|22 July 2007
Ancient mariner tools found in Cyprus
Archaeologists in Cyprus have discovered what they believe could be the oldest evidence yet that organized groups of ancient mariners were plying the east Mediterranean, possibly as far back as 14,000 years ago. The find could also suggest the island of Cyprus, tucked in the northeast corner of the Mediterranean and about 30 miles away from the closest land mass, may have been gradually populated about that time, and up to 2,000 years earlier than previously thought.
"This is a major breakthrough in terms of the study of early Cyprus archaeology and the origins of seafaring in the Mediterranean," Pavlos Flourentzos, director of Cyprus's Department of Antiquities, said. The discovery at a coastal site on the island's northwest has revealed pre-Neolithic chipped tools submerged in the sea and made with local stone which could be the earliest trace yet of human activity in Cyprus. The most significant finds were located in water about 33 feet deep and about 330 feet offshore.
U.S. and Cypriot archaeologists conducting the research have known since 2004 that Cyprus was used by small groups of voyagers on hunting expeditions for pygmy elephants. But the newly discovered expanse of the Aspros dig in the Akamas peninsula, which stretches into the sea, suggests the site held larger numbers of people, possibly for months. Archaeologists say the first human settlements in Cyprus date from 10,000 BCE and are located inland. Logically, the coastal settlements should be older, and in Aspros dig case where a good deal of it is now in the sea, possibly up to 2,000 years older.
The Aspros site now extends more than 820 feet along the top of a cliff on the north side of the dry Aspros River bed, the archaeologists said. "All of what we see on the land is just a tip of the iceberg of what is in the water," said Colgate University's Albert J. Ammerman, the survey's director. Virtually nothing is known about Mediterranean mariners of the era.
There is a widely held belief they never ventured into open seas because of limited navigational abilities. However, Cyprus first settlers are thought to have sailed from present-day Syria and Turkey, at least 46 miles north and east of the island. The dawn of seafaring in the region has been put at around 9,500 BCE from evidence found 20 years ago at Aetokremnos, on Cyprus' southern Akrotiri peninsula. The finds indicate these early wanderers traveled more widely, and more frequently, than was previously believed, outside experts say. The tools found at Aspros and Ayia Napa are similar to those found at Akrotiri, though precise dating must still be verified through radiocarbon tests, which are in progress. The era in question coincided with a climatic cold snap known as the Younger Dryas — dated roughly 11,600-12,800 years ago — when the sea level was some 200-230 feet lower. Rising seas subsequently submerged much of the ancient coast.
Sources: Reuters (18 July 2007), Associated Press (19 July 2007)
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