About a year ago I wrote about an amazing, seafaring find on the Greek island of Crete. In that post I discussed the possibility of people in some form of seafaring craft landing on the island as long as 130,000 years ago. At the time, this seemed almost miraculous. The anthropologist in me fairly sang. You see, she wanted to say; our ancestors weren’t knuckle dragging grub eaters. They made tools and boats and sailed away to parts unknown, a feat as brave as any in history. I shouldn’t have gotten so excited.
Not until now that is. According to this Associated Press article, an archaeological team made up of professionals from the American School of Classical Studies at Athens and the Greek Culture Ministry has found tools, including axes, which appear to be between 130,000 and 700,000 years old. The tools were found on the southern side of the island in cave overhangs and rock shelters near the village of Plakias.
Putting the numbers into perspective, accepted anthropological thought states that humans, most probably in the form of Homo Erectus, walked out of Africa across existing land bridges to the Middle East. From there they split off, some heading for Asia, others for Europe. While this migration certainly began to take place before the earliest possible date of the tools found on Crete, even the most debated theories of sea travel don’t start their postulation for people afloat in their own craft prior to 60,000 years ago. However, since Crete has been an island for roughly five million years, it looks like a few perceptions might need to change.
Judging from the dating of the tools, the archaeologists speculate that the very early mariners on Crete were either Homo Erectus or possibly Heidelberg Man, an artist’s rendering of whom is shown at the header. Both early human groups were good with tools but, until actual human fossils are found, it’s all speculation. What isn’t speculation is that tools from a much earlier date than anyone thought possible have been found on an island that was at least forty miles from any shore at that time. Unless our hominid ancestors merrily flew around with jet packs strapped to their probably hairy backs, that’s pretty good evidence for sailors.
According to the article, the combined archaeological team has applied to the Greek authorities for permission to excavate in the areas where the tools were found. They hope to have a positive response later this year. With luck, perhaps we’ll know more – maybe even a lot more – by this time next year. For now it seems safe to say that humans are natural explores and that where ever they have met water, someone spoke up and said: “I know, let’s build a boat and see what’s on the other side.” Or something to that effect.
Header: Heidelberg Man via bartleby.com