Researchers have found the oldest archaeological site in southern Greece. It dates back 700,000 years and was associated with our hominin ancestors.
The discovery announced on Thursday could push back the beginning of Greek archaeology by up to a quarter million years. However, older sites of hominins have been found elsewhere in Europe. The oldest site, found in Spain, dates back more than a thousand years.
A Culture Ministry announcement said that the Greek site was among five sites investigated in Megalopolis during a 5-year project by an international team.
The trove contained rough stone tools dating from the Lower Palaeolithic Period — roughly 3.3 million years ago to 300,000 — as well as the remains of extinct giant deer species, elephants and rhinoceros.
The project was led by Panagiotis Karakanas of American School of Classical Studies in Athens. Eleni Panagopoulou, from the Greek Culture Ministry, and Katerina Hardvati, professor of paleoanthropology, University of Tubingen, Germany.
The co-directors told The Associated Press that the artifacts were “simple stone flakes and simple tools belonging to the Lower Paleolithic Stone Tool Industry.”
The researchers said that it is possible that the items were made by Homo antcessor, a hominin from the same period who lived in other parts Europe. Homo Antecessor was believed to be the last common ancestor between modern humans and extinct Neanderthal cousins. They diverged around 800,000 year ago.
The project directors stated that “we will not know for sure until we recover hominin fossils.” The site is the oldest known hominin in Greece and pushes the archaeological record back by as much as 250,000 years.
The researchers are awaiting more analyses to confirm the date.
The three co-directors stated that they were “very excited” to be able report this discovery, which shows the importance of our area for understanding the migrations of hominins into Europe and human evolution in general.
Nikos Efstratiou is a professor of prehistoric archaeological studies at the University of Thessaloniki in Greece. He was not involved with the project.
Efstratiou stated that tools and animal remains were found in an archaeological context. It’s a very important site that allows us, in a authoritative way, to go back far in time and find the first tools of Greece.
The oldest Middle Palaeolithic relics in Greece date back to approximately 280,000 years. They were found at a site in Megalopolis, a southern peninsula of the Peloponnese Peninsula, which is home to the much later sites of Mycenae and Olympia.
The researchers stated that “It is one of Europe’s oldest sites that has tools that are characteristic of what is called the Middle Palaeolithic Tool Industry, suggesting that Greece played an important role in the development of (stone) industries in Europe.”
Since decades, coal has been mined in the Megalopolis Plain to power a local plant. It was a shallow, inland lake during the Palaeolithic period.
The area is known for its fossils. In ancient times, huge prehistoric bones were found there and linked to Greek myths about a race of giants who fought against the gods of Olympus. Megalopolis was cited by some ancient writers as the location of a major battle during that supernatural war.