Tristan Carter of McMaster University, our work began in 2013, working under the auspices of the Canadian Institute in Greece.

The focus of the study is the hill of Stélida on the northwestern coast of Naxos, the largest of the Cycladic islands. The site comprises a major outcrop of chert plus large quantities of manufacturing debris from the tools that were made from the raw material. Stélida was first documented as an archaeological site in the early 1980’s by the French School as part of a larger survey of Naxos. While the nature of the site was evident, its date was far from clear. With the chert tools bearing little resemblance to those of obsidian published from Cycladic Neolithic and Bronze Age sites, the French archaeologists tentatively suggested that the material might be of an earlier date, but with no clear parallels from anywhere else, the question of dating remained largely unresolved. Thus SNAP’s aims included not only mapping and characterizing the archaeology, but also providing a more secure date for the site. Methodologically the project draws on well-developed Aegean survey techniques, starting with linear transects being walked across the site with a standardised geo-referenced 1m² grab-sample of all artefacts every 10m. This approach provides a relatively rapid impression of artefact distribution and density, after which more dedicated units of analysis were positioned in the richest areas. Study of the actual finds has only just begun, so the project’s results are highly preliminary, though the site’s largely, if not exclusively pre-Neolithic date has been confirmed. A significant amount of this material appears to be Early Mesolithic based on comparisons with artefacts from recently excavated sites on Kythnos and Ikaria, which should date at least one phase of the site’s use to the 9th millennium BCE. While sea-levels at the time would have been significantly lower than today, it remains that we are dealing with the traces of early maritime activity by mobile hunter-gatherers. The project is thus contributing to a new wave of studies that are rewriting the history of seafaring in the Mediterranean. More specifically, it is also helping to radically alter our ideas concerning the early occupation of the Cyclades, with pre-Late Neolithic settlement of the archipelago only proven in the few years.

The chert source and associated stone tool knapping floors of Stélida was first discovered in 1981 as part of a single-season survey undertaken by the École Française d’Athènes under the direction of René Treuil, with preliminary publication of the site and chipped stone assemblage undertaken by Michel Séfériadès (1983). 

Stélida comprises a 118m high hill located on the extreme west of cape Aghios Prokopios on the north-west coast of Naxos, c. three kilometres to the south of Chora the island’s modern port and capital. Today the hill forms part of a promontory into the Aegean, flanked by a narrow strip of flat land to the west, while to the south there is a larger coastal plain and some brackish lagoons, the east being flanked by granite hills, then salt flats and the island’s small airport. Since the 1980’s Stélida has undergone major development, with a series of private residences and hotel complexes that have encroached upon the hill and disturbed the archaeological remains, while to the north the hill has been heavily quarried. 
While Séfériadès discussed the stone tools in some detail in 1983, the date of Stélida’s material ultimately remained unresolved. Arguably the site’s chronology was problematic for two reasons. Firstly, tools of Stélida chert had never been found before in Cycladic excavations, so the material will be dated by association. Indeed, until that point the vast majority of stone tools found on prehistoric sites of the islands (later Neolithic – Bronze Age) were made of obsidian, a black volcanic glass from nearby Melos. Nor did the tools from Stélida  look like the implements published from these 5th – 2nd millennium BC sites.  

Secondly, many Cycladic archaeologists were highly influenced by the work of Cherry (1981), who had argued persuasively that the small islands of the Mediterranean were not occupied until the later Neolithic (5th millennium BC), whereby it would have been contrary to the accepted model of Cycladic colonisation to have suggested an earlier date for Stélida. Today we know that this later Neolithic colonisation model is flawed, with surface finds of alleged Lower/Middle Palaeolithic date reported from Melos, while on Kythnos a Lower Mesolithic site has been excavated and securely dated to the 9th millennium BC millennium BC (Sampson et al 2010). 

Stélida thus remained something of a chronological enigma after its initial discovery. In 2002 the KA’ Ephoreia of Prehistoric and Classical Antiquities undertook a survey of the western part of the site prior to new building on the promontory (directed by Mrs. Olga Philaniotou), followed by two small-scale rescue excavations in the past decade on the lower eastern and southern slopes of Stélida (directed by Mrs. Irini Legaki). A preliminary report was published on the latter work, which made important claims of finding artefacts of Mesolithic and Upper Palaeolithic date (Legaki 2009).   

The Stélida chert was first described by Séfériadès (1983) as a form of chert close to chalcedony, occasionally veined, often fractured, and ranging in colour from white, to blue, to pink, and generally considered to be of relatively poor quality.

A key component of SNAP’s work is the geoarchaeological survey, undertaken by Prof. Nikos Skarpelis (with the help of Dan Contreras), who has extensive geological knowledge of the Cyclades and has previously undertaken a mineralogical study of Stélida. This work was work undertaken with a permit from the Institute of Geological and Mining Exploration.

The aim of this work was to map and characterise the chert outcrops in terms of the raw materials’ accessibility, colour, macro/micro-texture, banding inter alia, and its knapping quality,  to document intra-source chert variability, particularly as related to its use as a lithic raw material by integrating the geological observations with the artefact distribution, (3) to collect a representative number of geo-referenced geological samples (Figure 1) for petrographic and elemental characterisation of the chert back at Prof. Skarpelis’ laboratory in Athens, (4) to use this characterisation data to map the distribution of Stélida chert elsewhere in Naxos and the southern Aegean as a means of reconstructing the procurement and exchange networks that came together at the source.
The Stélida rock pile occurs as thick tabular beds and can be petrographically characterized as a brittle, massive, pervasively silicified sedimentary rock 
The colour of the rock is very light grey to white, locally light grey with a honey hue
Secondly, the best quality chert is located at the southern peak of Stélida, outcropping to the immediate east and western flanks. Thirdly, the rock becomes much sandier and less easy to flake as one walks northwards along the ridge (with a few exceptions), which may largely explain the notable drop-off in material culture along those transects . Fourthly, good quality raw material is also exposed at the base of a modern quarry at the north-eastern flank of the headland; however the depth of this chert means that it was probably inaccessible to prehistoric peoples.
Much more information is to come from this study, not least after the completion of the petrographic analyses (using both a petrographic microscope and a Scanning Electron Microscope [SEM]), and the elemental characterisation analyses of the geological samples using Inductively Coupled Plasma – Mass Spectroscopy [ICP-MS].

In 2014 we are interested in characterizing the nature of patination of our artefacts across the site, to see if the different types of weathering we see on the stone tools are indices of age and/or local processes of exposure and erosion.

The vast majority of the artefacts found on the 2013 survey were in the form of chipped stone . There was also a small quantity of flakes and cobbles/hammerstones made of emery, a raw material local to Naxos, albeit not from this western part of the island (Figure 3), together with even smaller quantities of marble, a stone that is also indigenous to the island. Pottery was extremely rare, the majority appearing to be post-Bronze Age in date.
The study of these artefacts is ongoing, with a rapid scan of all finds from the 2013 season undertaken during that time, followed by a two-week study season in February 2014 (Carter and Mihailović). Our work involves two to three stages of analyses. In first stage all cultural material is counted and weighed en masse by collection unit, be that from transect, or grid. This provides us with a rapid impression of artefact density across the site 

Grid dens/weight (A)
The second stage involves studying each collection assemblage by artefact, separating the material into groups of period-specific diagnostics, which are then recorded in terms of their technology and form of modification (e.g. ‘denticulate on Levallois flake’). In certain instances we may then undertake a third stage of analysis where individual artefacts are provided with a larger range of metrical and techno-typological details, though one is always wary of the interpretative limitations of surface material and by extent the level of analysis appropriate for such finds.

There are two main phases of prehistoric activity at Stélida, Mesolithic and Middle Palaeolithic. These artefacts are quite distinct from the blade-based assemblages we associate with Cycladic Neolithic – Bronze Age sites; indeed nothing we have seen from the site need be associated with these later prehistoric periods. The absence of Bronze Age (3rd – 2nd millennium BC) activity at the site did not come as a great surprise to us, as the study by one of us (Carter) has failed to note any chert of similar type to that from Stélida amongst the numerous domestic and funerary stone tool assemblages of Bronze Age date that he has studied from Naxos and the neighbouring islands of Epano Kouphonisi and Keros.

In the Aegean and Ionian basins the chronological system used to place archaeological sites and artifacts into their position in time is very similar to those employed in adjacent geographical regions. The cultural developments that are unique to these two related basins, of course, modify in various ways the overall picture.

European and Middle Eastern cultural developments are subdivided into major chronological periods that are based primarily on the predominant tool industry and the associated food gathering/producing mode.  Human evolutionary developments and climatic conditions are the major drivers of these changes in tool production, foodways and cultural elaboration into the Late Paleolithic period.  Subsequently, climatic change and increasing cultural complexity are the salient factors.

The major divisions and their approximate duration for the prehistoric period are:

Paleolthic Era (“Old Stone Age”)

Mesolithic Era (“Middle Stone Age”)

Neolithic period (“New Stone Age”)

Bronze Age

Dates below for the Paleolithic and Mesolithic Eras are uncalibrated. That is, they indicate radiocarbon 14, not calendar years. These are expressed as “before present” [= BP]. The present is considered by convention to be 1950 CE (“Common Era”). For this Portal all other dates are expressed as either BCE, “Before Common Era”, or CE, “Common Era”.

The Paleolithic Era is divided into:

Lower = ca 2.5 m – 200,000 BP

Middle = ca 200,000 – 45,000 BP

Upper = ca 45,000 – 9500 BP

The Mesolithic Era is divided into:

Lower = ca 9500 – 9000 BP

Upper = ca 9000 – 8000 BP

The Neolithic period is divided into:

Early = ca 6000 – 5000 BCE

Middle = ca 5000 – 4500 BCE

Late = ca 4500 – 4000 BCE

Final = ca 4000 – 3000 BCE

These chronological refinements enable prehistorians and archaeologists to denote major cultural developments and to date more closely the archaeological materials under investigation. Various radiometric dating techniques are used to provide an “absolute date” (within a standard deviation) in calendar years to an archaeological context and sometimes to an artifact.

For the Aegean Bronze Age there are three major subdivisions:

Early Bronze Age (EBA)

Middle Bronze Age (MBA)

Late Bronze Age (LBA).

Besides the Early/Middle/Late within the Bronze Age system there are phases for each: I/II/III and frequently sub-phases A/B/C. These in turn can be further divided into 1/2 or early/middle/late.

For a fuller discussion of the basic chronological issues and regional terminologies of the prehistoric period see: http://www.dartmouth.edu/~prehistory/aegean/?page_id=67

Further, it is divided into three major regional chronologies: “Minoan” for Crete; “Cycladic” for the Cycladic islands; and “Helladic” for the southern Greek mainland and adjacent islands. Thus,


The Late Bronze Age period in the southern Greek mainland is frequently labeled as Mycenaean as well as Late Helladic. It is subdivided as follows:





LH IIIC early/middle/late

Along with or in place of Early Minoan/Middle Minoan/Late Minoan terminology, given that a major feature of the Bronze Age on Crete was the palaces, many scholars also use for chronological descriptions these terms:

Pre-palatial = EM IA-MM IA (ca 3100/3000-1925/1900 BCE) 

Protopalatial(or “Old Palace”)= MM IB–MM IIB (ca 1925/1900–1750/1720 BCE)

Neopalatial (or “New Palace”)= MM IIIA–LM IB (ca 1750/1720–1490/1470 BCE)

Post-Palatial = LM IIIA-C (ca 1490/1470 – 1075/1050 BCE)[A1] 

After the Bronze Age at the end of the 1st millennium BCE the two basins enter a “proto-historical” period which is the equivalent, roughly speaking, of the “Early Iron Age” periods elsewhere[A2] .  Subsequently, there is the historical period which begins approximately in the 8th century BCE. The dating of archaeological contexts and artifacts from this point onward is achieved by a combination of high precision relative dating techniques (such as pottery style/form evolution and architectural style/form evolution) with historic events, various written texts, inscriptions and coins.

These two proto-historical and historical periods are conventionally divided as:

Protogeometric period = ca 1050 – 900 BCE

Geometric period = ca 900 -725/700 BCE

Archaic period = ca 725/700 – 490 BCE

Classical period = 490 – 323 BCE

Hellenistic period = 323 – 146 BCE

Imperial Roman period = 146 BCE – 337 CE

Byzantine period = 337 – 1453 CE

Ottoman period = 1453 – 1821 CE

The pre-Ottoman periods are frequently subdivided into Early/Middle/Late. In the Late Byzantine and the early part of the era of Ottoman domination there are regional chronologies associated with the occupation of the Venetians, the Franks and the Genoese.

Project Abbreviation: 
MoCA - GDACH: Ephorate of Antiquities of the Cyclades
Former Ephorate(s): 
GSC: 21st Ephorate of Prehistoric and Classical Antiquities
GSC: Ephorate of Antiquities of the Cyclades
Research Type: test trench excavation
Project Director(s): 
Demetris Athanasoulis
Project Co-Directors: 
Tristan Carter
Project Team Members: 
Daniel Alexander Contreras
Panagiotis Karkanas
Theodora Moutsiou
Danica Mihailovic
Vagia Mastrogiannopoulou
Sean Doyle
Amy Bogaard
Natalie Munro
Stelios Lekakis
Irini Legaki
Theodora Papangelopoulou
Kathryn Killackey
Justin Holcomb
East meets West: the Middle Pleistocene site of Rodafnidia on Lesvos, Greece


Boleti, A. (2009), L’Exploitation de l’Émeri en Égée et en Méditerranée Orientale a l’Age du Bronze. Unpublished PhD thesis, Université de Paris I.
Séfériadès, M. (1983), ‘Un centre industriel préhistorique dans les Cyclades: Les ateliers de débitage du silex à Stélida (Naxos)’, in G. Rougement (ed.), Les Cyclades: Matériaux Pour une Étude de Géographie Historique, Editions du CNRS, Lyon: 67-73.
Cherry, J. F. (1981), ‘Pattern and process in the earliest colonisation of the Mediterranean islands’, Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society 47: 41-68.
Ferentinos, G., Gkioni, M., Geraga, M. and Papatheodorou, G. (2012), ‘Early seafaring activity in the southern Ionian Islands, Mediterranean Sea’, Journal of Archaeological Science 39: 2167-2176.
Galanidou, N., Cole, J., Illiopoulos, G. and McNabb, J. (2013), ‘East meets West: the Middle Pleistocene site of Rodafnida on Lesvos, Greece’, Antiquity 87(336). 
Legaki, E. (2009), ‘H archaiologikh ereyna gia thn Pro-Neolithikh, Neolithikh kai Protokykladikh Naxo ws pronomiakos moxlos anaptykshs’, Naxiaka Grammata 1(2): 6-17.
Sampson, A., Kaczanowksa, M. and Kozlowski, J.K. (2010), The Prehistory of the Island of Kythnos (Cyclades, Greece) and the Mesolithic Settlement at Maroulas. The Polish Academy of Arts and Sciences / The University of the Aegean, Kraków.
Séfériadès, M. (1983), ‘Un centre industriel préhistorique dans les Cyclades: Les ateliers de débitage du silex à Stélida (Naxos)’, in G. Rougement (ed.), Les Cyclades: Matériaux Pour une Étude de Géographie Historique, Editions du CNRS, Lyon: 67-73.
Strasser, T., Panagopoulou, E., Runnels, C., Murray, P., Thompson, N. Karkanes, P., McCoy, F. and Wegmann, K. (2010), ‘Stone Age seafaring in the Mediterranean: evidence from the Plakias region for Lower Palaeolithic and Mesolithic habitation of Crete’, Hesperia 79: 145–190

Δεν υπάρχουν σχόλια:

Δημοσίευση σχολίου

Popular Posts Of The Week



... ---------------------------------------------------------------------------