Monday, January 18, 2010

EVIDENCE FROM CRETE SHOWS AFRICAN TYPE HAND AXES FROM PALEOLITHIC TIMES

Note: I heard this presentation at the Archaeological Institute of America Annual meeting and was quite convinced.

Stone hand axes unearthed on the Mediterranean island of Crete indicate that an ancient Homo species - perhaps Homo erectus - had used rafts or other seagoing vessels to cross from northern Africa to Europe via at least some of the larger islands in between, says archaeologist Thomas Strasser of Providence College in Rhode Island.

Several hundred double-edged cutting implements discovered at nine sites in southwestern Crete date to at least 130,000 years ago and probably much earlier said Strasser in his talk.

Many of these finds closely resemble hand axes fashioned in Africa about 800,000 years ago by H. erectus, he says. It was around that time that H. erectus spread from Africa to parts of Asia and Europe.

Until now, the oldest known human settlements on Crete dated to around 9,000 years ago. Traditional theories hold that early farming groups in southern Europe and the Middle East first navigated vessels to Crete and other Mediterranean islands at that time.

Questions remain about whether African hominids used Crete as a stepping stone to reach Europe or accidentally ended up on Crete from time to time when close-to-shore rafts were blown out to sea, remarks archaeologist Robert Tykot of the University of South Florida in Tampa. Only in the past decade have researchers
established that people reached Crete before 6,000 years ago, Tykot says.

In excavations conducted near Crete's southwestern coast during 2008 and 2009, Strasser's team unearthed hand axes at caves and rock shelters. Most
of these sites were situated in an area called Preveli Gorge, where a river
has gouged through many layers of rocky sediment.

At Preveli Gorge, Stone Age artifacts were excavated from four terraces
along a rocky outcrop that overlooks the Mediterranean Sea. Tectonic activity has pushed older sediment above younger sediment on Crete, so 130,000-year-old artifacts emerged from the uppermost terrace. Other terraces received age estimates of 110,000 years, 80,000 years and 45,000 years.

Intriguingly, he notes, hand axes found on Crete were made from local quartz but display a style typical of ancient African artifacts.

Strasser has conducted excavations on Crete for the past 20 years. He had been searching for relatively small implements that would have been made from chunks of chert no more than 11,000 years ago. But a current team member, archaeologist Curtis Runnels of Boston University, pointed out that Stone Age folk would likely have favored quartz for their larger implements. "Once we started looking for quartz tools, everything changed," Strasser says.

http://www.sciencenews.org/view/generic/id/53219/title/Ancient_hominids_may_have_been_seafarers

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