London, January 19 (ANI): An archaeological survey in Crete has revealed evidence for the world's earliest seafaring, in the form of tools of Lower Palaeolithic type, which are at least 130,000 years old.
The Greek island of Crete has been isolated by the Mediterranean Sea for at least the past five million years; so any human ancestors must have arrived by boat.
At 130,000 years old, the ancient sea farers would have been of a pre-modern species.
The earliest Neanderthalers or even Homo heidelbergensis, the species to which Boxgrove Man belonged, are among possible contenders, but no such remains have so far been found on Crete.
"The early inhabitants of Crete reached the island using sea craft capable of open-sea navigation and multiple journeys - a finding that pushes the history of seafaring in the Mediterranean back by more than 100,000 years and has implications for the dispersal of early humans," Professor Curtis Runnels told The Times.
These first Cretans may have crossed the Libyan Sea rather than island-hopping through the Cyclades from mainland Greece.
Recent finds of what are claimed to be Palaeolithic tools from the island of Gavdos, off the south coast of Crete, would support this southern approach.
The survey has focused on the area from Plakias to Ayios Pavlos, including the Preveli Gorge, and has recovered more than 2,000 stone artefacts from 28 sites.
The early tools were found at nine of these, eight in the area between Plakias and Preveli.
"The existence of Lower Palaeolithic artefacts in association with datable geological contexts was a complete surprise. Until now, there has been no certain evidence of Lower Palaeolithic seafaring in the Mediterranean," Professor Runnels said.
The Plakias survey team sought caves and rock shelters near the mouths of freshwater perennial streams and rivers emptying into the Libyan Sea and within five kilometres of the present coast.
Because erosion has cut back many of these, the team sought artefacts on the slopes in front of their present entrances.
Much of the material was found on old marine terraces up to 92 metres above modern sea level.
Up to 300 pieces were found at each of the early sites, and at five sites the geological context allowed an approximate date to be assigned.
Professor Runnels considers his estimate of 130,000 years to be a minimum and cautions that the artefacts could be much older.
The tools included handaxes, cleavers and scrapers, and the quartz rocks used were sufficiently abundant for tools to be discarded after only short periods of use. (ANI)