Crete: Pleistocene port of call?

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Bruce Bower reports on excavations by Thomas Strasser on the Mediterranean island of Crete: “Ancient hominids may have been seafarers”.

At Preveli Gorge, Stone Age artifacts were excavated from four terraces along a rocky outcrop that overlooks the Mediterranean Sea. Tectonic activity has pushed older sediment above younger sediment on Crete, so 130,000-year-old artifacts emerged from the uppermost terrace. Other terraces received age estimates of 110,000 years, 80,000 years and 45,000 years. These minimum age estimates relied on comparisons of artifact-bearing sediment to sediment from sea cores with known ages. Geologists are now assessing whether absolute dating techniques can be applied to Cretes Stone Age sites, Strasser says.

I would set a high bar for evidence on this one. No details are available; it was a conference presentation.

One possibility: According to Alexandra van der Geer and colleagues (2006), there was a faunal turnover on Crete 300,000 years ago. The earlier fauna included a 1.5-meter dwarf mammoth and dwarf hippos. The hippos were hoof-walkers apparently adapted to a “more terrestrial” activity pattern. Sometime after 400,000 years ago, this fauna was replaced. No more hippos or mammoths, and new, larger, mainland-derived elephants. As they wrote (125):

The dwarf elephant may be large compared to the mammoth of the previous period, but it is still about 30% smaller than its mainland ancestor E. antiquus, which has a shoulder heigth of 3.7 m. The dwarf elephant has strongly curved tusks. It is still a matter of debate why this elephant did not reach a pygmy size.

The arrival of humans is one possibility. Sondaar and van der Geer (2002) suggested that Sardinia-Corsica might have undergone similar turnovers induced by human arrivals during the Middle and Late Pleistocene.

But that’s entirely speculation. I want to see some dating and good descriptions of the artifacts and their context.

If the artifacts found by Strasser represent a genuine occupation, the Cretans would presumably have been seafaring Neandertals. Or Preneandertal-derived hobbits. Man, I wish I’d made that one of the 2010 predictions!


van der Geer A, Dermitzakis M, de Vos J. 2006. Crete before the Cretans: The reign of dwarfs. Pharos: Journal of the Netherlands Institute in Athens 13:119-130.

Sondaar PY, Van der Geer AAE 2002. Plio-Pleistocene terrestrial vertebrate faunal evolution on Mediterranean islands, compared to that of the Palearctic mainland. Annales Gologiques des Pays Hellniques 1e Srie 39, A: 165-180.