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.