10,000-year-old Mesolithic campsite identified

The early human history of Greece, often overshadowed by the better-known and materially richer Late Bronze Age (in the second half of the 2nd millennium BC) and Classical and Hellenistic eras (5th — mid-2nd c. BC), has been receiving more attention recently. In addition to ?The Lost World of Old Europe,? an exhibition currently on show at the Cycladic Art Museum, which includes displays on Neolithic life in Greece (ca. 6500-3200 BC), the Ministry of Culture announced new findings last month concerning human inhabitation of the region even before the appearance of Neolithic farmers, during the Mesolithic era some 10,000 years ago.

Near the small northern town of Apsalos, in the Pella district northwest of Thessaloniki, Greek prehistory is increasingly being brought to light. Since 1997, two prehistoric settlements and a Bronze Age burial mound have been uncovered in this remote, mountainous area north of Edessa. Now Greek archaeologists of the 17th Ephorate of Prehistoric and Classical Antiquities have revealed new evidence of a Mesolithic campsite dating from between 7937 and 7480 BC. These dates, derived from carbon samples submitted to the radiocarbon C14 laboratory at the University of Erlangen-Nurnberg, place the campsite within an early era when humans survived through hunting, fishing and gathering, roamed according to seasonal patterns often determined by the migrations of their quarry, and only settled down in temporary camps usually established near streams, rivers and lakes.

Identification of the newly discovered Mesolithic site, excavated in 2009, was achieved through consideration of the types of archaeological artifacts that were present — or not present — at the camp. Among the chipped stone tools recovered were distinctive flint scrapers, which may have been used to prepare hides and skins or to work bone, wood or other, softer materials. Stones for hammering (pounders) and cobblestones exhibiting signs of percussion were also found. Shaped lumps of clay containing carbonized inclusions may have belonged to makeshift shelters or other lightly constructed features built at the site.

Not present at the camp, however, were any traces of pottery, which indicates that the site was inhabited prior to the Neolithic era, when ceramics production first appeared. The radiocarbon dates from the organic matter preserved on the site confirm that the camp was used during the Mesolithic period (10000-7000 BC).

The results from Apsalos, while based on the humble archaeological evidence of simple stone tools, lumps of worked clay and small bits of charcoal, emphasizes the importance of the area as a migration route at a time when Mesolithic peoples were moving over and up into Southeast Europe from the Near East.

The landscape of this far-flung region of northern Greece, near the present-day border with the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, offered many amenities to these early travelers as they sought ready sources of food and water or naturally defensible campsites where they could rest.

The 17th Ephorate?s ongoing investigations around Apsalos may eventually shed further light on whether Greece?s Neolithic inhabitants had any connection to the earlier Mesolithic migrants and where exactly these Mesolithic visitors may have come from.