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Stone Age Tools on Crete Show Man Sailed the Mediterranean 130,000 Years Ago

Neanderthals with Stone Age Tools in Crete
Le Moustier’s 1920s artistic representation of Neanderthals.

Stone age tool discoveries made on the Greek island of Crete in 2010 indicate that man traveled the Mediterranean as early as 130,000 years ago — and not 10,000 years ago as originally believed — according to Science magazine.

In an article entitled “Searching for a Stone Age Odysseus“, authors say that up until a decade ago, archaeologists assumed that the adventurous travels of Odysseus, as reflected in Homer’s Odyssey, were the first ventures in the Mediterranean, believed to have taken place 10,000 years ago. Some others assumed that sea travel was a human endeavor that started in the Bronze Age.

However, excavators in 2010 claimed to have found stone tools in Crete dating back at least 130,000 years, leading to assumptions that man traveled the seas as early as in the Neanderthal stage of human development.

Neanderthals were an extinct species of the genus Homo that inhabited Europe, the Near East, the Middle East and Central Asia, between 230,000 and 40,000 years before the present, during the late Middle Pleistocene and almost all of the Upper Pleistocene.

Paleogenetic studies indicate a common origin for modern humans and Neanderthals, as well as hybridizations between the two hominin species, in at least two places and times: the Near East and Western Europe.

The Greek islands navigated in the Stone Age

The recent find indicates that the Neanderthal was able to navigate the tricky waters of the Mediterranean. After all, Crete was known to have been inhabited, and it has been an island for over five million years — meaning that the people who lived there had once somehow sailed to Crete.

Between 2008-09, a Greek-American scientific team found in the southern coastal location of Plakias hundreds of stone tools, which are very similar to tools used by Homo erectus over at least a million years ago, and Neanderthals 130,000 years ago.

One of the investigators claimed that these tools are indicative of Neanderthals’ maritime migrations from the Near and Middle East to Europe. An attempt to date the gear has led to an estimate of at least 130,000 years of age, but doubts about their age remained, which did not help to dissipate the skepticism of other scientists for such a bold theory.

Then there were other finds of likely Neanderthal origin, such as Stelida on Naxos, which, even in the last Ice Age, when the water level was lower, was estimated to be accessible only by sea. There, another Greek-Canadian team discovered in a flint quarry hundreds of stone tools (more sophisticated than those of Crete in their method of construction), among which were hand tools that resemble those made by both Neanderthals and Homo Sapiens 50,000 to 200,000 years ago.

The dating process of these tools is still in progress and is awaited with great interest. Their ancient provenance cannot be ruled out, thus giving more credibility to the assumption that there were even more ancient seafarers in the Aegean.

Stone Age tools all over the islands

Other paleolithic tools have also been discovered on the Ionian Islands, mainly on Zakynthos and Kefalonia. This, according to the archaeologists, shows that early peoples were traveling to the islands much earlier than initially thought.

But there are doubts regarding when some islands were cut off from the land in the first place, such as Lemnos, where archaeologist Nikos Efstratios of the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki believes he has found a Paleolithic hunting camp which is over 10,000 years old.

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