Over the course of 13 years, a group of archaeologists from Greece and France excavated a cave in Greece, known as Kalamakia. The cave is about 65 feet deep, and is situated in limestone cliffs on the west coast of a peninsula on the Greek mainland. The team, led by Katerina Harvati, found archaeological deposits from 39,000 to 100,000 years ago. The team found scrapers and tools which were characteristically Neanderthal in design, made of flint, seashells, and quartz. In addition, they also found portions of 14 skeletons in the cave – mostly small bone fragments and teeth. This, however, was enough to show that there was a “thriving and long-standing” population of Neanderthals that lived in the area. This is the first discovery of Neanderthal remains in Greece, and inspires the idea that there may be many more undiscovered remains of Neanderthals in the country.
The remains date to the Middle Paleolithic, during the ice age. Like similar sites in France and other areas around the Mediterranean, the site had a mild climate, and supported human and Neanderthal populations, in addition to a wide range of wildlife. The team says that there is evidence that the populations in the area coexisted with “deer, wild boar, rabbits, elephants, weasels, foxes, wolves, leopards, bears, falcons, toads, vipers and tortoises.”
The discovery of Neanderthal remains in the cave reinforce the prevailing theory of human and Neanderthal dispersal from Africa, as they lie right along one of the primary routes that early ancestors may have taken. The remains are of both children and adults, showing that this wasn’t some sort of isolated hunting camp, but a location that full families lived at, likely for extended periods of time.
The discovery wasn’t made before now because the majority of archaeologists working in Greece are focused on the rich classical archaeological resources that the country has to offer. In the future, the team hopes to investigate a myriad of similar sites in Greece, which would help to answer more questions about Neanderthals. Of particular interest to the team are the questions that this find raises about possible human-Neanderthal coexistence and their spread into Europe. The location of this specific cave also inspires questions about the seafaring capabilities of both ancient humans and Neanderthals.
This site is significant to archaeology today because it reflects the vast archeological resources that are still available for excavation around the world today. There has been so much history, especially in a place as richly cultural as Greece, that we can’t just focus on one aspect of history, but that there is so much more to discover from other periods of time. This holds for other sites around the world as well, and proves that there is a massive amout of discoveries that have yet to be made.