A decade ago, teams of archaeologists and researchers made a discovery that might have rewritten Mediterranean deep history. When Providence College archaeologist Thomas Strasser and his team discovered stone age tools near Plakias in southern Crete, it seemed to prove our primitive ancestors were seafarers long before the Minoans ruled the known seas. Looking forward, and given more recent discoveries, perhaps the ideas of Tacitus are closer to reality than anyone first imagined.
A National Geographic report from the time tells of Dr. Strasser and his colleagues’ discovery of a sturdy 5-inch-long (13-centimeter-long) hand ax most likely wielded by either a Neanderthal or other primitive Homo sapien over 100,000 years ago. The tool, one of many such primitive objects found, was hacked out of local quartz, making for a useful chopping implement for these early inhabitants of Crete. But are these discoveries proof of ancient mariners, or were these “mariners” already on the island?
Crete, which has been surrounded by vast stretches of sea for at least five million years, was probably the home of very early humanoids who island-hopped their way from Africa or the near east, to inhabit the vast regions of the north. The picture developing of our primitive forebearers as seafarers rather than footbound vagabonds may be either totally wrong or only part of the story of human existence on Crete. The idea of these primitive humanoids constructing boats and navigating them seemed impossible only a few years before Strasser’s discoveries, but should we adopt these theories fully now?
Given the fact that the Mediterranean Sea was more than 400 feet lower in these prehistoric times, one can only guess at what archaeological treasures could be under the Mediterranean? Submerged ruins elsewhere around the rim of the sea hint at civilization long since forgotten. And the deeper implication, of humankind creating history on Crete much farther back into Earth’s epoch, is a spellbinding possibility. Another theory is even more compelling.
What if humanoids developed on Crete independently from Neanderthals found in other regions? The discovery in 2002 of the Trachilos footprints outside Kissamos has been roughly dated to 6 million years ago. The tetrapod footprints show hominin-like characteristics from the late Miocene period. Gerard D. Gierliński, who made their discovery, was harshly criticized and even attacked initially because it has been widely accepted that early hominins or primates evolving in Africa alone.
The Greek-American collaborative project at Plakias presumes that early humans crossed the seas to reach Crete. This presumption runs true to conventional thinking, but what if there were already early humanoids on the island before Neanderthals or other archaic humans landed? What if the tools they are finding are not from seafaring adventurers, but from locals? Since animal hide boats and oars would have not survived, scientists must operate as if stone axes belonged to migrants. Still, 6 million-year-old footprints either prove our far distant sailor ancestors or some other potentiality.
Stone age tools do not prove that early humans were adventurous seafarers necessarily. Ancient footprints seem to prove, at least, that humanoids either walked or swam to places like Crete when the Mediterranean was much shallower. Or, perhaps Crete is Eden? I know, that sounds sensational or even preposterous, but we are really only scratching the surface of discovery here. If anyone had suggested 11,000-year-old Paleolithic art existed on Crete 20 years ago, they’d have been shunned by the scientific community. Interestingly, it was Dr. Strasser who classified the artwork in Asphendou Cave as the earliest known Greek portrayal of extinct animals, dating it to 11,000 years ago.
As scientists peel back the layers of Crete’s past, new discoveries are sure to reveal the true history of this amazing island. New Minoan palaces are sure to be found, more cyclopical structures like the tower of Ancient Eleutherna, and new early human traces will certainly fill in more of the puzzle. The fact that Crete has been an island since the Messinian Salinity Crisis c. 5.33 ma, may or may not prove that Pleistocene intentional open-sea travel was necessary. These theories are not unlike unproven ideas that the Garden of Eden lies submerged (2004) just off the shores of Crete. We must consider, I think, that the Golden Age, the Garden of Eden, and more recent discoveries need to be analyzed from a much broader perspective.
In a report entitled “Parallels, Algorithms & Akhenaten” by sociologist and physicist Marcus van der Erve the author explains how “our attempts to explain our world as an odd assembly of things” is rooted in Aristotlean ideas which could prove wrong. Citing Novel laureate, physical chemist, Ilya Prigogine, he proposes that rhythms and motion have shaped, and will shape our world. His argument reminds me of the animism the ancient Minoans seem to have practiced, even though the physicist is describing the movement of electrons and so forth.
Of course, much of this is speculation, but what about the Turin Papyrus? Who displaced the Olmecs of Mesoamerica? And what about Amenhotep III conquering Crete only a year before Akhenaton became king of Egypt? Was his wife Nefertiti really a Minoan princess? What used to be classified as “wild speculation” can only new be deemed “useful information” in the absence, for the moment, of incontrovertible fact. Or perhaps, we can borrow from something Pendlebury said about Akhenaten, who seems to have insisted in “What I call true.” (Pendlebury J. D. S. – Tell el-Amarna (1935) Pendlebury goes on to describe those glorious days at , not as a stuck-up scientist, but as someone who seems to have been their mentally, if not physically. Here is how the famous British Indiana Jones archetype describes the god of Akenaten:
“The Aten is a purely creative god. He has made all things living and he has provided for their wants, but there his work ends. There is no feeling that he will reward good or punish evil. There is no sense of sin or in¬ deed of right and wrong . 1 And that is a clue to the Amarna age. It is absolutely unmoral. We can see it most plainly in their art. They have cast aside the standards which had ruled their ancestors.” JDS Pendlebury – Tell El-Amarna
Does the quest to find Eden begin and end on Crete? It seems to me Pendlebury had some inkling that paradise lost was here. I wonder why we can’t suppose it does, in order that we might find a whole truth about the island the ancients called Keftiu. And lastly, the fact that the renowned archaeologist J.D.S. Pendlebury was so focused on Amarna and Knossos, and the “Aten” simultaneously implies for me, the search for something greater than Lego building blocks of history.
It is comforting to know I am not alone – the saga continues….