ATHENS, June 2 (AP) – Deep in an open-pit coal mine in southern Greece, researchers have discovered the oldest archaeological site in the antiquity-rich country, dating back 700,000 years to the same age as modern day. related to human ancestors.
The discovery, announced Thursday, would set back the beginnings of Greek archaeology by as much as a quarter of a million years, even though much older human sites have been found elsewhere in Europe. The oldest, in Spain, date back more than a million years.
A statement from the Greek Ministry of Culture said the Greek site was one of five surveyed in the metropolitan area in a five-year project involving an international team of experts.
It was found to contain crude stone tools from the Upper Paleolithic (about 3.3 million to 300,000 years ago), as well as the remains of extinct species such as giant deer, elephants, hippos, rhinos and macaques.
The project was supervised by Panagiotis Karkanas of the American Academy of Classical Studies in Athens, Eleni Panagopoulou of the Hellenic Ministry of Culture, and Katerina Harvati, professor of paleoanthropology at the University of Tübingen, Germany.
The artifacts are “simple tools, such as sharp flakes, belonging to the Upper Paleolithic stone tool industry,” the two co-directors said in emailed comments to The Associated Press.
The items, they said, were likely produced by Homo antecessor, a Homo species from that time period in other parts of Europe. The Homo antecessor is thought to be the last common ancestor of modern humans and their extinct Neanderthal relatives, who diverged about 800,000 years ago.
“However, until human fossil remains are recovered, we cannot be sure,” said the project leader. “[The site]is currently the oldest known hominin presence in Greece, and it pushes back the country’s known archaeological record by 250,000 years.”
The tools, likely used to butcher animals and process wood or other plant matter, were made about 700,000 years ago, though the researchers say they are awaiting further analysis to refine the dating.
“We are delighted to be able to report this finding, which shows the importance of our region for understanding human migration to Europe and human evolution in general,” said the three co-directors.
Archaeologist Nikos Efstratiou, a professor of prehistoric archeology at the University of Thessaloniki in Greece who was not involved in the project, said the discovery itself was “very important,” not least because it represented the oldest known archaeological site in the country. ruins.
“There is an archaeological background in which tools and animal remains have been found,” Efstratiou said. “This is an important and very early site…it allows us to trace in an authoritative way back to the earliest tool-use times in Greece.”
Another site surveyed in the metropolitan area of the southern Peloponnese – home to later sites such as Mycenae, Olympia and Pylos – contains the oldest Middle Paleolithic remains found in Greece dating back to to about 280,000 years ago.
“(It) is one of the oldest sites in Europe with tool features of the so-called Middle Paleolithic tool industry, suggesting that Greece may have played an important role in the development of the (stone) industry in Europe,” the researchers said.
Coal has been mined in the Metropolitan Plain for decades to power local power plants. During the Paleolithic it contained a shallow lake.
The area has long been known to be home to fossils, and in ancient times, huge prehistoric bones unearthed there have been linked to Greek mythology about a long-lost race of giants who fought the gods of Olympus. Some ancient writers list the megalopolis as the site of the main battles of that supernatural war. (Associated Press)
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