Cro-Magnon Man

Modern men are believed to have reached Europe around 45,000 years ago. It was originally thought they arrived via the Middle East or North Africa possibly crossed a land bridge between Tunisia, Sicily and Italy or the Strait of Gibraltar but genetic evidence indicates that more likely they came from Asia. The DNA of western Eurasians is more like people from India than those from Africa. The conclusion that one draws is that Europe was populated by people who migrated across western Asia and the Balkans into Europe between 40,000 and 35,000 years ago.

The earliest remains of modern man in Europe is a 40,000-year-old skull of a teenage boy found in a cave in Romania. In a January 2007 article in Science, scientists from the Russian Academy of Sciences and the University of Colorado, reported that they found human teeth, tools, carved ivory and other artifacts , dated to 40,000 to 42,000 years ago, at an archaeological site on the Dom River 400 kilometers south of Moscow. This finding shows that early modern man migrated further north than previously thought.

The second earliest fossils remains of modern man in Europe are a jaw and part of skull found in 2002 (and announced in September 2003) in Pestera cu Oasem a cave in the southwestern Carpathian mountains in Romania. Dated to 34,000 to 36,000 years ago, the specimen has a somewhat primitive jaw bone and large developed molars, leading some scientists to speculate the fossils had come from a cross breed between modern man and Neanderthal man.

It is widely assumed that cold, inhospitable weather prevented modern humans from entering Europe earlier than they did. By 35,000 years they were well established and quickly dominated and replaced Neanderthals that began declining about the same time modern humans arrived. The population shrank a great deal during the Ice Age 20,000 years ago then rebounded. The Ice Age nearly wiped out humans.

Between 30,000 and 10,000 years ago, modern humans left evidence of their presence in cave art in Lascaux cave and Chauvet Cave and other caves in France and Spain. The first sculptures appear around the same time in Germany, the Czech Republic and Austria. Early people cleared forests and set up agricultural communities. In France, slow but steady colonization of the northeastern plains began in 6000 B.C. and the mountain massifs in 2000 B.C.

DNA studies indicate that 6 percent of Europeans arose from the first people who arrived about 45,000 years ago. These people are more numerous in certain places like the Basque region and remote parts of Scandinavia. Another 80 percent arrived 30,000 to 20,000 years ago before the peak of glaciation. The remaining 10 percent arrived about 10,000 years ago.

Websites and Resources on Prehistory: Wikipedia article on Prehistory Wikipedia ; Early Humans elibrary.sd71.bc.ca/subject_resources ; Prehistoric Art witcombe.sbc.edu/ARTHprehistoric ; Evolution of Modern Humans anthro.palomar.edu ; Iceman Photscan iceman.eurac.edu/ ; Otzi Official Site iceman.it Websites and Resources of Early Agriculture and Domesticated Animals: Britannica britannica.com/; Wikipedia article History of Agriculture Wikipedia ; History of Food and Agriculture museum.agropolis; Wikipedia article Animal Domestication Wikipedia ; Cattle Domestication geochembio.com; Food Timeline, History of Food foodtimeline.org ; Food and History teacheroz.com/food ;

Archaeology News and Resources: Anthropology.net anthropology.net : serves the online community interested in anthropology and archaeology; archaeologica.org archaeologica.org is good source for archaeological news and information. Archaeology in Europe archeurope.com features educational resources, original material on many archaeological subjects and has information on archaeological events, study tours, field trips and archaeological courses, links to web sites and articles; Archaeology magazine archaeology.org has archaeology news and articles and is a publication of the Archaeological Institute of America; Archaeology News Network archaeologynewsnetwork is a non-profit, online open access, pro- community news website on archaeology; British Archaeology magazine british-archaeology-magazine is an excellent source published by the Council for British Archaeology; Current Archaeology magazine archaeology.co.uk is produced by the UK’s leading archaeology magazine; HeritageDaily heritagedaily.com is an online heritage and archaeology magazine, highlighting the latest news and new discoveries; Livescience livescience.com/ : general science website with plenty of archaeological content and news. Past Horizons: online magazine site covering archaeology and heritage news as well as news on other science fields; The Archaeology Channel archaeologychannel.org explores archaeology and cultural heritage through streaming media; Ancient History Encyclopedia ancient.eu : is put out by a non-profit organization and includes articles on pre-history; Best of History Websites besthistorysites.net is a good source for links to other sites; Essential Humanities essential-humanities.net: provides information on History and Art History, including sections Prehistory

Sources of Europeans

Skull from Qafzeh, Israel

Ann Gibbons wrote in Science: “Europeans are the descendants of at least three major migrations of prehistoric people. First, a group of hunter-gatherers arrived in Europe about 37,000 years ago. Then, farmers began migrating from Anatolia (a region including present-day Turkey) into Europe 9000 years ago, but they initially didn’t intermingle much with the local hunter-gatherers because they brought their own families with them. Finally, 5000 to 4800 years ago, nomadic herders known as the Yamnaya swept into Europe. They were an early Bronze Age culture that came from the grasslands, or steppes, of modern-day Russia and Ukraine, bringing with them metallurgy and animal herding skills and, possibly, Proto-Indo-European, the mysterious ancestral tongue from which all of today’s 400 Indo-European languages spring. They immediately interbred with local Europeans, who were descendants of both the farmers and hunter-gatherers. Within a few hundred years, the Yamnaya contributed to at least half of central Europeans’ genetic ancestry. [Source: Ann Gibbons, Science, February 21, 2017]

According to Popular Archaeology: “Research has shown that, beginning in the seventh millennium B.C., the Balkan Peninsula was a gateway or corridor through which Neolithic culture, including farming and animal husbandry, spread from Anatolia and the Near East. Beginning in the fifth millennium B.C., human populations in the central and eastern Balkans began developing metal-processing technologies, notably that of Copper, into a relatively large-scale industry for the first time in world history. The world’s oldest copper mines, for example, were found by archaeologists near Rudna glava, Serbia and Mechikladenets/Ai bunar near Stara Zagora, Bulgaria.” [Source: Popular Archaeology, December 12, 2012 /*/]

Genetic studies by Professor Joachim Burger of the Johannes Gutenberg University, Germany, and Mark Thomas, professor of evolutionary genetics at University College, London showed that agriculture was brought to Central Europe by immigrant farmers around 7,500 years ago. From that time on, little trace of hunter-gathering can be seen in the archaeological record, and it was widely assumed that the hunter-gatherers rapidly died out or were absorbed into the farming populations.

Neolithic, Copper Age and Bronze Age Cultures in Europe

In regard to the earliest cultures in Italy, David Silverman of Reed College wrote: “It is important to understand that terms such as Neolithic, Bronze Age, and Iron Age translate into hard dates only with reference to a particular region or peoples. In other words, it makes sense to say that the Greek Bronze Age begins before the Italian Bronze Age. Classifying people according to the stage which they have reached in working with and making tools from hard substances such as stone or metal turns out to be a convenient rubric for antiquity. Of course it is not always the case that every Iron Age people is more than advanced in respects other than metalworking (such as letters or governmental structures) than the Bronze Age folk who preceded them. [Source: David Silverman, Reed College, Classics 373 ~ History 393 Class ^*^]

“The essential characteristics of the Neolithic settlements indicate that the people led similar lives to those of the Neolithic people in Greece and elsewhere in Europe. The main type of dwelling was a circular hut, with a sunken floor, a central hearth for both heating and cooking, and a smoke-hole in the top of the wattle-and-daub roof. The people lacked any sort of metal tools and did not practice weaving; their knives and axes were of stone and their clothing consisted of animal skins. Their primary means of subsistence was foraging and hunting. Like their counterparts in other parts of Europe, they carved in stone, and their carvings include a high proportion of the "steatopygous" female type.

Etruscan Necropolis in Sutri, Italy

“The Chalkolithic Age is a transitional period between the Neolithic and Bronze Ages. This period sees the earliest examples of metalworking in Italy. Because metalworking had begun several hundred years earlier in central Europe, there is an a priori assumption that the transition reflects the ingress into Italy of new groups of people from the north. As so often with Italic prehistory, though, the picture is less than neat. Copper workers appear in Etruria (Tuscany) and further to the north and east in the valley of the Po River. But they also show up, at around the same time, at Paestum on the western coast of Italy, south of Naples. One hypothesis which could account for this is that the metalworkers at Paestum had come by sea, while those in the north had crossed the Alps.

“Around 1800 B.C. Italians discovered the benefits of smelting tin and copper together to make bronze. Again we come up against the unanswerable question of whence this knowledge came. The Greeks had been working bronze for some 500 years. And indeed there were extensive contacts between the Mycenaean Greeks and the Italians. Notably, two trading posts (scholars are reluctant to call them colonies because that word is heavily loaded with ideological baggage) have been excavated, one at Scoglio del Tonno in the heel of Italy near Tarentum, and another substantial Mycenaean settlement a bit further away at Lipari, in the Aeolian Islands north of Sicily. Mycenaean pottery has been found at sites all over Italy, including Rome. But the archaeological record does not indicate any Mycenaean presence much before the start of Middle Bronze Age II (around 1400). So it is highly unlikely that the Greeks taught the Italians bronzeworking. Again the instinct of most scholars has been to fall back upon an invasion or immigration hypothesis, predicated on the assumption that every major cultural shift at this stage in history represents the movement of an ethnically distinct people. Yet that assumption is not secure, and increasingly we find archaeologists preferring to think in terms of native innovation.”


Gene Study Suggests Seafarers Brought Farming to Europe from the Middle East 11,000 Years Ago


Genetic markers found in modern populations indicate the Neolithic migrants who brought farming to Europe traveled from the Levant into Anatolia and then island hopped to Greece via Crete to reach the European mainland. According to the University of Washington: “Between 8,800 to 10,000 B.C., in the Levant, the region in the eastern Mediterranean that today encompasses Israel and the West Bank, Jordan, Syria and part of southern Turkey, people learned how to domesticate wild grains. This accomplishment eventually allowed them to abandon their lives as nomadic hunter-gathers and become farmers. [Source: University of Washington, June 9, 2014]

“Archeologists use this transition from hunter-gathering to farming to mark the end of the Paleolithic era, or Old Stone Age, and the beginning of the Neolithic era, or New Stone age. Archeological evidence indicates that by 7,000 B.C. Neolithic farmers had moved into Europe. They introduced their ideas and genes to the native Paleolithic people, who had migrated into the continent 30,000 to 40,000 years before. The transportation methods and travel routes the Neolithic used have long been questioned. Did they travel overland, by migrating first north from the Levant into Anatolia, a region that is now central Turkey, across the Bosporus and then on through the Balkans into central Europe? Or did they travel by sea? And if so, by what route? Did they travel directly from the coast of Levant to Crete and then across to Greece, as one theory holds? Or did they first travel north into Anatolia and then island hop from Turkey across a large group of islands, called the Dodecanese, to Crete and, from Crete, on to Greece and Europe?

“To try to find an answer to those questions, an international team of researchers led by George Stamatoyannopoulos, professor of medicine and genome sciences at the University of Washington, looked at genetic markers found in 32 modern populations from the Near East and North Africa, Anatolia, the Aegean Islands and Crete, mainland Greece, and Southern and Northern Europe. In this study, Stamatoyannopoulos and his colleagues compared the proportion, or frequency, of certain markers, called single nucleotide polymorphisms, (SNPs) or "snips," appearing in these different populations. When a migrating people moves into an area and intermixes with the local population, they introduce their genes into the native gene pool and acquire genes from the native peoples. This introduction of genes from one population to another is called "gene flow." As subsequent generations continue the migration and the gene exchange is repeated again and again, the frequency of SNPs in the migrating population will reflect this genetic mixing. It is detectable in the populations they left behind.

“In their study, the researchers hypothesized that the Neolithic migrants to Europe had primarily travelled by sea. They tested their hypothesis by comparing the frequency of the SNPs in populations that now inhabit the Levant, Turkey, the islands of the Aegean and the Mediterranean and Europe and North Africa. The results of their study are being published online today, June 9, by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The analysis confirmed the Neolithic migrants arose from the Levant. They then appear to have migrated first to Anatolia in central Turkey, across the Dodecanese, to Crete and then to Laconia at the southeastern tip of Greece.

As the migration continued, some populations moved north into northern Greece. but the bulk of the migration continued west to Sicily and then to the Mediterranean coast of Southern Europe and into Northern Europe. "There were multiple migrations of Neolithic people into Europe and some, no doubt, went by the land route, but the predominant route was through Anatolia and then by sea, with Crete serving as major hub," said Stamatoyannopoulos.

The findings also address older controversies: whether Neolithic culture spread primarily by cultural diffusion, in which ideas move from population to population through cultural contacts, or whether the ideas were are carried by migrating peoples, called demic diffusion, from the Greek demos meaning "people." "While cultural diffusion certainly took place," Stamatoyannopoulos said, "These findings strongly bolster the demic diffusion hypothesis."

Cro-Magnon migration
migration of modern humans into Europe

Stamatoyannopoulos' collaborators include investigators from Greece, Italy, Serbia and the United States. Their paper, "Maritime route of colonization of Europe," appears in the online edition of the Proceeding of the National Academy of Sciences. The researchers were: Peristera Paschou, Petros Drineas, Evangelia Yannaki, Anna Razou, Katerina Kanaki, Fotis Tsetsos, Shanmukha Sampath Padmanabhuni, Manolis Michalodimitrakis, Maria C. Renda, Sonja Pavlovic, Achilles Anagnostopoulos, John A. Stamatoyannopoulos, and Kenneth K. Kidd.

According to the University of Washington: “Although it was not the main focus of their study, the researchers also looked at the gene flow in populations in the Arabian Peninsula and North Africa. They found that migrations of Neolithic people originating from the Near East also moved southeast into Arabia and through what is now Egypt and across the North African coast. There was no evidence, however, of gene flow across the Mediterranean between Africa and Europe, This observation suggests that, although the sea allowed migrants to move along the coasts, it created a formidable barrier between the two continents. [Source: University of Washington, June 9, 2014]


Around a 3000 B.C., during the early Bronze Age, Indo-European people began migrating into Europe, Iran and India and mixed with local people who eventually adopted their language. In Greece, these people were divided into fledgling city states from which the Mycenaeans and later the Greeks evolved. These Indo European people are believed to have been relatives of the Aryans, who migrated or invaded India and Asia Minor. The Hittites, and later the Greeks, Romans, Celts and nearly all Europeans and North Americans descended from Indo-European people.

Indo-Europeans is the general name for the people speaking Indo-European languages. They are the linguistic descendants of the people of the Yamnaya culture (c.3600-2300 B.C. in Ukraine and southern Russia who settled in the area from Western Europe to India in various migrations in the third, second, and early first millenniums B.C.. They are the ancestors of Persians, pre-Homeric Greeks, Teutons and Celts. [Source: Livius.com]

Indo-European intrusions into Iran and Asia Minor (Anatolia, Turkey) began about 3000 B.C.. The Indo-European tribes originated in the great central Eurasian Plains and spread into the Danube River valley possibly as early as 4500 B.C., where they may have been the destroyers of the Vinca Culture. Iranian tribes entered the plateau which now bears their name in the middle around 2500 B.C. and reached the Zagros Mountains which border Mesopotamia to the east by about 2250 B.C...

Indo-European migrations
Indo-European migrations

Yamnaya Horsemen from the Eurasian Steppe Reshaped Europe’s Population 5000 Years Ago

About 5,000 years ago early Bronze Age men from the Eurasian steppe swept into Europe on horseback and have left behind their DNA with European women who passed the DNA on down through the generations. The mostly male migration may have persisted for several generations, leaving a lasting impact on the genomes of living Europeans. “It looks like males migrating in war, with horses and wagons,” says Mattias Jakobsson of Uppsala University in Sweden, a population geneticist and lead author of a study on the migration. [Source: Ann Gibbons, Science, February 21, 2017 +++]

Ann Gibbons wrote in Science: “5000 to 4800 years ago, nomadic herders known as the Yamnaya swept into Europe. They were an early Bronze Age culture that came from the grasslands, or steppes, of modern-day Russia and Ukraine, bringing with them metallurgy and animal herding skills and, possibly, Proto-Indo-European, the mysterious ancestral tongue from which all of today’s 400 Indo-European languages spring. They immediately interbred with local Europeans, who were descendants of both the farmers and hunter-gatherers. Within a few hundred years, the Yamnaya contributed to at least half of central Europeans’ genetic ancestry. +++

“To find out why this migration of Yamnaya had such a big impact on European ancestry, researchers turned to genetic data from earlier studies of archaeological samples. They analyzed differences in DNA inherited by 20 ancient Europeans who lived just after the migration of Anatolian farmers (6000 to 4500 years ago) and 16 who lived just after the influx of Yamnaya (3000 to 1000 years ago). The team zeroed in on differences in the ratio of DNA inherited on their X chromosomes compared with the 22 chromosomes that do not determine sex, the so-called autosomes. This ratio can reveal the proportion of men and women in an ancestral population, because women carry two X chromosomes, whereas men have only one. +++

Europe in the Middle Neolithic Period

“Europeans who were alive from before the Yamnaya migration inherited equal amounts of A from Anatolian farmers on their X chromosome and their autosomes, the team reports today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. This means roughly equal numbers of men and women took part in the migration of Anatolian farmers into Europe. “But when the researchers looked at the DNA later Europeans inherited from the Yamnaya, they found that Bronze Age Europeans had far less Yamnaya DNA on their X than on their other chromosomes. Using a statistical method developed by graduate student Amy Goldberg in the lab of population geneticist Noah Rosenberg at Stanford University in Palo Alto, California, the team calculated that there were perhaps 10 men for every woman in the migration of Yamnaya men to Europe (with a range of five to 14 migrating men for every woman). That ratio is “extreme”—even more lopsided than the mostly male wave of Spanish conquistadores who came by ship to the Americas in the late 1500s, Goldberg says. +++

13,000-Year-Old and 15,000-Year-Old Cultures in Switzerland

In 1998, construction workers excavating a parking lot in Chur, Switzerland, on the Rhine River near Liechtenstein, uncovered archaeological artifacts dating back to about 11,000 B.C. Chur is often described as “the oldest city in Switzerland.” If the artifacts are in fact evidence of a “village” or “city,” Chur would be 2,000 years older than Jericho. In Neuchâtel — at nearly the opposite, western end of Switzerland the country — archaeologists have found artifacts dating to about 13,000 B.C., some 2000 years older than those in Chur. [Source: Bill Harby, swissinfo, March 18, 2018 ***]

Switzerland is the home of other early historical milestones. Among the world's oldest examples of art are two Paleolithic harpoons, at least 60,000 years old, decorated with geometric figures discovered at Veyrier near Geneva. One of the oldest wheels ever found is a 4000-year old-wooden disc discovered at an archeological sight near Zurich. The wheel now can be seen in the Zurich Museum. Not many older wheels have been found. Wood usually rots to dust within a century or so, The Bernisches Historisches Museum is Bern houses a 4000-year-old ax with a jade blade and an antler socket and handle. The ax was made by people from the stick ax culture. The oldest known opium cultivators were the Neuchâtel shorline culture — people who lived around a Swiss lake in the forth millennium B.C. Traces of opium have been excavated from archeological sites there.

Europe in the Late Neolithic Period

Bill Harby wrote in swissinfo, “It’s true that “Chur has certainly yielded some of the oldest archaeological finds in Switzerland”, says Professor Philippe Della Casa from the Institute for Archaeology at the University of Zurich. But they “belong to temporary camp sites, not to sedentary settlements”. To be called a “town”, certain criteria must be met, says Della Casa, including “centralized administration, complex planning and architecture, structured social organisation and specialised crafts”. By these criteria, “Chur is certainly not the ‘oldest town’ in Switzerland, since towns as such do not emerge before the Celtic Iron Age, the mid-first millennium B.C.”. ***

“Similarly, the earliest Neuchâtel shoreline artifacts are from “nomad camps of hunter-gatherers”, says Marc-Antoine Kaeser, Professor of Archaeology at the University of Neuchâtel and Director of Laténiumexternal link. Laténium is Switzerland’s largest archaeological museum. It stands by Lake Neuchâtel near where the oldest artifacts were found. In the archaeology park just outside the museum’s doors stand replicas of Neolithic lake dweller houses from 3810 B.C.. Inside, Laténium’s exhibits trace 500 centuries, beginning with the Neanderthals. ***

“Kaeser says the oldest permanent Neolithic settlements so far identified in Switzerland were in the Rhone valley and in the town of Bellinzona on the south side of the Alps. But “a real continuous occupation can only be attested from the Roman times on”. Professor Della Casa suggests we look to Zurich, Bern, Geneva or Baselexternal link as our oldest towns. “All these sites had fortified Celtic settlements in the second half of the first millenium B.C.,” he says. ***

“Thomas Reitmaier concurs with this timeline. Director of the Archaeological Service for canton Graubünden, Reitmaier’s office is in Chur. “This is quite tricky,” he says, but “generally the emergence of the earliest proto-urban and urban centres north of the Alps are dated to the first Millenium B.C.”. Therefore he adds it’s “difficult to determine the oldest Swiss town.” ***

What about Chur? “It seems clear: there are first late-Paleolithic Period (about 12,000 B.C.) remains of some camps, and some first settlements from the Neolithic Period (4,500 B.C.) onwards, till the Roman occupation and the founding of a rather small vicus [an ancient Roman settlement]”. But Reitmaier says “we should talk about the town of Chur from the medieval period at the earliest,” noting that the town walls weren’t constructed until the 13th century.

8,000-Year-Old Alpine Culture in the Alps

Alvastra pile dwelling

An international team of archaeologists led by experts from the University of York has uncovered evidence of human activity in the high slopes of the French Alps dating back over 8000 years. According to the University of York: “The 14-year study in the Parc National des Eìcrins in the southern Alps is one of the most detailed archaeological investigations carried out at high altitudes. It reveals a story of human occupation and activity in one of the world's most challenging environments from the Mesolithic to the Post-Medieval period. The work included the excavation of a series of stone animal enclosures and human dwellings considered some of most complex high altitude Bronze Age structures found anywhere in the Alps. The research, published in Quaternary International, was led by Dr Kevin Walsh, landscape archaeologist at the University of York in partnership with Florence Mocci of the Centre Camille Julian, CNRS, Aix-en-Provence. [Source: University of York, September 25, 2013]

“Dr Walsh explained: "High altitude landscapes of 2000 metres and above are considered remote and marginal. Many researchers had assumed that early societies showed little interest in these areas. This research shows that people, as well as climate, did have a role in shaping the Alpine landscape from as early as the Mesolithic period. "It has radically altered our understanding of activity in the sub-alpine and alpine zones. It is also of profound relevance for the broader understanding of human-environment interactions in ecologically sensitive environments." Excavations carried out by the team showed human activity shaped the Alpine landscape through the Bronze, Iron, Roman and Medieval ages as people progressed from hunting to more managed agricultural systems including the movement of livestock to seasonal alpine pastures, known as transhumant-pastoralism.

“"The most interesting period is the Chalcolithic/Bronze Age when human activity, particularly to support pastoralism, really begins to dominate the landscape," said Dr Walsh. "The Bronze Age buildings we studied revealed the clear development of seasonal pastoralism that appears to have been sustained over many centuries with new enclosures added and evidence of tree clearing to create new grazing land. "The evidence suggests the landscape was occupied over many centuries marking the start of a more sustained management of the alpine landscape and the development of the pastoral agricultural systems we see in the Alps today."

The study also uncovered evidence of Stone Age hunting camps in often inhospitable conditions in the upper reaches of the Alpine tree line at 2000 metres and above. Other finds included a Neolithic flint arrow head at 2475 metres, thought to be the highest altitude arrowhead discovered in the Alps.

The study was carried out by a team of British and French archaeologists and palaeoecologists. They surveyed over 300 sites across a number of valleys as well as studying pollen from cores taken from peat areas and lakes and carbonized wood remains Journal Reference: K. Walsh, M. Court-Picon, J.-L. de Beaulieu, F. Guiter, F. Mocci, S. Richer, R. Sinet, B. Talon, S. Tzortzis. A historical ecology of the Ecrins (Southern French Alps): Archaeology and palaeoecology of the Mesolithic to the Medieval period. Quaternary International, 2013; DOI: 10.1016/j.quaint.2013.08.060

Prehistoric Pile Dwellings around the Alps

According to UNESCO: “This serial property of 111 small individual sites encompasses the remains of prehistoric pile-dwelling (or stilt house) settlements in and around the Alps built from around 5000 to 500 B.C. on the edges of lakes, rivers or wetlands. Excavations, only conducted in some of the sites, have yielded evidence that provides insight into life in prehistoric times during the Neolithic and Bronze Age in Alpine Europe and the way communities interacted with their environment. Fifty-six of the sites are located in Switzerland. The settlements are a unique group of exceptionally well-preserved and culturally rich archaeological sites, which constitute one of the most important sources for the study of early agrarian societies in the region. [Source: UNESCO World Heritage Site website =]

Neolithic stone necklace from Sicily

“The series of 111 out of the 937 known archaeological pile-dwelling sites in six countries around the Alpine and sub-alpine regions of Europe is composed of the remains of prehistoric settlements situated under water, on lake shores, along rivers or in wetlands. The exceptional conservation conditions for organic materials provided by the waterlogged sites, combined with extensive under-water archaeological investigations and research in many fields of natural science, such as archaeobotany and archaeozoology, over the past decades, has combined to present an outstanding detailed perception of the world of early agrarian societies in Europe. The precise information on their agriculture, animal husbandry, development of metallurgy, over a period of more than four millennia, coincides with one of the most important phases of recent human history: the dawn of modern societies. =

“In view of the possibilities for the exact dating of wooden architectural elements by dendrochronology, the sites have provided exceptional archaeological sources that allow an understanding of entire prehistoric villages and their detailed construction techniques and spatial development over very long time periods. They also reveal details of trade routes for flint, shells, gold, amber, and pottery across the Alps and within the plains, transport evidence from dugout canoes and wooden wheels, some complete with axles for two wheeled carts dating from around 3,400 B.C., some of the earliest preserved in the world, and the oldest textiles in Europe dating to 3,000 B.C. This cumulative evidence has provided a unique insight into the domestic lives and settlements of some thirty different cultural groups in the Alpine lacustrine landscape that allowed the pile dwellings to flourish. =

Why the site is important: 1) The series of pile dwelling sites are one of the most important archaeological sources for the study of early agrarian societies in Europe between 5,000 and 500 B.C. The waterlogged conditions have preserved organic matter that contributes in an outstanding way to our understanding of significant changes in the Neolithic and Bronze Age history of Europe in general, and of the interactions between the regions around the Alps in particular. 2) The series of pile dwelling sites has provided an extraordinary and detailed insight into the settlement and domestic arrangements of pre-historic, early agrarian lake shore communities in the Alpine and sub-Alpine regions of Europe over almost 5,000 years. The revealed archaeological evidence allows an unique understanding of the way these societies interacted with their environment, in response to new technologies, and also to the impact of climate change. =

Prehistoric Cyprus

Colette and Seán Hemingway of the Metropolitan Museum of Art wrote: Cyprus’s “unique culture dates from as early as the end of the ninth millennium B.C., when the first permanent settlers may have arrived from southern Anatolia or the Syro-Palestinian coast, bringing with them an already developed culture. However, there is evidence for the presence of seasonal hunters of pygmy elephants and pygmy hippopotami before then, ca. 10,000 B.C. The earliest Neolithic settlers had an organized society based on agriculture and animal husbandry. Several of their settlements have been excavated throughout the island, including Khirokitia and Kalavasos near the southern coast. During the latter part of the Neolithic period (ca. 8500 B.C.–ca. 3900 B.C.), islanders began to work clay, making vessels which they baked and often decorated with abstract patterns in red on a light slip. [Source: Collete Hemingway, Independent Scholar, Seán Hemingway, Department of Greek and Roman Art, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, October 2004, metmuseum.org \^/]

“The culture of the succeeding Chalcolithic period (ca. 3900 B.C.–ca. 2500 B.C.) may have been introduced to the island by a new wave of settlers who came from the same regions as the Neolithic settlers. Their art and religious practices were sophisticated. Clay and stone female figures, often with accentuated genitals, predominate, symbolizing the fertility of humans, animals, and the soil—the essential needs of an agrarian community. In the latter part of the Chalcolithic period, people began making small tools and decorative ornaments from the native copper (chalkos); thus the phase is termed Chalcolithic, referring to the transition from the Stone Age to the Bronze Age. \^/

“Little is known about the political system on Cyprus during the Late Bronze Age, although the island clearly maintained strong ties with the Near East, especially Syria. Urban centers with palatial structures of the fourteenth and thirteenth centuries B.C., such as Enkomi and Kition, have been excavated extensively, and rich cemeteries of the same period have yielded luxury goods in a variety of materials. From the beginning of the fourteenth century B.C., there was a significant influx to Cyprus of fine quality Mycenaean vessels, which are found almost exclusively in the tombs of an aristocratic elite. With the destruction of the Mycenaean centers in Greece during the twelfth century B.C., political conditions in the Aegean became unstable and refugees left their homes for safer places, including Cyprus, beginning the Hellenization of the island that would take root over the next two centuries.” \^/

Mediterranean and Middle Eastern archaeological sites

Early Greek History

Greek tribes came from northern Greece and conquered and absorbed the Mycenaeans around 1100 B.C. and gradually spread to the Greek islands and Asia Minor. Ancient Greece developed around 1200-1000 B.C. out of the remnants of Mycenae. After a period of decline during the Dorian Greek invasions (1200-1000 B.C.), Greece and the Aegean Sea area developed a unique civilization.

The early Greeks drew upon Mycenae traditions, Mesopotamian learning (weights and measures, lunar-solar calendar, astronomy, musical scales), the Phoenician alphabet (modified for Greek), and Egyptian art. They established city-states and planted the seeds for a rich intellectual life.

No one is sure exactly how the Greeks evolved. Most likely they were a Stone-Age people that began voyaging to Crete, Cyprus, the Aegean islands and the Greek mainland from southern Turkey around 3000 B.C. and mixed with the Stone Age cultures in these lands.

Around a 2500 B.C., during the early Bronze Age, an Indo-European people, speaking a prototypical Greek language, emerged from the north and began mixing with the mainland cultures who eventually adopted their language. These people were divided into fledgling city states from which the Mycenaeans evolved. These Indo European people are believed to have been relatives of the Aryans, who invaded India and Asia Minor. The Hittites, and later the Greeks, Romans, Celts and nearly all Europeans and North Americans descended from Indo-European people.

Greek speakers appeared in the Greek mainland about 1900 B.C. They eventually consolidated themselves into petty chiefdoms that grew into Mycenae. Some time later the mainland "Greeks" began mixing with the Bronze Age people of Asia Minor and island "Greeks" (Ionians) of which the Minoans were the most advanced.


The Minoans were arguably Europe's first great civilization. They originated on the island of Crete around 3000 B.C. and flourished there from 2000 B.C. to 1,400 B.C. While most of Europe was still in the Stone Age the Minoans created cities with magnificent palaces and comfortable townhouses with terra cotta plumbing; traded throughout the Mediterranean and the Aegean with a huge fleet of ships; and developed a writing system. The Minoans are named by British archaeologist Sir Arthur Evans after the legendary King Minos, son of Zeus and Europa, who is said to have lived on Crete. [Source: Joseph Judge, National Geographic, February 1978]

According to the Canadian Museum of History: “Based on the evidence currently available, it seems that the Minoans arrived on the large island of Crete more than 5000 years ago. The soil was fertile, the climate was favorable and the numbers of people increased. Eventually a point was reached when the resources of the land were insufficient to meet the needs of the expanding population. Many migrated to nearby islands, those that stayed turned increasingly to trade as a means of improving their economic situation. [Source: Canadian Museum of History historymuseum.ca ]

In May 2013, scientists said that analysis of DNA from ancient remains on Crete suggested the Minoans were indigenous Europeans and didn’t come from Egypt, Africa, Anatolia or the Middle East as some scholars had suggested. The research appeared in Nature Communications journal and was co-authored by George Stamatoyannopoulos of the University of Washington in Seattle, [Source: BBC, 15 May 2013 ++]

The BBC reported: “In this study, Prof Stamatoyannopoulos and colleagues analysed the DNA of 37 individuals buried in a cave on the Lassithi plateau in the island's east. The majority of the burials are thought to date to the middle of the Minoan period - around 3,700 years ago. The analysis focused on mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) extracted from the teeth of the skeletons, This type of DNA is stored in the cell's "batteries" and is passed down, more or less unchanged, from mother to child. They then compared the frequencies of distinct mtDNA lineages, known as "haplogroups", in this ancient Minoan set with similar data for 135 other populations, including ancient samples from Europe and Anatolia as well as modern peoples. ++

“The comparison seemed to rule out an origin for the Minoans in North Africa: the ancient Cretans showed little genetic similarity to Libyans, Egyptians or the Sudanese. They were also genetically distant from populations in the Arabian Peninsula, including Saudis, and Yemenis. The ancient Minoan DNA was most similar to populations from western and northern Europe. The population showed particular genetic affinities with Bronze Age populations from Sardinia and Iberia and Neolithic samples from Scandinavia and France. They also resembled people who live on the Lassithi Plateau today, a population that has previously attracted attention from geneticists. ++

“The authors therefore conclude that the Minoan civilisation was a local development, originated by inhabitants who probably reached the island around 9,000 years ago, in Neolithic times. "There has been all this controversy over the years. We have shown how the analysis of DNA can help archaeologists and historians put things straight," Prof Stamatoyannopoulos told BBC News. "The Minoans are Europeans and are also related to present-day Cretans - on the maternal side. It's obvious that there was very important local development. But it is clear that, for example, in the art, there were influences from other peoples. So we need to see the Mediterranean as a pool, not as a group of isolated nations.There is evidence of cultural influence from Egypt to the Minoans and going the other way." ++

Recreation of neolithic village in Macedonia

Capo Alfiere, A Neolithic Site in Italy

Jon Morter of the University of Texas wrote: “Capo Alfiere is the name of a Neolithic site located on a small headland on the eastern coast of Calabria. Archaeological excavations at the site were conducted by a team from the University of Texas in the summers of 1987 and 1990. The digging was directed by Jon Morter. The work is part of a broad study of the landscape of the territory of the Classical Greek colonial city of Kroton (modern Crotone) under the supervision of Prof. Joe Carter. [Source: Jon Morter, Institute of Classical Archaeology, University of Texas at Austin]

“The excavations have revealed the surviving portions of a stratified deposit dating to the Middle Neolithic period. Two main strata have been defined to date, each with sub-phases. The majority of the pottery appears to be of the Stentinello tradition, a type first defined in eastern Sicily by Paolo Orsi at the end of the last century. Other finds include both ground and chipped stone objects. A large floral and faunal assemblage is currently under analysis at the Laboratorio per Bioarcheologia in Rome under the supervision of Dott. Lorenzo Costantini.

“We were fortunate in obtaining a series of radiocarbon dates from the site which give a general and broadly consistent picture of its overall date. Three dates from the upper stratum (5650+/-70 before present (bp), 5450+/-60 bp, 5410+/-80 bp) date the hearth and the surface sealing it to the second half of the 5th millennium B.C., after calibration. There was no suitable carbon from stratum I so resort had to be made to dating with animal bone. This gave a date of 5950+/-100 bp, indicating a calibrated range towards the beginning of the 5th millennium B.C.

“These dates are interesting as they put the upper stratum rather late in the accepted range for Stentinello sites. The lack of ceramics attributable to the supposedly successive Serra d'Alto phase, and discovery of some closer to the purportedly Late Neolithic, Diana types, has led us to question the general applicability of the accepted southern Italian ceramic sequence hereabouts.”

Ancient Sites in Sardinia and Spain

Scattered around the large Italian island of Sardinia are about 7000 ancient standing stones and cone towers including the "The Tomb of the Giants" and the "Houses of the Witches." The tombs are carved into the rock and some of the cone towers originally 40 feet in diameter and up to 65 feet high were used as dwellings.

It was long believed that culture spread westward from Crete to Iberia because spiral shaped symbols on tombs found in on Crete resembled those at Los Millares in Spain. Recent changes in carbon dating based on correcting the carbon data with tree rings from 4000 year old bristlecone pines have shown that the site in Iberia is older than the one in Crete.

megaliths in Portugal

Scattered around the Spanish island are clusters of prehistoric Stonehenge-like megaliths (stone monuments). Among the different Bronze-Age formations found on Menorca are taulas, T-shaped formations that have one rock balancing on another; talayots , igloo-shaped mounds; and navetas which look like overturned boats. The most impressive megaliths are found at Torre d'en Gammes, with a perfectly preserved taula, three taayayots and a stone pillared hall. Naveta d'els Tudons contain a burial chamber that some argue is the oldest building in Spain,

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: National Geographic, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Smithsonian magazine, Nature, Scientific American. Live Science, Discover magazine, Discovery News, Ancient Foods ancientfoods.wordpress.com ; Times of London, Natural History magazine, Archaeology magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, BBC, The Guardian, Reuters, AP, AFP, Lonely Planet Guides, “World Religions” edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File Publications, New York); “History of Warfare” by John Keegan (Vintage Books); “History of Art” by H.W. Janson (Prentice Hall, Englewood Cliffs, N.J.), Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated February 2022

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