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Dispilio: The Lakeshore Prehistoric Settlement of Greece

Dispilio Prehistoric settlement
Representation of family life as it was lived in the Dispilio Prehistoric Settlement, southwestern Greece. Credit: Greek Reporter

The Dispilio Lakeshore Prehistoric Settlement is one of the most fascinating archaeological sites in northwestern Greece, situated next to the city of Kastoria.

Near the modern village of Dispilio, a community close to Kastoria with which they share Lake Orestiada, lies the settlement that offers a great deal of information on prehistoric life in the area.

It is located in Nisi, on the south shore of Lake Orestiada, where archaeologists have discovered thousands of artifacts from the Neolithic Era.

A fascinating recreation of the lake dwellers’ settlement has been erected near the site, which attracts tourists from Greece and abroad.  There is also a model of the prehistoric settlement in the exhibition with huts made of straw or straw and clay, with objects and utensils that were discovered in the lake.

An amazing discovery

The prehistoric lakeshore settlement was discovered during the dry winter of 1932, which lowered the level of the lake, where remains of wooden stakes revealed traces of the settlement at the point that separated a small islet from the shore of the lake.

Dispilio prehistoric settlement
Some objects from daily life in Neolithic times. Credit: Greek Reporter

In 1935, archaeologist Antonios Keramopoulos conducted a preliminary survey of the site. However excavation works were not completed, as World War II was approaching.

A systematic excavation project began decades later, in 1992, under Georgios Hourmouziadis, professor of prehistoric archaeology at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki.

Archaeologists then finally uncovered the remains of an extensive lake settlement from the Late Neolithic Era, which proved to be one of the most important and oldest of its kind in Europe.

Dispilio prehistoric settlement
Prehistoric settlement in Dispilio. Credit: Greek Reporter

Thousands of objects were found in those excavations, including tools made of stone, bone and flint, along with animal bones, a discovery which shows that the inhabitants engaged in agriculture, hunting, and fishing.

Also materials with which the huts were built, such as piles of wood in shapes that indicated construction work, large clay storage jars and woven baskets were found at the site.

Ceramics, wooden structural elements, seeds, bones, figurines and personal ornaments were also uncovered by the archaeologists.

Dispilio prehistoric settlement
Clay huts on the bank of the lake. Credit: Greek Reporter

In addition, several cooking utensils were found — many of them boat-shaped — along with bone and stone jewelry. The most important find of all, however, was a bone flute, which turned out to be one of the oldest musical instruments ever found in Europe.

The unique wooden sign

Probably the most important find in the Dispilio lakeshore settlement was a wooden sign with engraved linear elements which was found at the bottom of the lake.

The unique wooden plaque dates to 5260 BC; it may possibly be an early form of the written word, as similar symbols engraved in clay have been found in the Vinca culture in southern Balkan settlements.

The clear symbols on the wooden sign are without a doubt some kind of communication and indicate indicate that they describe activities of Neolithic man and his culture.

Dispilio prehistoric settlement
A scene from daily life in the Neolithic Era recreated at the Dispilio lakeshore site. Credit: Greek Reporter

It is a form of writing that preceded linear A, which has also not yet been decoded. Similar engraved symbols to those of the wooden sign have been found on small ceramic signs that have also not been deciphered yet.

Also known as the Dispilio Tablet, it was partially damaged when it was exposed to the oxygen-rich environment outside the mud and water in which it was immersed for a long period of time.

Currently it is under scientific conservation. As of 2021, the full academic study regarding the Dispilio Tablet apparently awaits the completion of conservation work.

The lakeshore prehistoric settlement appears to have been occupied over a long period of time, from the final stages of the Middle Neolithic era (5600-5000 BC) to the Final Neolithic era (3000 BC).

Dispilio prehistoric settlement
Visitors at the Dispilio lakeshore prehistoric settlement. Credit: Greek Reporter

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