Palaeolithic industries from the island of Gavdos, near neighbour to Crete in Greece
Katerina Kopaka & Christos Matzanas Antiquity 83.321 (September 2009): online article
Abstract (from the Introduction)
Gavdos lies in the Libyan Sea, approximately 21 nautical miles (nm) off the closest south-west Cretan shores and is the south-easternmost European territory before Africa – Libya/Tobruk is c. 160nm away. This is an easily targeted landfall of almost 33km², with an irregular terrain, rising up to 368m. The island offers anchorages along the north, east and south coasts. North of Gavdos is a stepping stone, Gavdopoula (Little Gavdos).
Travelling between Crete and Gavdos is crossing through open and unpredictable waters. Using light, mainly oar-propelled vessels, which were still employed locally until the late twentieth century, the trip could take up to 10 hours in bad weather. The journey from Africa was more risky, even in late antiquity. The significant distance, great depths and unfavourable predominant west-to-east currents all contributed to the implicit difficulties of voyaging northwards. Communication with the north or south, however, may have been easier in the past, namely during glacial periods of the Pleistocene, when sea-levels were significantly lower than today, for example during the Last Glacial Maximum.
The modest size and isolation of Gavdos suggest that a ‘pre-Neolithic’ presence would be unlikely. However, findings from an interdisciplinary survey, conducted in the 1990s by the University of Crete and 25th Ephoreia of Antiquities, can now extend its human occupation back to the Pleistocene. Indeed, in addition to the abundant Neolithic and Bronze Age chipped stone tools found on the island, almost one fifth of the lithic assemblage seems to date from the Palaeolithic and Mesolithic periods. These artefacts, which have been found at open-air sites across the island, have been characterised by macroscopic examination (morphology / typology, technology, metrology, raw material, surface weathering), geoarchaeological parameters (e.g. their usual association with zones of red soil/terra rossa, and localised raw material sources), and indirect archaeological evidence (recurring lack of later lithics or pottery in their findspots). This evidence, coupled with the large quantity and extensive spatial distribution of the finds, helps balance the intrinsic weakness of such surface collections. The fact that new survey material from islands and islets has significantly altered the Palaeolithic and Mesolithic map of the Aegean also strengthens the contribution of the Gavdos industries.
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