Pindus reveals its prehistoric past

The Pindus mountain range that runs down the middle of mainland Greece has revealed further interesting archaeological finds. In total, excavations taking place over the past three years have unearthed 25 Paleolithic, Mesolithic and Neolithic locations nestled in the high peaks of Mt Smolikas, the lakes of Valia Calda and along small paths. Farming tools found at the sites confirmed that the mountains of central Greece, which have not been extensively examined from an archaeological perspective, have many interesting things to yield, while also contributing to a shift in views about the role mountainous communities had in the overall history of the country. The excavations that brought these finds to light were the first to be held at such a high altitude – 1,800 meters – in Greece. Conducted by a team of Greek and Italian archaeologists – Prehistoric Archaeology Professor Paolo Biagi from the University of Venice, specialist Dr Vassiliki Elefandi and Associate Professor Nikos Efstratiou from the University of Thessaloniki – they have opened a new chapter in history. Shifting views «The overriding opinion in [Greek] archaeology up to now was that groups of Paleolithic hunter/gatherers, as well as the first Neolithic farmers and livestock farmers were restricted to the plains and low altitudes,» explained Efstratiou. «Furthermore, taking into account the fact that even the most well-known mountainous Paleolithic locations – such as at the Vikos Gorge in Epirus – are no higher than 600 meters, the results of these excavations have been very surprising indeed,» he added. The team’s efforts began somewhat tentatively some three years ago. Examining the areas in and around the villages of Samarina, Smixi, Philippi, Polynerio, Panorama and Lavda, around small lakes and passes on foot, the team found numerous open prehistoric sites that contained signs of their very ancient past, such as shards of stone tools. Around the area of Samarina, they found evidence suggesting the resting places of nomadic groups from the mid-Paleolithic period, while it is even possible that these groups were Neanderthals. «We found what little there was left of camps and places where hunters stopped to rest or spend the night near springs, or constructing tools near sources of flint. «The chronological order of these sites reveals that these few and constantly moving Paleolithic and Mesolithic groups roved the Pindus range until 8000 BC following prey such as deer, boar and hares. There is also evidence of Neolithic hunters who, as early as 7000 BC, began leaving their permanent villages, their livestock and fields on the plains and headed into the mountains occasionally to hunt.» What is interesting is that many of these locations were found at passes still used by herders and livestock farmers today. «One of the most attractive things about these excavations in the Pindus is the fact that we can see that the practices of the people who live here go back thousands of years,» says Efstratiou. «The Paleolithic and Neolithic gatherers that moved around in search of materials to produce tools gave way to occasional farmers from nearby settlements on the plains who went into the mountains to hunt and gather berries and seeds. Today, we have the nomadic livestock farmers who continue to give life to the mountains of Western Macedonia.»