| 8 November 2010
Archaeologists uncover early Neolithic activity on Cyprus
The early prehistory of human civilization on Cyprus may end up being rewritten by archaeologisits from Cornell University who have uncovered evidence that hunter-gatherers began to form agricultural settlements on the island half a millennium earlier than previously believed. Students began with pedestrian surveys of promising sites in 2005 and have since assisted with fieldwork on Cyprus led by professor of classics Sturt Manning, director of Cornell's archaeology program on a project called 'Elaborating the Early Neolithic on Cyprus' (EENC).
"Up until two decades ago, nobody thought anybody had gone to Cyprus before about 8,000 years ago, and the island was treated as irrelevant to the development of the Neolithic in the Near East," Manning stated. "Then Alan Simmons discovered a couple of sites that seemed to suggest Epipaleolithic peoples went there maybe about 12,000 or 13,000 years ago, much earlier than anyone had thought possible. The big question started to become in the field, well, what happened in between?" Subsequent finds pushed the Neolithic evidence on Cyprus back to approximately 10,000 years ago, but "no one has been able to fill in a 2,000-year gap between this possible first evidence of humans ever going near the island and apparent evidence of proper settlement and farming and agriculture," Manning noted.
Manning and colleagues focused efforts on a potentially very early Neolithic site located in central Cyprus at Ayia Varvara Asprokremnos (AVA). "We found this site by doing the opposite of the normal strategy - people had been looking around the coast," Manning explained. "The coast around 11,000 years ago basically is now 50 to a couple hundred meters offshore from the present coastline, because sea level has risen. We should go inland, and look at the type of place that a hunter-gatherer on the island might try to be a hunter-gatherer or an incipient agriculturalist." The AVA site "produced lots of evidence of stone tool production," said Manning. "It was right in the bend of the only permanent river in this whole area of Cyprus, so it seemed to be a perfect strategic spot for an early hunter-gatherer."
During seasons of fieldwork in 2007, 2008 and 2009, the team excavated several hundred square meters of the site, and intensive surveys were conducted of the surrounding area. Six different charcoal samples from the excavations were carbon-dated and estimated to be from the Pre-Pottery Neolithic A period, the initial phase of the Near Eastern Neolithic. "The dates came out to be almost 11,000 years old from today, which puts them around half a millennium earlier than any other Neolithic site that's ever been recognized or claimed and dated on the island of Cyprus," Manning announced. "More dramatically, these dates mean that Cyprus, an island tens of miles off the Levantine coast, was involved in the very early Neolithic world, and thus long-distance sea travel and maritime communication must now be actively factored into discussions of how the Neolithic developed and spread."
Edited from Cornell University Chronicle Online (20 October 2010)
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