Aegeus Society For Aegean Prehistory


3 February 2016

The origins of mammals on the Mediterranean islands as an indicator of early voyaging

Jean-Denis Vigne A.J. Ammerman & T. Davis (eds), Island Archaeology and the Origins of Seafaring in the Eastern Mediterranean, Eurasian Prehistory 10 (1-2) (2013): 45-56


This chapter aims to show how the progresses of biological knowledge allows archaeology to take advantage of the paleontological and archaeozoological documentation accumulated during the last 40 years on the islands, to increase its set of evidence – admittedly indirect – on the early seagoing in the Mediterranean. It presents a brief review of the geographical and paleogeographical frameworks as well as the basics of island biogeography and focuses on the different ways in which mammals were able to colonize remote islands. The review of the extinctions and immigrations of mammals since the Late Glacial on the five larger Mediterranean islands, which have stayed isolated since that time, highlights the major role that human beings played in the construction of modern mammalian communities on these islands. In turn, this phenomenon is a remarkable source of information for investigating early seafaring in the Mediterranean. Four main aspects of this subject are further developed: (1) there was little or no frequentation of these large islands during the Upper Palaeolithic suggesting that, for unknown reasons, voyaging started later in the Mediterranean than in South East Asia; (2) based on the introduction of early domesticates on the islands, fast improvements in voyaging skills are visible between the beginning of the first steps toward the Neolithic of the Eastern Mediterranean (11th millennium cal. BP) and its arrival in the Western Mediterranean (8th millennium cal. BP); (3) the colonization of the islands by the small mammals is a good proxy for measuring the intensity of early seafaring and the degree of sophistication of the architecture of early boats; (4) one of the major issues that the early voyagers had to resolve is the transportation of the ruminants, which cannot lay down tied at the bottom of a boat more longer than 3 to 4 hours, suggesting that boats were not only big and stable enough but already fast enough at the beginning of the Neolithic transition and rising the question, in turn, of whether or not sails were already in use at the time.



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