Setting our sights on the distant horizon
Albert J. Ammerman Eurasian Prehistory, 11 (1-2) (2014): 203-236
The article constitutes the closing chapter of the proceedings of the Wenner Gren Workshop on “Island Archaeology and the Origins of Seafaring in the Eastern Mediterranean,” which was held at Reggio Calabria in October of 2012. The task here is to bring together what is said in the other twenty chapters of the proceedings and discuss where we stand today and what needs to be done next. In particular, we are interested in sites of pre-Neolithic age that occur on the islands in the Mediterranean Sea and what we can learn from them about early voyaging, which goes back the time before the Neolithic period. What we mean by “voyaging” (a more appropriate term than “seafaring” for the activity we are concerned with) is making trips on the open sea that were undertaken on a fairly regular basis (and not just a rare or accidental crossings of the sea). It is important not to conflate the two. They are two quite different things.
A wide range of topics is discussed in this article. They include among other things: (1) the question of whether or not there is reliable evidence for hunter-gatherers on the “true” islands of the Mediterranean in the time before 16,000 years ago, (2) the sites on islands in the Eastern Mediterranean that go back to the Younger Dryas and (3) voyaging and the Neolithic transition. For years in the previous literature, obsidian was commonly taken to be the hallmark that was synonymous with the advent of voyaging in the Mediterrranean world. We now know that it is a trailing indicator of voyaging in various part of the Mediterranean world. One of the take-home messages of the discussions at the Wenner Gren Workshop itself was that we are just at the beginning of the study of pre-Neolithic voyaging in the Mediterranean. For instance, far too little work there has been concerned with submerged prehistory so far. Thus, while many gains have been made in the field during the last ten years, it is premature to draw final conclusions with regard to early voyaging and early voyagers at the present time: there is a great deal of fieldwork that remains to be done.