The Team

Nena Galanidou

Professor in Prehistoric Archaeology

Univeristy of Crete

https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Nena-Galanidou

Constantin Athanassas

Assist. Professor in Geology, Geodynamics and Geochronology

National Technical University of Athens

https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Constantin-Athanassas

John Alexopoulos

Associate Professor in Applied Geophysics-Engineering and Environmental Geophysics

National and Kapodistrian University of Athens

http://scholar.uoa.gr/jalexopoulos/home

Lee Arnold

Associate Professor in geochronology

University of Adelaide

https://www.researchgate.net/scientific-contributions/Lee-J-Arnold-2150428593

Ioanna Vallina

Architect (NTUA)

Nikolaos Voulgaris

Professor in Seismology, Engineering Seismology and Applied Geophysics

National and Kapodistrian University of Athens

http://users.uoa.gr/~voulgaris/

James Cole

Principal Lecturer in Archaeology

University of Brighton

https://www.researchgate.net/profile/James-Cole

George Iliopoulos

Associate Professor in Palaeontology and Stratigraphy

University of Patras

https://www.researchgate.net/profile/George_Iliopoulos

Angeliki Theodoropoulou

PhD in Palaeolithic Archaeology

Natural History Museum in Paris

Robyn Inglis

Postdoctoral Research Associate in Geoarchaeology

University of York

https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Robyn_Inglis

Elli Karkazi

PhD in Palaeolithic Archaeology

University of Crete

https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Elli_Karkazi

Athanasios Katerinopoulos

Professor in Mineralogy and Petrology

National and Kapodistrian University of Athens

https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Athanasios_Katerinopoulos

George Lyras

Laboratory Teaching Staff in Palaeontology and Palaeoecology

National and Kapodistrian University of Athens

https://www.researchgate.net/profile/George_Lyras

John McNabb

Senior Lecturer in Palaeolithic Archaeology

University of Southampton

https://soton.academia.edu/JohnMcNabb/CurriculumVitae

Andreas Magganas

Professor in Mineralogy, Petrology and Mineral Chemistry


National and Kapodistrian University of Athens

https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Andreas_Magganas

Penelope Papadopoulou

Adjunct Lecturer in Micropalaeontology and Stratigraphy

University of Patras

Dimitris Sakellariou

Research Director of Structural/Marine Geology and Marine Geoarchaeology

Hellenic Centre for Marine Research

Chronis Tzedakis

Professor in Physical Geography

University College London

https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Chronis_Tzedakis

Peny Takanikou

PhD in Palaeolithic Archaeology

University of Southampton

https://soton.academia.edu/PENYTSAKANIKOU

Panagiotis Zervoudakis

PhD candidate in Prehistoric Archaeology

Univeristy of Crete

https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Panagiotis_Zervoudakis

Georgia Beka

PhD candidate in Palaeolithic Archaeology

University og Crete

https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Georgia_Beka2

Areti Mathioudaki

Postgaduate student in Prehistoric Archaeoology

Univeristy of Crete

Michael Kalaitzis, Sofia Sotiripoulou

Postgaduate students in Tectonic Geology

National and Kapodistrian University of Athens

           

Publications

Project’s publications

Galanidou, N. 2020. Re-inventing public Archaeology in Greece. In: Christofilopoulou, A. (ed.), Material Cultures in Public Engagement: Re-inventing Public Archaeology within Museum collections. Oxbow Books, Oxford, 77-93.

Tsakanikou, P., Galanidou, N., Sakellariou, D. 2020. Palaeolithic archaeology and submerged landscapes in Greece: The current state of the art. Quaternary International (published online 3 June 2020).

Sakellariou, D. & Galanidou, Ν. 2017. Aegean Pleistocene Landscapes Above and Below Sea-Level: Palaeogeographic Reconstruction and Hominin Dispersals. In: Baily, G.N., Harff, J., Sakellariou, D. (eds.), Under the Sea: Archaeology and Palaeolandscapes of the Continental Shelf. Coastal Research Library, 20, Springer, Cham., 335-359.

Galanidou, N., Athanassas, C., Cole, J., Iliopoulos, G., Katerinopoulos, A., Magganas, A., McNabb, J. 2016. The Acheulian Site at Rodafnidia, Lisvori, on Lesbos, Greece: 2010–2012. In: Harvati, Κ. & Roksandic, Μ. (eds.), Paleoanthropology of the Balkans and Anatolia. Springer, Dordrecht, 119-138.

Sakellariou, D. & Galanidou, N. 2016. Pleistocene submerged landscapes and Palaeolithic archaeology in the tectonically active Aegean region. In: Harff, J., Baily, G. & Lüth, F. (eds.), Geology and Archaeology: Submerged Landscapes of the Continental Shelf. Geological Society, London, Special Publications, 411(1), 145-178 (published online July 2015).

Galanidou, N. 2014. Advances in the Palaeolithic and Mesolithic archaeology of Greece for the new millennium. Pharos, 20(1), 1-40.

Galanidou, N., Cole, J., Iliopoulos, G., McNabb, J. 2013. East meets West: the Middle Pleistocene site of Rodafnidia on Lesvos, Greece. Antiquity, 87(336).

Galanidou, N. 2013. Looking for the first inhabitants of the Aegean: The Palaeolithic excavation at Rodafnidia Lisvori on Lesbos. In: Alvanou Μ. (ed.) Island Identities. Mytilene, 15-17.

Relevant PhD/Μaster’s/Undergraduate dissertations

Beka. G. 2018. Human origins and evolution and local identity: the contribution of Palaeolithic archaeology. Graduate dissertation, Department of History and Archaeology, University of Crete (in greek).

Karkazi, E. 2018. Raw materials used for the production of knapped stone tools in Palaeolithic Greece: properties, sources and economy. PhD Dissertation. Department of History and Archaeology, University of Crete (in greek).

Papadaki, A. 2015. Stratigraphic and micropalaeontological study of Pleistocene sediments from the Palaeolithic site, Rodafnidia, Lisvori, Lesvos Island. Undergraduate dissertation, Geology Department, University of Patras (in greek).

Tsakanikou, P. 2020. Hominin movement and occupation spatial patterns in Eastern and North-Eastern Mediterranean during the Lower Palaeolithic: the Aegean Perspective. Center for the Archaeology of Human Origins, University of Southampton.

Relevant publications

Boëda, E. 1994. Le concept Levallois: variabilité des méthodes. Monographie du CRA 9. CNRS, Paris.

Carbonell, E. & Mosquera, M. 2006. The emergence of a symbolic behaviour: the sepulchral pit of Sima de los Huesos, Sierra de Atapuerca, Burgos, Spain. Comptes Rendus Palevol, 5(1-2), 155-160.

Clark, G. 1969. World Prehistory: A New Synthesis. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

Cook, J. 2013. Ice Age Art: arrival of the Modern Mind. The British Museum Press, London.

Goren-Inbar, N., Alperson-Afil, N., Gonen, S., Herzinger, G. 2018. The Acheulian Site of Gesher Benot Ya‘aqov Volume IV: The Lithic Assemblages. Springer.

Harisis, H.B, Durand, P., Axiotis, M., Harisis, T.B. 2000. Traits of Palaeolithic Settlement on Lesbos. Archaeology and Arts, 76, 83–87 (in Greek)

Kohn, Μ. & Mithen, S. 1999. Handaxes: Products of Sexual Selection? Antiquity, 73, 518-526.

Kuman, K. 2014. Acheulean Industrial Complex. In: Smith, C. (ed.) Encyclopedia of Global Archaeology. Springer, New York. DOI:

Roe, D. 1981. The Lower and Middle Palaeolithic Periods in Britain. Routledge & Kegan Paul, London.

Sharon, G. & Beaumont, P. 2006. Victoria West: a highly standardized prepared core technology. In: Goren-Inbar, N. & Sharon, G. (eds.), Axe age: Acheulian toolmaking from Quarry to Discard. Equinox, London, 181-200.

Sharon, G. 2007. Acheulian Large Flake Industries: Technology, Chronology and Significance. British Archaeological Reports IS 1701.Oxford.

Stout, D., Bril, B., Roux, V., DeBeaune, S., Gowlett, J., Keller, C., Stout, D. 2002. Skill and cognition in stone tool production: an ethnographic case study from Irian Jaya. Current anthropology, 43(5), 693-722.

Wynn, T. & Gowlett, J. 2018. The handaxe reconsidered. Evolutionary Anthropology, 27(1), 21-29.


Conferences – Seminars

Knowledge diffusion (scientific audiences)

2020

The Acheulean archaeology of Lesbos, Greece and the Aegean corridors connecting east and west Eurasia, N. Galanidou, Down Ancient Trails: Archaeology Forum, Sharma Center for Heritage Education, India, June 2020

2019

Archaeological research and insular societies in the Aegean, G. Beka, N. Galanidou, Archaeological Dialogues, 5th Meeting – Thalasso-Geographies: Sea Routes, Flows, Networks, University of Thessaly, Volos, May 2019

Local Communities and Heritage Management: Ethnoarchaeology as Agency, G. Beka, P. Zervoudakis, Sense and Sustainability International Conference on Archaeology and Tourism, Zagreb, May 2019

2018

Memories, Space and Palaeolithic Archaeology Μνήμες: preliminary results of an ethnographic approach, G. Beka, 24th Pan-Hellenic Postgraduate Intensive Seminar -Conference: Methodological Issues in Social Sciences Research, University of Crete, November 2018

Acheuleans in the Aegean Neanderthals in the Ionian Sea: A view from SE Europe, N. Galanidou, The Prehistoric Society Europa Conference 2018 – Coastal Archaeology in Prehistory, A conference celebrating the achievements of Professor Geoff Bailey in the field of European prehistory, University of York, UK, June 2018

Middle Pleistocene raw- material procurement and use in the Aegean: a view from the Acheulean of Lesbos, N. Galanidou, E. Karkazi, A. Magganas, UISPP, XVIII Colloque, Université Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne, Paris, France, June 2018

Palaeolithic archaeology and submerged landscapes in Greece: The current state of the art, N. Galanidou, A. Zavitsanou, P. Tsakanikou, D. Sakellariou, UISPP, XVIII Colloque, Université Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne, Paris, France, June 2018

2017

The Middle Pleistocene archaeology of Lesbos, N. Galanidou, Quaternary Interglacials, 3ο International Workshop: Interglacials of the 41kyr-world and the Middle Pleistocene Transition, Molivos, Lesbos, August 2017

2016

Sea and Land during the Tertiary and the archaeology of early dispersals, N. Galanidou, 3rd International Geo-Cultural Symposium “Samaria 2016”, Centre of Mediterranean Architecture, Chania, May 2016

Lesvos half million years ago: archaeological evidence from Rodafnidia, Lisvori, N. Galanidou, Palaeolithic Seminar, National and Kapodistrian University of Athens, Athens, March 2016

2015

Towards an insular Palaeolithic Archaeology. Sea and Land during the Pleistocene. Ν. Galanidou, Island Interdisciplinary Workshop: Islands and Islanders in the Aegean and the Mediterranean. Island worlds during a long geo-cultural spectrum, in honour of Émile Kolodny, University of Crete, Rethymno, December 2015

Lower Palaeolithic Rodafnidia: lithic raw material provenance and petrography, E. Karkazi, A. Magganas, A. Katerinopoulos, G. Iliopoulos, N. Galanidou, 2nd International Geo-Cultural Symposium “Sigri 2015”, University of the Aegean, Lesbos, June 2015

Archaeological discovery on the Aegean shelf, N. Galanidou, International European Maritime Day Conference – Maritime Cultural Heritage and Blue Growth: What’s the Connection, Megaron the Athens Concert Hall, May 2015

Middle Pleistocene Hominids in Greece: a view from the Acheulean site of Rodafnidia on Lesvos, N. Galanidou, Seminar, British School at Athens, Athens, May 2015

Middle Pleistocene Hominins at the doorstep of Europe: The Acheulean Site of Rodafnidia on Lesvos, Greece, N. Galanidou, PalMeso Semimar, Dept. of Archaeology, University of Cambridge, UK, March 2015

Public engagement with the ancient world in Greece: Limitations and prospects, Ν. Galanidou, Material Cultures in Public Engagement: European Perspectives on public engagements with collections of the Ancient World, Fitzwilliam Museum, University of Cambridge, UK, March 2015

Middle Pleistocene Hominins on the Eastern Doorstep of Europe: The Acheulean Site of Rodafnidia on Lesvos, Greece, N. Galanidou, The York Seminars, Dept. of Archaeology, University of York, UK, March 2015

2014

Τhe Acheulean site at Rodafnidia, Lisvori on Lesvos, Greece, Ν. Galanidou, European Acheuleans. Northern v. Southern Europe: Hominins, technical behaviour, chronological and environmental contexts, Natural History Museum Paris, France, November 2014

New Palaeolithic Research in the Aegean and Ionian Seas: Implications for Dispersal and Underwater Research, Ν. Galanidou, DISPERSE Project. Dynamic Landscapes, Coastal Environments and Human Dispersals, Hellenic Centre for Marine Research, Anavyssos, November 2014

From Africa to the Aegean: The first human evidence from Greece, Ν. Galanidou, Darwin Monday, Natural History Museum, University of Crete, Heraklion, October 2014

Lower Palaeolithic research where Asia meets Europe: The Acheulean Rodafnidia on Lesvos, Greece, N. Galanidou, Seminar, Institut de Paléontologie Humaine, Natural History Museum Paris, France, September 2014

Cherts and prehistoric artifacts: first petrological results from new findings in Meganisi island, Lefkas and Rodafnidia, Lisvori, Lesvos, Greece, Α. Magganas, Ν. Galanidou, P. Xatzibaloglou, G. Iliopoulos, Α. Κaterinopoulos, International Symposium – Coastal Landscapes, Mining Activities & Preservation of Cultural Heritage, Milos, School of Geology and Geoenvironment, National and Kapodistrian University of Athens, September 2014

The Quaternary Sea: Α linking thread in early human travels in the Aegean Basin, Ν. Galanidou, Archaeology of the Sea International Conference co-organised by the Greek Ministry of Culture, the Free University of Brussels (ULB) and the Catholic University of Leuven, complementing the Nautilus exhibition, Navigating Greece, Royal Museums Brussels, March 2014

2013

Pleistocene Submerged Landscapes and Palaeolithic Archaeology in the Tectonically Active Aegean Region, D. Sakellariou, Ν. Galanidou, Under the Sea: Archaeology and Palaeolandscapes, University of Szczecin, Poland, September 2013

Looking for the palaeolithic humans and hominins of the Aegean and Ionian Seas, Ν. Galanidou, Workshop. Archaeological research and training in the University of Crete. Methods, evidence, evaluations, perspectives, University of Crete, Rethymno, May 2013.

Looking the first inhabitants of the Aegean: the Palaeolithic excavation in Rodafnidia, Lisvori, Lesbos, Ν. Galanidou, Island Identities. The contribution of the Secretariat General for the Aegean and Island Policy in the research and promotion of the archipelagic cultures.  Secretariat General for the Aegean and Island Policy, Museum of Cycladic Art, Athens, April 2013

Palaeolithic research where east meets west, Rodafnidia on Lesvos, NE Aegean Sea, Ν. Galanidou, J. McNabb, G. Iliopoulos, J. Cole, European Palaeolithic Conference, British Museum, London, February 2013

2012

Excavating Rodafnidia, an Acheulean open air-site on Lesvos, NE Aegean Sea, Ν. Galanidou, J. McNabb, G. Iliopoulos, J. Cole, Human Evolution in the Southern Balkans, University of Tübingen, Germany, December 2012


The finds

The archaeological finds from Rodafnidia include stone tools, flakes, and cores from different variants of the Acheulean technological tradition. This industry includes a remarkable number of Large Cutting Tools, handaxes, trihedrals and cleavers. Beyond lithic finds only a few micro-fossil remains, visible under the microscope, have been identified through water-sieving and sediment flotation: the ostracods Candona neglecta και Iliocypris gibba, rodent tooth fragments (taxa Cricetidae, Arvicolidae), gastropod shell fragments and charophyte gyrogonites. The presence of ostracods and charophyte gyrogonites is indicative of freshwater environments in Rodafnidia. Organic remains are exceedingly rare; hence the chemical composition of the sediments and the depositional history of the site do not favour preservation.  

The large Acheulean assemblage from Lesbos is the first ever to be found in southeastern Europe. The earliest evidence for this technological tradition is dated to 1.76 million years ago in Kokiselei, Kenya, and 1.7 million years ago in Konso, Ethiopia (Kuman, 2014). The name “Acheulean” was given by Gabriel de Mortillet in 1869 after the site of Saint-Acheul in France. The characteristic tool component of this tradition is the Large Cutting Tools, which were added to and enriched the existing core and flake stone-tool tradition spectrum. In Graham Clark’s (1969) categorisation, the Acheulean is described as “Mode II”. It is the longest-lasting technological innovation in human history, surviving for 1.5 million years. The Acheulean technology accompanied early hominins in their first out of Africa dispersal events and the initial colonisation of Eurasia. The geographic distribution of the Acheulean covers the full extent of the known world during the Lower Palaeolithic, from South Africa to Britain and from Iberia to China. This is also the earliest technology used by the first inhabitants of the Aegean on Lesbos.

The Acheulean industry from the Kalloni Gulf presents a remarkable variability in size and end products, capable of providing textbook illustrations of the full range of Acheulean stone tools. Operational sequences identified in the material from Rodafnidia reflect three knapping operations. The first includes operational sequences aimed to produce core tools through the modification of the raw material. Also known as façonnage, this operation produces Large Cutting Tools, chopping tools and debitage products (flakes, debris, knapping accidents). The second operation encompasses relatively short, unelaborate sequences with technical actions aimed for flake removal from cores with one or two rectangular striking platforms. Flakes, the circular or oval detached pieces, would be then modified into Large Cutting Tools with appropriate knapping, unifacial (one side of the object) or bifacial (both sides of the object). The third knapping operation includes flake tools whose blanks have been detached from prepared cores.  Operations two and three belong to the debitage methods.

Who were the knappers and users of the Lesbos Palaeolithic tools? To date, no palaeoanthropological remains have been found on the island that could offer an answer. In Africa, Homo ergaster has been identified as the earliest species connected to the Acheulean (in Sterkfontein, South Africa, and in Daka, Ethiopia, fossil remains of Homo ergaster have been found in association with Acheulean stone tools). In Eurasia Homo erectus was initially the bearer of this tradition. Later on, in Africa and Eurasia Homo heidelbergensis also produced Acheulean industries (in Bodo, Ethiopia, Elandsfontein in South Africa, Ndutu in Tanzania, and Broken Hill in Zambia, Homo heidelbergensis remains have been found in association with Acheulean stone tools).   

In terms of function, Large Cutting Tools have been classed as pick, cleaver and handaxe, and in terms of shape, as uniface (modification only on one face), biface (modification on both faces) and trihedral (sharp tip is formed by the convergence of three planes). The pick is a large, crude tool with a plano-convex or triangular cross section, and a thick, robust sharp tip. The cleaver is a bifacial tool made on a large flake. Its distal dorsal face, the bit, is a surface vertically or laterally positioned in relation to the long axis of the object, which ends in a large and transversal cutting-edge,  similar to that of a modern metal cleaver.        

The handaxe is a symmetrical or almost symmetrical tool with centripetal flaking on both faces organized to manage two convexes surfaces. The active, distal part has a sharp tip shaped by the convergence of the two lateral edges, while the non-active proximal part usually fits into a human hand. A handaxe can be made either by knapping the raw material nodule (pebble, cobble, or plaquette), or by modifying a large flake. Initially handaxes were knapped exclusively using a hard hammer, but from 800,000 years ago onwards soft hammers of antler, bone, or wood, have been used for the final retouch.  

As a multi-purpose tool operated by the human hand at close range, a  handaxe may be envisioned as the Middle Pleistocene analogue of  the  modern-day smartphone. Its ergonomics may be one of the reasons for  the wide geographical distribution of this tool over two-thirds of the Palaeolithic  world and its longevity in the history of technology. In its wide spatio-temporal range, the handaxe presents variation in size and shape (almond-shaped, ovate in plan view or flat and tabular forms  versus thick ones in 3D view) (Key, 2019); occasionally there are examples of anti-ergonomic, oversized forms (Wynn & Gowlett, 2018).   

The ability of early hominins to conceive the idea of the symmetrical, bifacial handaxe and actualise it, stems from the social and cultural context. It attests to a cognitive leap related to the development of symbolic and geometric thought. Aside from its use strictly as a cutting and chopping tool, the handaxe was also used as a medium for expressing thoughts and transferring messages (Cook, 2013). Many scholars argue that the handmade symmetry was triggered by the aesthetic quest and fulfilled the need for communication. Many interpretations have been proposed, not necessarily overlapping. Handaxes may have been used as a means of sexual display and for attracting mating partners (Kohn & Mithen, 1999); or as a symbol of identity of a person or of a group (Carbonell & Mosquera, 2006); or as evidence of the knapping skill (Stout et al., 2002) or other qualities of its bearer (Roe, 1981). Even though stone is a hard material, it can gradually be transformed into a malleable matter in which the ability to plan can be captured, along with technical decision-making and actualisation, satisfying the human need for social interaction and status.

In the Acheulean tradition a major novelty appears: the preparation of the core in such a way that the final product would be a detached piece in a predetermined shape. The origins of this trait were first identified in the industries of Victoria West in South Africa (Sharon & Beaumont, 2006), while a large Levallois core made on basalt was unearthed at the archaeological site of Gesher Benet Ya’aqov (GBY) on the Jordan riverbank in Israel, dated to 780,000 years ago (Goren-Inbar, 2018). These finds suggest a conceptual correlation between handaxe production and the Levallois technique (Boëda, 1994), which was to spearhead innovation during the following stage, and was long considered to be a Neanderthal breakthrough.

Dating

Relative (stratigraphy, technomorphological analysis of lithics, identification of micro-fossils, palynology) and absolute dating methods (pIRIR, palaeomagnetism) have been used in combination to establish the chronology of the Lower Palaeolithic settlement on Lesbos. Four samples from the Rodafnidia trenches have been analysed at the National Centre of Scientific Research DEMOKRITOS, Athens, using the post infrared stimulated luminescence pIRIR method, and the Thiel et al. (2011) protocol, and published in Galanidou et al., 2016. According to the resulting dates, the fluvio-lacustrine depositional units where the stone tools are excavated were last exposed to solar radiation between 476 and 164 thousand years ago, before they were covered by other deposits. Consequently, these dates provide a terminus ante quem for the activity of hominin groups in southwestern Lesbos. The chronology is in agreement with the technological and typological features of the archaeological finds.

Geology – Stratigraphy – Palaeogeography

Geology

The substrate of the Rodafnidia Quaternary deposits consists of ignimbrite, the product of pyroclastic pumice flow released during the volcanic activity of the Early Miocene (23-16 My). The hill is bordered to the north by a small stream and to the west by a larger stream, which is fed by the hot springs of Lisvori. The two streams meet northwest of the hill and flow into the Kalloni Gulf, east of the Polichnitos salt pans. In the southern and western sides of the hill, a small gorge has been shaped on the ignimbrite floor, due to tectonics and the flow of the stream. The terrain there is steep and rocky. The northern side of the hill presents a smooth relief with low inclination.

The Palaeolithic hominins lived around an alluvial plain. Across this plain a drainage system for the basin was established. During the lowering of the sea level, the river channels caused deep erosion and pebbles were deposited in their beds (high energy). On the contrary, during the rising of the sea level, fine clastic material was deposited as the area was transformed into a floodplain. By the end of the Middle Pleistocene, due to the tectonic regime, a network of normal and strike-slip faults resulted in rotational movement of blocks. The Rodafnidia hill was created due to the uplift and rotation of such a fault block, which was uplifted to the SE and subsided to the NW.  On the south side of the hill, the tertiary sediments have been eroded and the ignimbrite substrate of the archaeological site is visible, while on the north “subsided” side tertiary deposits have been preserved, including the Middle Pleistocene layers with the Palaeolithic artefacts.

Stratigraphy

Geological analyses and the study of the stratigraphic sequence in Rodafnidia allow the reconstruction of an extensive hydrological network of larger and smaller rivers and streams flowing through this area. During glacial periods, when arid conditions prevailed and the sea level dropped, coarse-grained sediments were deposited into this system, deeply incising the palaeo-riverbeds. During the interglacials, on the contrary, the climate was warmer but wetter, and with the rising sea level the area was flooded and covered with fine-grained sediments, progressively transforming into an alluvial plain. The identification of these successive units, coarse-grained sediments during glacials and fine-grained sediments during interglacials, within the sequence enables the correlation of stratified archaeological finds with their palaeoenvironments, following the succession of the climatic cycles (glacials-interglacials).

Palaeogeography

Various strands of the research project reveal that southwestern Lesbos not only provided a crossing for the dispersing hominins of the Lower Palaeolithic across the heart of Eurasia but also an area for settlement. The remarkable archaeological visibility here is largely the result of consistent preference by the Acheulean hominins for physiogeographic characteristics such as: the volcanic landscape, which is dotted with hot springs and volcanic rocks; the complex topography with steep rocky formations and higher observation points; and the extensive hydrological network and variable water-fed habitats opening to the impressive Kalloni Basin and Vatera.

During the Middle Pleistocene (780-125 thousand years Before Present), and during the Quaternary period in general, the palaeogeography of Lesbos and the entire Aegean region was subject to alterations due to complex geological processes. Tectonic and volcanic activity along with the effects of eustatic change, leading to gradual but continuous sea-level changes, cause ongoing landscape transformation.  

For long periods during the glacials of the Quaternary, the coastal areas of the Aegean expanded as sea levels dropped. Islands were then connected to each other or to the adjacent coasts. During the glacial lowstands, Lesbos was connected to the western coast of Asia Minor by land bridges, now submerged, allowing terrestrial species such as reptiles and mammals, including primates and hominins, to disperse and occupy the island. The latter is confirmed by the fossil remains of terrestrial vertebrate fauna, purely continental, found at the Vatera sites and dated to the beginning of the Pleistocene. This palaeontological assemblage includes among other species the primate Paradolichopithecus arvernensis, the canid Nyctereutes megamastoides, the rhinoceros Stephanorhinus cf. etruscus, the giraffe Palaeotragus cf. inexpectatus and the giant turtle Geochelone atlas. The relatively smooth seabed of the Mytilene strait seems to be the most likely passage; a 50m sea-level drop would connect the island with Anatolia and turn it into a western extension of the Asian coastline.  

During periods of lower sea level the two large basins of the island, the Gulf of Kalloni and the Gulf of Gera, were disconnected from the sea. Palaeogeographic evidence suggests that throughout the Middle Pleistocene the gulfs were transformed into huge lakes of brackish and progressively fresh water, attracting animals and hominins. In addition, southwestern Lesbos is covered to a significant degree by volcanic rocks such as ignimbrites, basalts, dacites, andesites, and other rock types such as cherts. The latter are secondary products of geothermal origin, resulting from the Early Miocene volcanism and were abundant in the vicinity of Lisvori-Rodafnidia. Both types of rock were used by Middle Pleistocene hominins for stone tool knapping. To judge from other eastern African and western Asian records, coterminous with the Lisvori-Rodafnidia record, the volcanic landscape of this part of the island presented a familiar setting for the hominins to adapt to and live in.

Archaeological Fieldwork

The activity in the field includes surface survey, excavation, geological mapping and geophysical prospection conducted at Rodafnidia and underwater in the Gulf of Kalloni and the sea south of Lesbos. The extensive scatter of Palaeolithic artefacts in Rodafnidia requires a field research strategy founded upon four pillars.

The first is the systematic investigation of the surface around the Kalloni Gulf and along the river valleys connecting the gulf with southern Lesbos to map the distribution of archaeological remains. Emphasis is placed on the identification of outcropping layers with Palaeolithic artefacts or Pleistocene faunal remains. The appraisal of local distributions and find densities at this stage is helping to define the area of interest in spatial terms and to document the variety of habitats on Lesbos that would have been available to the Palaeolithic groups.

The second pillar consists of the opening of deep sounding trenches to identify the stratigraphic sequence, namely sondage.  At this stage, information is obtained on the geological and depositional history of the study area. 35 such trenches have been opened in Rodafnidia and Lisvori.

Horizontal excavation is conducted in places where anthropogenic remains can be identified – the third pillar of the fieldwork. In Rodafnidia, four such archaeological trenches have been opened following the principles of grands décapages. The provenance (vertical and horizontal) of the Palaeolithic remains is documented using satellite systems for recording coordinates. Sampling is also conducted to date the archaeological sequence and study the soil micromorphology, the micropalaeontology and the sedimentology. The trenches of interest opened during sondage and décapage are backfilled using geotextile and polyesterine blocks, topped by cobbles and loose earth from the excavation debris.

The archaeological investigation of the sub-surface at the heart of the archaeological site is complemented and guided by geophysical inspection methods. Geoelectrical sounding and tomography was used to capture the roof of the ignimbrite, which forms the geological background of the site, and to define the extent of the overlying clastic fluvial formation that includes the Palaeolithic remains.  

The fourth pillar of the research program is geological fieldwork on-shore and geophysical-geological survey off-shore conducted by geoscientists and oceanographers, in order to map the faults, assess the vertical and horizontal offsets they have created, reconstruct the history of the landscape and coastline of the Kalloni Gulf and southern Lesbos and to detect the sources of the raw material used in the Palaeolithic stone tool assemblages. 

The second and third pillars, investigating the sub-surface, inform the archaeology of the site, namely Onsite Archaeology, while the first and fourth pillars inform the archaeology of the landscape, namely Offsite Archaeology.    

Timeline

The recent history of the archaeological site begins in 2000, when Haris Harisis and Makis Axiotis, two gifted medical doctors with a wider interest in natural and cultural history, visited Rodafnidia to produce a plan of the 19th-century watermill. The carefree mood of the Sunday field trip was accompanied by the observation that the recently ploughed olive grove to the south of the mill was dotted with knapped tools made on chert, volcanic glass, andesite, and basalt. That same year they published the study “Traits of Palaeolithic Settlement on Lesbos”, identifying four different cultural traditions in the stone tool assemblage from Rodafnidia: an Acheulean, a Proto-Levallois, a Levallois, and a blade industry. They also recorded the absence of traces on the surface of the tools – which would have indicated transportation by waterflow – suggesting that the artefacts had been knapped in situ (Harisis et al., 2000).

Nine years later, in October 2009, Makis Axiotis drives his blue Volkswagen to Rodafnidia with two passengers, Nena Galanidou and Chronis Tzedakis. Throughout the ride, the driver is bursting with enthusiasm for his birthplace. He describes every plant and rock in scientific detail. The first reconnaissance of Rodafnidia leaves no doubt that the doctors’ diagnosis was right. Close to the water mill, a prepared-core stone tool industry is discerned, while earlier Large Cutting Tools predominate on the central and higher parts of the hill. Many of the latter are built within the drystone walls that delimit the plots of land or encircle the roots of the olive trees, providing heavy stones to keep the nets in place during the olive harvest. On the way to the site the only enthusiastic person was the driver. On the way back, the vehicle was transformed into an air balloon filled with euphoria caused by the extraordinary discovery.

In November 2010, Nena Galanidou returns to Rodafnidia with a small team to conduct a surface survey in the olive grove. As she prepares the application to the Greek Ministry of Culture for the official permit to start a systematic archaeological excavation, she is also mapping the area of interest. The autumn rains have transformed Rodafnidia into a green wetland, and walking is a struggle for the members of the team, as their ankle-boots are weighed down by thick layers of mud. Colour contrasts over the wet land make it easier to trace surface finds. The team collects handaxes and cleavers, confirming the important presence of the Acheulean tradition at Rodafnidia. Another interesting find during this brief investigation is the absence of pottery. Michalis Spyridakis will plot on the map the boundaries of the spatial distribution of artefacts. This is only the beginning.

During the fieldwork, George Karastamatis, the owner of the only livestock farm in Rodafnidia, approaches the team and asks: “What are you looking for, lasses?” The sign on  the wall of his farm reads “the dog bytes”, but the loud sheepdog, Black, eagerly responds to our gentle calls. George and his family, along with lonely Black – who until spring 2019 was the sleepless guardian of the archaeological site – were the first friends that the team made in Lisvori.

In June 2011, in Mr. Panagiotis Hatzipanagiotis’ coffee shop in the marketplace of Lisvori, Mayor Dimitris Vounatsos has called a public meeting. Nena Galanidou, accompanied by Deputy Mayor Nikos Katranis, unfolds her vision for research centred on the Rodafnidia site.  The “market”, the main square of the village, is mainly men’s territory and the presence of a woman there is intriguing. The original scepticism towards the archaeologist is followed by surprise and questions. Can this land really be hiding such secrets? “What I’m asking of you is to simply let me dig in your land for a few months every year. I promise that I will return it to you exactly as I received it. Please help me to uncover what the sub-surface holds and maybe one day we can all dream together of a different future.”  The gathering draws to a close with smiles full of hope.   

In August-September 2012, the University of Crete undertook the first research fieldwork season. More were to follow in May and June 2013, July-August 2014, August-September 2015, and August-September 2016, completing the first five-year field research campaign. 

In 2017 the research permit was renewed for five more years (2017-2021) over the following seasons: August-September 2017, July-August 2018, August-September 2019, July and October-November 2020.

Rodafnidia

Rodafnidia is a low hill at the western foot of the Lisvori village, close to the hot springs of Ai-Giannis and only a kilometre from the southeastern shore of the Kalloni Gulf.  Palaeolithic finds are recovered from the sub-surface in old fluvial deposits and the surface due to uplift – resulting from tectonic activity – and erosion of the deposits.

Ongoing excavation in different Lisvori localities and the study of the archaeological material reveal a complex depositional history. Distinctive events of deposition, transportation and redeposition of artefacts have been identified, starting at least half a million years ago.  In Rodafnidia, archaeological finds are recovered from layers containing coarse-grained sediments, corresponding to depositions on the bed of the fluvial channels during the glacial periods. This is the result of redeposition of eroded older layers. Archaeological material embedded in these layers was carried away by water and redeposited in lower areas of an alluvial plain. The Acheulean tool-using groups lived around this alluvial plain opening into the large and shallow basin of the modern Kalloni Gulf. They created, used, and discarded stone tools on the banks of streams. These aquatic routes led to the Kalloni basin and to sheltered areas over the ignimbrite formations by the hot springs which must have acted as a landmark.      

A 19th-century watermill is situated on the western side of the foothill. Remnants of the mill race in two adjacent fields indicate the westward migration of the nearby stream during the last century. To the east of the watermill, a fountain lies hidden under dense vegetation cover. An ignimbrite quarry to the south of the Hatzoglou property completes the record of monuments on the hill. Ignimbrite has been widely used as building material in traditional local architecture.

The toponym Rodafnidia refers to the oleanders (Nerium oleander), the characteristic plant that used to grow on the hill. Today Rodafnidia is a massive olive grove, and one of the olive-growing centres for the residents of Lisbori and Polichnitos. The flora of the hill includes a great variety of trees such as pistachio (Pistacia atlantica), almond-leaved pear (Pyrus spinosa), white oak (Quercus pubescens), kermes oak (Quercus coccifera) and chaste tree (Vitex agnus castus); bushes and brushwood such as mastic (Pistacia lentiscus), rockrose (Cistus incanus), topped lavender (Lavandula stoechas), wild asparagus (Asparagus acutifolius), osyris (Osyris alba), thorny burnet (Sarcopoterium spinosum); thistles (Carlina corymbosa, Centaurea solstitialis, Carthamus dentatus, Carthamus lanatus, Scolymus hispanicus); flowers such as curled-leaved St. John’s-wort (Hypericum triquetrifolium) and cephalaria (Cephalaria transylvanica). The hill is crossed and divided by a farm track running east to west. On either side of that route the land tenures are defined by low stone walls called ‘setia’ in the local dialect.

The Project

The Palaeolithic Lesbos Project investigates the early settlement of the Aegean region. Since 2012 it has been conducted by the University of Crete in collaboration with other universities and research institutions in Greece and abroad. Research aims to explore the essentials of prehistoric activity of at least the past 500,000 years through systematic excavation conducted at Rodafnidia, an open-air site in the Kalloni Gulf, strategically located close to the Lisvori thermal springs.

Archaeological excavation unveils a lithic industry having Acheulean affinities. Lower Palaeolithic cores, flakes and tools, among which a great number of Large Cutting Tools, have also been discovered during surface survey along the axes connecting Vasilika – Lisvori – Nifida and Polichnitos – Vatera. They are testimonies to the wide spatial range of hominin activity around Lisbori, across the Kalloni basin and southern Lesbos. The project adds a new piece to the still incomplete puzzle of the early Palaeolithic world, at the heart of Eurasia, at the very point where Asia meets Europe, the northeastern Aegean.  

Palaeolithic Lesbos investigates the following questions:

  • The Lisvori-Rodafnidia site-formation.
  • The chronology of hominin dispersals and the duration of hominin presence on the island of Lesbos.
  • The geographic range, the habitats, and the nature of the Palaeolithic settlement on Lesbos. The Acheulean industry remains unprecedented to date in terms of spatial distribution and density in southeast Europe and the northeast Mediterranean.
  • The biogeographical role of the island of Lesbos and the Aegean region in the early hominin dispersals from Africa to Eurasia and vice versa during the Middle Pleistocene.

The Palaeolithic Lesbos Project is part of world research on human origins and evolution, gathering valuable archaeological information on technology, lifeways, and settlement patterns of the Middle Pleistocene Aegean groups. It enriches the current discussion on the early colonisation of Europe and migration to Eurasia with stratified material, dated by absolute and relative methods. The Aegean region emerges as a new locus of great and thus far underestimated importance, connecting the Anatolian with the Balkan Peninsula. During periods of low sea level, the Aegean basin is envisioned to have offered a rich variety of coastal resources attractive to mammal and hominin populations. This vital space, which now lies underwater over the Aegean seabed, operated during the Middle Pleistocene as a land bridge that opened and closed following the successive climatic cycles and the subsequent eustatic and tectonic changes. Archaeologists team up with valuable partners from archaeometry, oceanography, and the geosciences to examine the Lower Palaeolithic record against palaeoenvironmental and palaeoclimatic change and gain new knowledge on the history of the prehistoric Aegean.