Saturday, January 23, 2010

Paleolithic Mediterranean island living, part 2

There's been some good discussion spurred by my earlier post on the reports of potential Lower Paleolithic stone tools found on Crete (and John Hawks also brought some additional observations to the debate). I'll be posting a few more things about some of the issues raised by the Cretan evidence in the coming days, but as I was recently going through a recent volume on prehistoric human-environment interactions (Fisher et al. 2009), I came across some interesting tidbits in a paper by Alan Simmons (2009) , which seemed relevant to the topic at hand:

The Mediterranean islands produced some of the most sophisticated ancient cultures in the world, and yet we know relatively little about their early prehistory. Explicit anthropological approaches to the processes and consequences of their colonization are relatively recent developments (Patton 1996). The traditional view is that the islands were late recipients of Neolithic colonists who imported complete Neolithic packages but left few material linkages to their homelands. (Simmons 2009: 177)


The first human visitors to Cyprus, as reflected by the Akrotiri phase that is well documented thus far only at Akrotiri Aetokremnos (Simmons 1999), were either a late Epipaleolithic (roughly Natufian equivalent) or early Pre-Pottery Neolithic occupation. Akrotiri Aetokremnos assumes considerable importance because for many years claims for pre-Neolithic human occupation of many of the Mediterranean islands, including Cyprus, generally were unsubstantiated. While there are Epipaleolithic occurrences on some Aegean islands, these are relatively late. Furthermore, these islands are in proximity to the mainland (Broodbank 2000: 110-117; Cherry 1990, 1992; Patton 1996:66-72; Simmons 1999:14-27). [Simmons 2009: 179]


Broodbank, C. 2000. An Island Archaeology of the Early Cyclades. Cambridge University Press, New York.

Cherry, J. 1990. The first colonization of the Mediterranean islands.: A review of recent research. Journal of Mediterranean Archaeology 3: 145-221.

Cherry, J. 1992. Paleolithic Sardinians? Some questions of evidence and methods. In Sardinia in the Mediterranean: A Footprint in the Sea (R. Tykot and T. Andrew, eds.), pp. 29-39. Sheffield University Press, Oxford.

Fisher, C.T., J.B. Hill, and G.M. Feinman (eds.). 2009.The Archaeology of Environmental Change. Socionatural Legacies of Degradation and Resilience.. University of Arizona Press, Tucson.

Patton, M. 1996. Islands in Time: Island Sociogeography and Mediterranean Prehistory. Routledge, New York.

Simmons, A.H. 1999. Faunal Extinctions in and Island Setting: Pygmy Hippopotamus Hunters of Cyprus. Kluwer, New York.

Simmons, A.H. 2009. The earliest residents of Cyprus: Ecological pariahs of harmonious settlers? In The Archaeology of Environmental Change (C. Fisher, B. Hill and G. Feinman, eds.), pp. 177-191. University of Arizona Press, Tucson.


terryt said...

Further to my comments at your previous post on the subject I'd add that I'm completely in agreement with John Hawks:

"But I think the faunal turnover before 300,000 years ago would be the logical time to infer presence of a new carnivorous species"

From your post:

"While there are Epipaleolithic occurrences on some Aegean islands, these are relatively late. Furthermore, these islands are in proximity to the mainland"

And that's hard to explain if humans have had any sort of significant boating in the region since modern humans first left Africa. And it doesn't look good for the theory that they moved along the great southern coastal route with any sort of boats.

Humans first reach offshore islands in significant numbers along the eastern Eurasia shore, notably Australia but also Japan, Taiwan and the Ryukyus. So to me it's seems reasonable to suppose that effective offshore boating developed somewhere in that region.

Julien Riel-Salvatore said...

Terry -
that's certainly possible, and would actually agree with what Norton and Jin have recently proposed. It's also not impossible that seafaraing was invented and 'forgotten' several times over the course of recent human evolution, in a process similar to what Joseph Henrich has described for Holocene technological 'impoverishment' in Tasmania (pdf here)... it could be that seafaring proved to be the undoing of the people who developed them, by effectively isolating them - culturally and genetically - from the social and cultural networks that were essential to long-term survival and the perpetuation of knowledge in the Late Pleistocene. This is speculative, of course, but worth considering in this discussion.

Note that I'm not saying that Tasmanians lost the ability to be seafarers, but rather that simple boat-building and navigation skills may have been lost by Mediterranean Paleolithic seafarers over time following a similar process as that described to account for the limited technological repertoire on Tasmania at the time of European contact, in spite of an archaeological record that shows it was much richer in prehistory.

CamArchGrad said...

There are pictures out now.

After having seen them, I can say I'm more convinced of their human origin now, but I'm still somewhat suspicious of their dating.

It seems one of the ideas is that they eroded out of a cave and then fell onto the terraces where they were found, which seems to me to be a pretty long chain of events (and why do they have to start in caves anyways?).

I'd ask you Julein, how do these compare to some of the assemblages you've seen come out of Sicily or Sardinia?

Julien Riel-Salvatore said...

sorry for the delayed reply. I'm hoping to write more about the Cretan handaxes shortly, in the context of another paper... for what it's worth, these handaxes look verycoarse, which is not unexpected given that they were made on quartz... which kind of makes you wonder why better raw materials were not used if they could be procured elsewhere on the island.

Julien Riel-Salvatore said...

with much delay, the post I was talking about is now up. As far as to how comparable this stuff looks to the Sicilian and Sardinian stuff, the fact that it's on quartz makes it look pretty different. Also, the Sardinian stuff is generally describes as a 'Clactonian', mainly flake-based industry, whereas the Sicilian stuff is described as both a 'chopper/chopping tool' complex (i.e., a few coarse flakes knocked off the edges of large-ish pebbles) and a coarse 'Clactonian' flake-based industry. What's in question here is the man-made nature of some of these artifacts, and when they're credible, their actual age, especially since coarse, expedient tools are manufactured reminiscent of LP tools are found in later periods of prehistory.