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Stone tool troves point to highland Neanderthals in northern Greece

Greek archaeologists have found that the mountain peaks and slopes of the Pindos ranges in Northern Greece offered an ideal refuge for Neanderthal man during the Middle Palaeolithic Era, between 40,000 and 70,000 years ago.

Stone tool troves point to highland Neanderthals in northern Greece
Samarina: side-scrapers from the southern ridge of the Gurgulu 
[Credit: P. Biagi, Antiquity]
Thousands of stone tools attributed to the Middle Palaeolithic, Mousterian Levalloisian culture have been discovered in the area of ​​Samarina Grevena at altitudes of 1,600 up to 2,100 metres.

The assemblages are characterised by artefacts among which are Levalloisian cores, flakes and blades, retouched and unretouched Levalloisian points with facetted platforms and different types of side-scrapers.

Stone tool troves point to highland Neanderthals in northern Greece
Samarina: a typical retouched Levallois point from the northern ridge 
of the Gurgulu [Credit: N. Efstratiou, Antiquity]
"We had underestimated the capabilities of the Neanderthals. Until now we only knew that they moved through the plains and other low-lying areas. For the first time we see them moving, and with relative ease it seems, in the mountainous regions to hunt deer, bears, and other animals for food," said Nikos Efstratiou, Professor of Prehistoric Archaeology at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, who heads of the excavation.

"Pindos is one of those few places in Europe, in terms of altitude, where we encounter Neanderthals," he said. "It appears that these late groups of Neanderthal hunter-gatherers may have been among the last that survived in Europe," he added. "Although not everybody agrees on this, it seems that because climate conditions in central Europe were very unfriendly, they moved south in search of warmer areas."

Stone tool troves point to highland Neanderthals in northern Greece
Samarina: the surveyed region, from the south-east, with indication of the uppermost
 limits of Mousterian chert tool scatters and isolated finds (vertical bars) 
[Credit: P. Biagi, Antiquity]
The hunter-gatherer lifestyle of these groups is still unknown and only in recent years have scientists begun to decrypt those aspects of their daily activities.

"Especially revealing was the research conducted in 2015 since it was then that the we first documented what archaeologists have long suspected, ie. that the human presence in the high altitudes of Central and Northern Greece, which of course are almost always associated with hunting, was neither casual, as evidenced by the thousands of stone tools from the Middle Palaeolithic, but neither ceased at the end of this period."

Stone tool troves point to highland Neanderthals in northern Greece
Location of the study area with summary distribution of the most important 
Middle Palaeolithic sites (red dots) [Credit: P. Biagi, Antiquity]
"Indeed, this year's new findings reveal a continuous human presence in the mountain ranges of Western Pindos well into the so-called Late Palaeolithic and Mesolithic periods - from 20,000 until shortly after 10,000 BC - by which time hunters belonging to the species of modern man (Homo sapiens) had moved into the region," says Mr. Efstratiou.

"The difference between the Neanderthal and Homo sapien groups is that first lived in the hills and watersheds of Samarina, while the second was an occasional visitor to the area - a hunter who came from neighbouring Epirus, probably via the Vikos Gorge."

Stone tool troves point to highland Neanderthals in northern Greece
Samarina: the main chert seam embedded in the limestone deposits 
along the earth road that runs along the watershed 
[Credit: R. Nisbet, Antiquity]
"These newcomers of the Late Palaeolithic and Mesolithic periods brought with them stone-tools made from imported stone (flint), in contrast to the Neanderthals who used local chert from Samarina."

Systematic fieldwork in the Samarina region has not only revealed several Palaeolithic encampments and areas where chert (used in the manufacture of their tools) was quarried, it has further identified the possible mountain paths followed by these groups along the mountain slopes of Pindos.

For more information see: N. Efstratiou, P. Biagi, D. E. Angelucci & R. Nisbet: Middle Palaeolithic chert exploitation in the Pindus Mountains of western Macedonia, Greece published in Antiquity Journal.

Source: Ethnos [March 03, 2016]

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