According to a new report, Neanderthals and early humans may have made it to the Greek island of Naxos some 200,000 years ago, much earlier than previously thought. The findings from a team of scientists from Ontario’s McMaster University may for a rewrite of the history of the region.
The scientists say migrants using crude boats left their footpath along the Aegean coasts, to travel to the distant islands just off their horizon. Professor Tristan Carter of McMaster University offered this comment:
“Until recently, this part of the world was seen as irrelevant to early human studies, but the results force us to completely rethink the history of the Mediterranean islands.”
The research, published in the journal Science Advances, disputed current theories on Stone Age migration across Europe with scholars believing Neanderthals and early hominids settled Mediterranean islands to have been settled for only about 9,000 years. Stone Age hunters, meanwhile, are known to have been on mainland Europe for more than 1 million years, but the research team found evidence of human activity on islands spanning almost 200,000 years in a prehistoric quarry.
The new findings are part of the Stelida Naxos Archeological Project, a larger collaboration involving scholars from all over the planet, also suggesting that early humans were more cognitively advanced than previously believed.
The scientists also discovered evidence at a prehistoric quarry site called Stelida on the island of Naxos, located in the Aegean basin between southern mainland Greece and western Turkey. Hominins, likely including Neanderthals, used chert stone found at the site to make tools and weapons, although no bones were found at the site, said the Times of Israel in its report. This site situated on a hill 152 meters above sea level, was first excavated in 1981 and thought to have been 20,000-4,500 years old.
The Canadian-led research teams uncovered some 12,000 artifacts from the site, including tools for cutting, scraping and piercing, representing nearly 200,000 years of history. The age and type of the artifacts, as well as Neanderthal remains found in southern Greece alongside similar artifacts, point to the species’ presence on the island, the researchers said. Earlier human species may have also been on the island.
The team suggests that scholars rethink the dispersal of hominins during the Pleistocene epoch, which stretched from 2.58 million years ago until almost 11,700 years ago.
While the Aegean Sea was thought impassable then, during the Ice Age, at certain points the receding sea level in the Mediterranean may have exposed a land route connecting Europe and Africa, enabling early humans to cross marshy plains in the Aegean to get to the island.
Scholars previously argued that only anatomically modern humans had been able to voyage over water and colonize islands, as well as other remote or extreme environments, including deserts and mountain ranges, the paper noted, citing the findings.
Evidence of Neanderthals has previously been located in mainland Greece and Turkey, and indirect evidence in Greece suggested they may have been able to undertake short trips across water.
“In entering this region the pre-Neanderthal populations would have been faced with a new and challenging environment, with different animals, plants and diseases, all requiring new adaptive strategies,” Carter pointed out.
Source: Tornos News