Scientists at the Stelida Naxos Archaeological Project have discovered new evidence proving that Neanderthals and earlier humans inhabited the Greek island of Naxos at least 200,000 years ago.
The international research team led by scientists from McMaster University has uncovered the new evidence, which challenges most current theories about Stone Age migration throughout Europe. The lead author, Professor Tristan Carter had this to say about the research:
“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.”
Dr. Carter conducted the work with Dimitris Athanasoulis, head of archaeology at the Cycladic Ephorate of Antiquities within the Greek Ministry of Culture. The video below by Dr. Carter explains much more about this groundbreaking work into how and when humans first populated Europe.
Up until now, scholars believed the Aegean Sea impassable to Neanderthals and early hominids and believed that the Mediterranean islands were only settled as recently as 9,000 years ago. Stone Age hunters, meanwhile, are known to have been on mainland Europe for more than 1 million years. But the research team discovered evidence of human activity spanning almost 200,000 years in a prehistoric quarry on Naxos.
This new research suggests that the Aegean basin was accessible much earlier than believed. At certain times of the Ice Age, the sea was much lower exposing a land route between the continents that would have allowed early prehistoric populations to walk to Stelida, and an alternative migration route connecting Europe and Africa. Researchers believe the area would have been attractive to early humans because of its abundance of raw materials ideal for toolmaking and for its freshwater.
Nevertheless, according to Carter, “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.” Interestingly, the Trachilos footprints discovered by Gerard Gierlinski on Crete attest to humanoids braving the Aegean since the dawn of time.
Reams of scientific data collected at the site add to the ongoing debate about the significance of coastal and marine routes to human movement. While present data suggests that the Aegean could be crossed by foot over 200,000 years ago, the authors also raise the possibility that Neanderthals may also have fashioned crude seafaring boats capable of crossing short distances.