Sunday, February 21, 2010

VERY EARLY STONE TOOLS FOUND IN CRETE SUGGEST ANCIENTS WERE ABLE TO CROSS FROM NORTH AFRICA TO THE ISLAND BY SOME KIND OF BOAT

I was intrigued when I heard this report at the recent Archaeological Institute of America Annual meeting. Since then it has been reported in the NY Times, amongst other places:

Newest comments include: "I was flabbergasted," said Boston University archaeologist and stone-tool expert Curtis Runnels. "The idea of finding tools from this very early time period on Crete was about as believable as finding an iPod in King Tut's tomb." Even so, as researchers from the Directorate of Paleoanthropology and Speleology of South Greece and four U.S. universities combed the island, evidence of this unlikely journey kept mounting.

The team lead by Providence College archaeologist Thomas Strasser found more than 30 hand axes, as well as other stone tools of similar vintage, embedded into geological deposits at nine different locations on the southwestern coast of Crete near the town of Plakias. Some artifacts had possibly eroded out from caves in the sea cliffs, becoming incorporated into ancient beach deposits. Over time, geological processes lifted these ancient beaches up and away from the shore, forming natural terraces. The team's geologists dated the youngest of the terraces associated with the hand axes to at least 45,000 years ago using radiocarbon dating, and they estimated the oldest terrace with stone tools to be at least 130,000 years ago.

Although archaeologists had found hints of early humans on Crete, these new discoveries, says Strasser, "are the first geologically datable finds. It seems likely that future research will support this initial discovery." If ancient humans were crossing the Mediterranean, Runnels said, then they certainly could have crossed other water barriers, such as the Red Sea or the Gulf of Aden. "And that means that the assumptions that we have had-that the peopling of Eurasia was done by early hominins moving overland through the Near East, into India and down-will have to be revisited."

If additional work confirms that the earliest stone tools on Crete date to more than 130,000 years ago, archaeologists may want to take a closer look at these hypotheses. One solid bet is that archaeologists will be giving more thought in years to come to the question of why early humans chose to venture out on the sea in the first place.

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