Greece: Prehistoric Theopetra Cave opens to public on Friday

Theopetra(ANA) Prehistoric Theopetra Cave opens to public on Friday The opening to the public of the prehistoric Theopetra Cave in Trikala prefecture, will be marked with a concert on Friday. Theopetra Cave is a famous archaeological site, and the first excavated cave in Thessaly, with excavations starting in 1987 and continuing to the present. Its deposits begin in the Middle Paleolithic period and continue without gaps until the end of the Neolithic period (3000 BC). Its uniqueness is that in contains, within a single site, the records of two greatly significant cultural transitions: The replacement of Neanderthals by modern humans, and the later transition from hunter-gathering to farming after the end of the last Ice Age. The cave, situated just three kilometers from Meteora, consists of an immense 500 square meter rectangular chamber at the foot of a limestone hill, which rises to the northeast above the village of Theopetra, with a very big entrance 17m wide by three metres high. It lies at the foot of the Chasia mountain range, which forms the natural boundary between Thessaly and Epirus prefectures, while the Lithaios River, a tributary of the Pineios River, flows in front of the cave. Excavations, which have been systematically carried out, have unearthed light geological deposits dating to the Pleistocene and Holocene periods as well as anthropogenic deposits, indicating that the cave had been continuously inhabited during the Middle and Upper Palaeolithic, the Mesolithic and the Neolithic periods. Specimens found, such as coal and human bones, prove that the cave was occupied from about 50,000 BC to 4000 BC, and that temporary use continued during the Bronze Age and historic times up to 1955. Even after that the cave was used occasionally to by shepherds to shelter their herds right up until the excavations began. It is the first time that cave dwelling was recorded in Thessaly during the Palaeolithic period. The stratigraphic sequence of Theopetra extends through three cold periods: during the Middle era circa 25,000 BP (BP being the archaeological term for ‘years Before the Present’, with the ‘present’ referring to 1950 when carbon dating was first implemented), during the Upper Palaeolithic, and during the final Upper Palaeolithic period (end of the Pleistocene era). The excavations and study of the finds at Theopetra have been conducted since 1987 by the scientific research group of the Ephorate of Paleoanthropology-Speleology, under the direction of Dr. Ekaterini (Nina) Kyparissi-Apostolika. Objects discovered in the cave include stone tools of the Palaeolithic, Mesolithic and Neolithic periods, as well as Neolithic pottery, bone and shell objects, skeletons from 15000, 9000 and 8000 BC, and traces of plants and seeds that reveal dietary habits.. In March 2009, Kyparissi made an even more important and exciting discovery. Excavations brought to light three human footprints which have been dated to approximately 135,000 BP in the cretaceous period. The find consists of four human footprints in a row, from four individuals believed to have been children. The prefecture of Trikala and the municipality of Vassiliki, to which Theopetra belongs, have scheduled a concert featuring well-known musicians/singers Pantelis Thalassinos and Melina Kana on Friday, to celebrate the official opening of the cave to visitors.
Theopetra Cave. Twelve Years of Excavation and Research 1987-1998. Edited by Nina Kiparissi-Apostolika. Institute for Aegean Prehistory, Athens, 2000. Reviewed by Andrew Chamberlain Sediments in caves and rock shelters provide much of the archaeological evidence for the occupation of the Mediterranean region first by Palaeolithic hunter-gatherers and subsequently by the earliest Neolithic farmers. Excavations at the Upper Palaeolithic rockshelter site of Klithi in northwest Greece and of Mesolithic and Neolithic deposits in Franchthi Cave in southern Greece have provided valuable insights into the earliest inhabitants of Greece (Bailey, 1999; Jacobsen et al., 1987-2000) but Theopetra Cave is quite possibly unique in containing within a single site a record of two highly significant cultural transitions, that of the replacement of Neanderthals by modern humans and the subsequent transition from hunter-gathering to farming after the end of the last Ice Age. Nina Kyparissa-Apostolika’s volume on the excavations and finds from Theopetra Cave consists of a collection of papers, mostly by Greek scholars, that were presented at an international conference held at Trikala, Thessaly, in November 1998. The articles in the volume report on work in progress, as investigations at the cave are still ongoing. Most of the contributions to the volume are written in the Greek language, but the limited linguistic skills of Anglophone readers are accommodated by the inclusion of extended abstracts and bibliographies in English as well as bilingual figure captions. The 6 metre deep sequence of archaeological deposits in Theopetra Cave witnessed intermittent hominid occupation from the early Upper Pleistocene, 50,000 years ago, through to the abandonment of the cave as a place of settlement in the Chalcolithic, at about 3000BC. The chronology of occupation in the cave is well established through more than 50 radiocarbon dates, catalogued in this volume by Facorellis and Maniatis (the dates were subsequently published in the journal Radiocarbon by Facorellis et al., 2001). The copious artefactual and environmental evidence from the cave is augmented by human remains from burials dated to 14,500 and 7,000 BC, as well as a unique set of footprints that were probably made by Neanderthals. Deposits of unbaked clay in the late Upper Palaeolithic layers show that the cave’s occupants were interested in the malleability of this material long before the emergence of fired ceramics in the early Neolithic. The Middle Palaeolithic stone tool assemblage from the cave is described by Eleni Panagopoulou. The material comes from a thick sequence of cultural deposits in which water-lain sediments are interspersed with hearth deposits, representing occupation of the cave during a warm interval within the last Ice Age. The lithic assemblage has been divided into three phases which show a transition from classic Mousterian through Levallois-Mousterian to a terminal phase that manifests some of the characteristics of Upper Palaeolithic lithic technology such as the production of blades. This final phase of the Middle Palaeolithic is contemporaneous with the first appearance of anatomically modern humans in Europe, and perhaps indicates that Neanderthals were culturally influenced by the arrival of new traditions of lithic production. The hominid footprints were found in a layer towards the base of the Middle Palaeolithic deposits and from their size they are interpreted as having been made by children aged 2 to 4 years old. The Upper Palaeolithic and Mesolithic lithic assemblage from the cave is less copious and the authors suggest that the cave was no longer used as a residential site at this time. With the start of the Neolithic, pottery rather than stone tools becomes the predominant category of artefact recovered from the deposits. As well as pottery vessels there are a few ceramic figurines and some decorative items such as beads and bracelets made from shell or stone. There are excellent colour photographs and line drawings of the Neolithic artefacts which together constitute a rich body of cultural material. At the time of the conference the analyses of the animal bone assemblages from Theopetra Cave were at an early stage, and only preliminary findings based on small subsamples of the faunal collections are presented here. An interesting feature of the cave is the extreme diagenetic alteration of the sediments, summarised in this volume by Karkanas and Wiener (see also Karkanas et al., 1999; Karkanas, 2001). Phreatic karstic waters invaded the cave sediments in the late glacial and early Holocene periods, eroding some sediments and causing dissolution of the ash layers, extensive demineralisation of bones and precipitation of phosphate minerals. The spatial pattern of alteration of the cave sediments is complex, with bones being preserved towards the eastern cave wall but being largely absent through dissolution elsewhere in the cave. Overall this volume presents a wealth of interesting and unusual evidence and shows just how much archaeological and environmental information can be obtained from multidisciplinary investigations of a cave site. References Bailey, G.N. (ed.) 1999. Klithi: Palaeolithic settlement and Quaternary landscapes in northwest Greece. Volumes 1 and 2. Cambridge: McDonald Institue for Archaeological Research. Facorellis, Y., Kyparissi-Apostolika, N., Maniatis, Y. 2001. The cave of Theopetra, Kalambaka: radiocarbon evidence for 50,000 years of human presence. Radiocarbon 43(2B): 1029-1048. Jacobsen, T.W. et al. (eds) 1987-2000. Excavations at Franchthi Cave, Greece. Fascicles 1 to 12. Bloomington, Indiana University Press. Karkanas, P., Kyparissi-Apostolika, N., Bar-Yosef, O., et al. 1999. Mineral assemblages in Theopetra, Greece: a framework for understanding diagenesis in a prehistoric cave. Journal of Archaeological Science 26 (9): 1171-1180. Karkanas P. 2001. Site formation processes in Theopetra Cave: a record of climatic change during the late Pleistocene and early Holocene. Geoarchaeology 16 (4): 373-399.