Category Archives: GREECE

Roman-Era Wine Shop Excavated in Southern Greece

Roman-Era Wine Shop Excavated in Southern Greece

Roman-Era Wine Shop Excavated in Southern Greece
A view of the wine shop from the front.

Archaeologists in Greece have discovered a 1,600-year-old wine shop that was destroyed and abandoned after a “sudden event,” possibly an earthquake or building collapse, left broken vessels and 60 coins scattered on the floor, according to new research.

The shop operated at a time when the Roman Empire controlled the region. It was found in the ancient city of Sikyon (also spelled Sicyon), which is located on the northern coast of the Peloponnese in southern Greece.

Within the wine shop, archaeologists found the scattered coins, as well as the remains of marble tabletops and vessels made of bronze, glass and ceramic.

The wine shop was found on the northern end of a complex that had a series of workshops containing kilns and installations used to press grapes or olives, archaeologists noted in a paper they presented at the annual meeting of the Archaeological Institute of America, which was held Jan. 4-7 in Chicago.

The Roman-era shop in Greece was destroyed in a sudden event.

“Unfortunately, we don’t have any direct evidence of the types of wine that may have been sold. We have some evidence of grape pips (Vitis vinifera), but we aren’t able to say anything more specific than that right now,” said Scott Gallimore, an associate professor of archaeology at Wilfrid Laurier University in Canada, who co-wrote the paper with Martin Wells, an associate professor of classics at Austin College in an email.

In addition to wine, other items, such as olive oil, may have been sold in the shop.

Most of the coins date to the reign of Constantius II, from 337 to 361, with the latest coin being minted sometime between 355 and 361, Gallimore told Live Science in an email.

The wine shop is on the northern end of a complex. It contains a number of workshops and appears to have been used to make pottery and process wine and perhaps olive oil
One of the coins discovered on the floor of the destroyed wine shop.
A slightly broken coin from the shop. The coins fell on the floor while the destructive event was happening.

Destructive event

The wine shop appears to have suffered a “sudden event” that resulted in its destruction and abandonment, Gallimore said. The 60 bronze coins found in the floor are from the shop’s final moments.

“The coins were all found on the floor of the [shop], scattered across the space,” Gallimore said. “This seems to indicate that they were being kept together as some type of group, whether in a ceramic vessel or some type of bag. When the [shop] was destroyed, that container appears to have fallen to the floor and scattered the coins.

“We’re not sure what type of event this was — possibly an earthquake, or possibly a roof collapse due to environmental conditions, like too much rainfall,” he added.

After the destruction people dumped in debris and sediment “but no effort was made to recover anything from within it.”

The complex that the shop is part of appears to have been abandoned in the early fifth century, possibly at the time of the event.

A 2,700-Year-Old Temple Discovered on the Greek Island of Evia

A 2,700-Year-Old Temple Discovered on the Greek Island of Evia

A 2,700-Year-Old Temple Discovered on the Greek Island of Evia
An aerial view of the horseshoe-shaped altar located inside the temple.

Archaeologists in Greece have discovered a 2,700-year-old temple that houses a horseshoe-shaped altar overflowing with offerings.

Constructed of bricks, the temple is 100 feet (30 meters) long and is located next to the Temple of Amarysia Artemis, a sanctuary dedicated to the Greek goddess Artemis, which researchers found in 2017 on the island of Evia, according to a translated statement from Greece’s Ministry of Culture. 

During excavations in 2023, archaeologists found the second temple.

“One of the peculiarities of this temple is the significant number of structures found inside it,” the researchers wrote on Jan. 9 in a translated Facebook post detailing their findings.

Those structures included several hearths located in the temple’s nave, including the ash-caked altar stacked with offerings such as pottery; vases; Corinthian alabaster, or the carved mineral gypsum; gold and silver jewelry studded with coral and amber; amulets; and bronze and iron fittings. The altar also contained several pieces of charred bone.

Archaeologists unearthed several bronze figurines shaped like bulls and a ram as well as a bull’s head made of clay.

Some of the pottery pieces predate the newfound temple and were fired during the late eighth century B.C., leading researchers to suspect that the altar may have once resided outside the temple and was later moved indoors.

In the sixth century B.C., brick partitions were placed at the sanctuary’s heart for added support, leading researchers to think that the temple was “partially destroyed” by a fire, according to the statement.

Under the temple, archaeologists found several dry stone walls from a different building that once stood at the site, along with several bronze figurines shaped like bulls and rams.

They also unearthed remnants of buildings from the eighth and ninth centuries B.C. next to the first temple, as well as a fortification system dating to the more recent early Copper Age, or roughly 4000 to 3500 B.C.

U.S. Repatriates 30 Ancient Objects to Greece

U.S. Repatriates 30 Ancient Objects to Greece

A Corinthian helmet and marble statue of Aphrodite are among 30 artifacts repatriated by the United States to Greece during a ceremony on December 15.

U.S. Repatriates 30 Ancient Objects to Greece
A Corinthian helmet and marble statue of Aphrodite are among 30 artifacts repatriated by the United States to Greece during a ceremony Friday.

The antiquities—which also include breastplates, a Byzantine silver plate, and a bronze chariot attachment—were recovered by Homeland Security Investigations, the investigative arm of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, with the office of Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg.

Collectively, the pieces are valued at $3.7 million. Bragg said in a statement that 19 of the pieces were voluntarily surrendered by New York gallery owner Michael Ward and three were seized from British art dealer Robin Symes.

A source familiar with the case said that the remaining eight items are in the possession of investigators, who know that the items were stolen, but have not yet specified where, how, or by whom they were stolen or recovered from.

“A nation’s cherished history should never be pilfered, peddled, or marketed for sale, yet for years these antiquities were kept in collectors’ homes, prestigious institutions, and even storage lockers,” said Erin Keegan, the HSI acting special agent in charge in New York.

“Cultural heritage is an integral part of our identity as people and nations. It is therefore essential and nowadays crucial to protect and preserve cultural heritage for future generations,” Greek Culture Minister Lina Mendoni said in a statement.

Ambassador Dinos Konstantinou, the consul general of Greece in New York, called the artifacts “fabulous” and “stunningly preserved.”

“Their monetary value amounts to millions of dollars but their actual value goes far beyond that,” Konstantinou said. “They are priceless for the Greek people.”

The 700,000-year-old Skull in Greek cave completely shatters the Out of Africa theory

The 700,000-year-old Skull in Greek cave completely shatters the Out of Africa theory

The 700,000-year-old Skull in Greek cave completely shatters the Out of Africa theory
The discovery of a fossilized human skull plus many other object led to the Petralona Cave being called the Parthenon of paleontology

The “Petralona Man,” or “Petralona Archanthropus” is a for 700,000 years old human skull found in 1959. Since then, scientists have tried to locate the origin of this skull, which has created tremendous controversy.

The skull, indicating the oldest human “Europeoid” (presenting European traits), was embedded in a cave’s wall in Petralona, near Chalkidiki in Northern Greece.

A shepherd mistakenly found the cave, dense with stalactites and stalagmites.

The cave and skull study was assigned to Dr. Aris Poulianos, an anthropologist specialist, member of UNESCO’s International Union of Anthropology and Ethnology, and president of the Anthropological Association of Greece.

Before that, Dr. Poulianos was already known for his thesis on “The origin of the Greeks”. His thesis was based on craniological and anthropometrical studies of Modern Greek populations, which proved that modern Greeks are related to ancient Greeks and that they are not the descendants of Slavic nations.

After the extensive study on the 700,000-year-old skull, he concluded that the “Petralona man” was not connected to the species that came out of Africa. His arguments were mainly based on the skull’s almost perfect orthography, the shape of its dental arch, and the occipital bone construction.

According to the “Out of Africa” theory, “anatomically modern humans” known as “Homo sapiens” originated in Africa between 200,000 and 100,000 years ago before spreading to the rest of the world. This theory was related to the fact that most prehistoric fossils were found in Africa.

In 1964, two German researchers, anthropologist E. Breitinger and paleontologist O. Sickenberg, who was invited to Greece, suggested that the skull was actually 50,000 years old, thus rejecting Dr. Poulianos’ theory.

Moreover, Breitinger claimed that the skull belonged to the “first African out of Africa”. A few years later, in 1971, US Archaeology magazine confirmed Poulianos’ statement.

According to the scientific magazine, the existence of a cave dating back more than 700,000 years and human presence in almost every geological layer were ascertained.

Additionally, the magazine affirmed that human presence became evident from the discovery of Paleolithic tools of the same age and the most ancient traces of fire that was ever lit by human hand.

The research continued from 1975 to 1983, when the excavation stopped and findings remained inaccessible to study until 1997.

Today, 50 years after the discovery of the “Petralona man”, modern methods of absolute chronology confirm Dr. Poulianos’ theory.

Most academics believe that the skull belongs to an archaic hominid with strong European traits and characteristics of Homo erectus, Neanderthals, and sapiens, but they distinguish it from all these species.

This incredible discovery raises new questions on human evolution and certainly challenges the “Out of Africa” theory.

Greek Farmer Stumbles Onto 3,400-Year-Old Tomb Hidden Below His Olive Grove

Greek Farmer Stumbles Onto 3,400-Year-Old Tomb Hidden Below His Olive Grove

Greek Farmer Stumbles Onto 3,400-Year-Old Tomb Hidden Below His Olive Grove
A covered coffin from the Minoan times was found in Ierapetra, Crete, Greece.

The untouched Bronze Age tomb and the skeletons inside will hopefully provide archaeologists with information about the mysterious Minoan civilization.

In an extraordinary example of being in the wrong place at the right time, a Greek farmer just made a startling archaeological discovery. A 3,400-year-old Minoan tomb was uncovered in an unnamed farmer’s olive grove near the city of Ierapetra on the Greek island of Crete.

According to Cretapost, the farmer was attempting to park his car underneath an olive tree when suddenly the ground beneath him began to sink.

The farmer pulled his car out from under the tree and noticed that a huge hole which measured around four feet wide had opened up where his car had been sitting.

When he peeked into the hole, the farmer knew he had stumbled upon something special. He called the local heritage ministry, Lassithi Ephorate of Antiquities, to investigate.

The four-foot wide hole accidentally made by the farmer ultimately led to the Minoan Bronze Age tomb.

The archaeologists from the ministry excavated the hole. What they found next was unprecedented.

The pit was approximately four feet wide and eight feet deep was divided into three sections, and very apparently was a tomb.

In the first section, archaeologists uncovered a coffin and a variety of artifacts. The following niche held a second coffin, 14 Greek jars called amphorae, and a bowl.

According to Smithsonian.com, the archaeologists identified that the tomb was Minoan and of the Bronze Age due to the style of the coffin they found. The artifacts — funerary vases and the two coffins— were well-preserved despite their extremely old age.

The eight-foot-deep pit contained two coffins and several artifacts.

The tomb was sealed off by a stone wall and only after thousands of years of wear and tear did it deteriorate enough to buckle under the weight of the farmer’s car.

“Soil retreat was a result of the watering of the olive trees in the area as well as a broken irrigation tube,” Argyris Pantazis, the Deputy Mayor of Local Communities, Agranian and Tourism of Ierapetra, told Cretapost.

“The ground had partially receded, and when the farmer tried to park in the shade of the olive, it completely retreated.”

Pantazis also said that the fact that the tomb was untouched by thieves for millennia makes it an ideal site for archaeologists to learn as much as possible about the two people buried in the tomb and life for the Minoan civilization.

A look inside the coffin of one of the two Minoans buried in the 3,400-year-old tomb.

According to Forbes, the skeletons date back to the Late Minoan IIIA-B period in archaeological chronology, also known as the Late Palace Period.

So far, not much information is known about the Minoan civilization and their way of life, save for their labyrinth palatial complexes, showcased in classic myths like Theseus and the Minotaur.

Researchers also believe that the Minoans met their end because of a string of devasting natural disasters. Most other details of the Minoan’s history remain unclear.

Further analysis of the skeletons and artifacts in the tomb in Crete will hopefully help archaeologists fill in some blanks and answer questions about the mysterious Minoan civilization.

U.S. Repatriates Ancient Coins to Greece

U.S. Repatriates Ancient Coins to Greece

Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Chicago, alongside distinguished representatives from Greece and the National Hellenic Museum, conducted a repatriation ceremony on June 16 to return to Greece the largest number of stolen ancient coins seized by U.S. law enforcement officials in recent HSI history.

Federal agents, National Hellenic Museum conduct the largest repatriation of ancient coins to Greece in recent HSI history
U.S. Repatriates Ancient Coins to Greece

The artifacts included 51 ancient Greek coins that U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) intercepted via four separate examinations of merchandise entering the United States.

“Trafficking in antiquities is a multibillion-dollar criminal enterprise, but when traffickers steal these antiquities from a country, they’re robbing from the cultural heritage of a nation – solely for their potential to generate profit,” said HSI Chicago Special Agent in Charge R. Sean Fitzgerald.  “HSI possesses the unique skills and determination necessary to disrupt this concerning practice.  At HSI Chicago, we have a dedicated unit with agents specially trained to track down lost and stolen pieces, ultimately contributing to approximately 20,000 artifacts that HSI has recovered and returned to over 40 countries since 2007.”

As a result of the original shippers’ and consignees’ inability or unwillingness to provide proper documentation of ownership, CBP seized the coins and turned them over to HSI.

The distinguished guests present at the repatriation included the Ambassador of Greece to the United States Alexandra Papadopoulou, Consul General Emmanuel Koubarakis, and Consul Georgia Tasiopoulou.

“This is a successful example of how when we join forces, we can make miracles,” said Papadopoulou.

“As these coins get back to Greece where they belong, I’m sure it will make an exciting, powerful display as part of our culture, as part of our shared identity, and as part of our close relationship with the United States.”

This return of these ancient coins was made possible by the investigative efforts of HSI Chicago, HSI’s Cultural Property, Art and Antiquities (CPAA) program, and law enforcement partners at CBP.

One of the primary goals of the CPAA program is to protect and preserve the world’s cultural heritage and knowledge of past civilizations.

CPAA conducts training and outreach, supports cultural property investigations, and enhances international relations by working with foreign governments and citizens to return their nation’s looted cultural heritage and stolen artwork.

“It is often extremely difficult to put a specific monetary value on an ancient historical coin,” said Fitzgerald. “That notwithstanding, as tokens of the world’s oldest democracy, Greece’s cultural property — in HSI’s view — is considered priceless.”

Since 2007, HSI investigations have led to the repatriation of over 20,000 objects to more than 40 countries and institutions. The repatriated objects have included paintings, sarcophagi, statues, coins, and illuminated manuscripts.

In the fiscal year 2022, HSI’s CPAA program repatriated cultural property to more than 15 countries, including France, India, Iraq, Italy, and Mali.

Among the repatriated items were cuneiform tablets, religious artifacts, and architectural drawings stolen from Jewish communities during the Holocaust.

World’s Oldest Intact Shipwreck Found at the Bottom of the Black Sea

World’s Oldest Intact Shipwreck Found at the Bottom of the Black Sea

The oldest intact shipwreck ever found has been discovered at the bottom of the Black Sea. The 75ft Greek trading vessel was found lying whole with its mast, rudders and rowing benches after more than 2,400 years. It was found in a well-known ‘shipwreck graveyard’ that has already revealed over 60 other vessels. During the most recent exploration in late 2017, the team discovered what has now been confirmed as the world’s ‘oldest intact shipwreck’ – a Greek trading vessel design previously only seen on the side of ancient Greek pottery such as the ‘Siren Vase’ in the British Museum. 

The ship, found 1.3 miles under the surface, could shed new light on the ancient Greek tale of Odysseus tying himself to a mast to avoid being tempted by sirens. The vase shows Odysseus, the hero from Homer’s epic poem, tied to the mast of a similar ship as he resisted the Siren’s calls. 

The 75ft shipwreck was been found lying whole with its mast, rudders and rowing benches after more than 2,400 years.
The shipwreck was found nearly 7,000ft under the sea in ‘remarkable’ condition, with some suggesting it has similarities to a ship shown on an ancient vase that depicts Odysseus tying the mast of a similar ship as he resisted the Siren’s calls

Archaeologist discover the worlds oldest shipwreck in the Black Sea

The 75ft shipwreck was been found lying whole with its mast, rudders and rowing benches after more than 2,400 years. The shipwreck was found nearly 7,000ft under the sea in ‘remarkable’  condition, with some suggesting it has similarities to a ship shown on an ancient vase that depicts Odysseus tying the mast of a similar ship as he resisted the Siren’s call. A remote-controlled submarine piloted by British scientists spotted the ship lying on its side about 50 miles off the coast of Bulgaria.

The ship lies in over 1.3miles of water, deep in the Black Sea where the water is anoxic (oxygen free) which can preserve organic material for thousands of years. A small piece of the vessel has been carbon dated and it is confirmed as coming from 400BC – making the ship the oldest intact shipwreck known to mankind. Jon Adams, the project’s chief scientist, said the wreck was very well-preserved, with the rudder and tiller still in place. 

 ‘A ship, surviving intact, from the Classical world, lying in over 2km of water, is something I would never have believed possible,’ he said

‘This will change our understanding of shipbuilding and seafaring in the ancient world.’

Prior to this discovery ancient ships had only been found in fragments with the oldest more than 3,000 years old. The team from the Black Sea Maritime Archaeological Project said the find also revealed how far from the shore ancient Greek traders could travel. Adams told The Times the ship probably sank in a storm, with the crew unable to bail water in time to save it.

Ulysses and the Sirens in another piece of Greek artwork

The archaeologist believes it probably held 15 to 25 men at the time whose remains may be hidden in the surrounding sediment or eaten by bacteria. He said he plans to leave the ship on the seabed because raising it would be hugely expensive and require taking the pint joints apart.

The ship was both oar and sail-powered. It was chiefly used for trading but the professor believes it may have been involved in ‘a little bit of raiding’ of coastal cities. It was probably based at one of the ancient Greek settlements on what is now the Bulgarian coast.

He said: ‘Ancient seafarers were not hugging the coast timidly going from port to port but going blue-water sailing.’

 The find is one of 67 wrecks found in the area. Previous finds were discovered dating back as far as 2,500 years, including galleys from the Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman empires. Scientists stumbled upon the graveyard while using underwater robots to survey the effects of climate change along the Bulgarian coast.  Because the Black Sea contains almost no light or oxygen, little life can survive, meaning the wrecks are in excellent condition.

Researchers say their discovery is ‘truly unrivalled’. 

Many of the ships have features that are only known from drawings or written description but never seen until now.  Carvings in the wood of some ships have remained intact for centuries, while well-preserved rope was found aboard one 2,000-year-old Roman vessel. The project, known Black Sea Maritime Archaeology Project (Black Sea MAP), involves an international team led by the University of Southampton’s Centre for Maritime Archaeology. Ed Parker, CEO of Black Sea MAP, said: ‘Some of the ships we discovered had only been seen on murals and mosaics until this moment.

The ship lies in over 2km of water, deep in the Black Sea where the water is anoxic (oxygen free) which can preserve organic material for thousands of years.

‘There’s one medieval trading vessel where the towers on the bow and stern are pretty much still there.

‘It’s as if you are looking at a ship in a movie, with ropes still on the deck and carvings in the wood.

‘When I saw that ship, the excitement really started to mount – what we have found is truly unrivalled.’

Most of the vessels found are around 1,300 years old, but the oldest dates back to the 4th Century BC. Many of the wrecks’ details and locations are being kept secret by the team to ensure they remain undisturbed. Black Sea water below 150 metres (490 ft) is anoxic, meaning the environment cannot support the organisms that typically feast on organic materials, such as wood and flesh.

The wrecks, such as this one from the Medieval period, are astonishingly well preserved due to the anoxic conditions (absence of oxygen) of the Black Sea below 150 metres (490 ft). This trading vessel was found with the towers on the bow and stern still mostly in place
Shown here is a shipwreck from the Ottoman period discovered 300 metres beneath the Black Sea. Many of the wrecks’ details and locations are being kept secret by the team to ensure they remain undisturbed
The researchers used two Remotely Operated Vehicles (pictured) to survey the sea bed. These have discovered a number of wrecks over a series of expeditions spanning three years, including the one pictured from the Byzantine period, found in October last year

As a result, there is an extraordinary opportunity for preservation, including shipwrecks and the cargoes they carried. Ships lie hundreds or thousands of metres deep with their masts still standing, rudders in place, cargoes of amphorae and ship’s fittings lying on deck. Many of the ships show structural features, fittings and equipment that are only known from drawings or written description but never seen until now.

Project leader Professor Jon Adams, of the University of Southampton, said: ‘This assemblage must comprise one of the finest underwater museums of ships and seafaring in the world.’

The expedition has been scouring the waters 1,800 metres (5,900ft) below the surface of the Black Sea since 2015 using an off-shore vessel equipped with some of the most advanced underwater equipment in the world. The vessel is on an expedition mapping submerged ancient landscapes which were inundated with water following the last Ice Age.

While the primary focus of the project is to carry out geophysical surveys, shipwrecks, including this one from the Ottoman period, have given new insights into how communities live on the shores of the Black Sea

The researchers had discovered over 40 wrecks across two previous expeditions, but during their latest trip, which spanned several weeks and returned this month, they uncovered more than 20 new sites.

Returning to the Port of Burgas in Bulgaria, Professor Jon Adams said: ‘Black Sea MAP now draws towards the end of its third season, acquiring more than 1300km [800 miles] of survey so far, recovering another 100m (330 ft) of sediment core samples and discovering over 20 new wreck sites, some dating to the Byzantine, Roman and Hellenistic periods.’  

The researchers are using two Remotely Operated Vehicles (ROVs) to survey the sea bed. One is optimised for high resolution 3D photography, while the other, called Surveyor Interceptor, ‘flies’ at four times the speed of conventional ROVs. The Interceptor carries an entire suite of geophysical instrumentation, as well as lights, high definition cameras and a laser scanner.  Since the project started, Surveyor Interceptor has set new records for depth at 5,900ft (1,800 metres) and sustained speed  of over six knots (7mph), and has covered 1,250 kilometres (776 miles). Among the wrecks are ships from the Roman, Ottoman and Byzantine Empires, which provide new information on the communities on the Black Sea coast.

Professor Jon Adams of The Black Sea Maritime Archaeology project holding a 3D model of a Greek shipwreck from 400BC, officially the World’s oldest intact shipwreck, at the Wellcome Collection, London.
After three years of highly advanced technological mapping of the Black Sea bed, scientists confirm that a shipwreck lying intact on the sea floor has been officially radiocarbon dated to 400BC

Many of the colonial and commercial activities of ancient Greece and Rome, and of the Byzantine Empire, centred on the Black Sea.  After 1453, when the Ottoman Turks occupied Constantinople – and changed its name to Istanbul – the Black Sea was virtually closed to foreign commerce.  Nearly 400 years later, in 1856, the Treaty of Paris re-opened the sea to the commerce of all nations.

The scientists were followed by Bafta-winning filmmakers for much of the three-year project and a documentary is expected in the coming years. Producer Andy Byatt, who worked on the David Attenborough BBC series ‘Blue Planet’, said: ‘I think we have all been blown away by the remarkable finds that Professor Adams and his team have made.

‘The quality of the footage revealing this hidden world is absolutely unique.’

Oldest evidence of humans in Greece is 700,000 years old, a quarter of a million years older than previous record

Oldest evidence of humans in Greece is 700,000 years old, a quarter of a million years older than previous record

Oldest evidence of humans in Greece is 700,000 years old, a quarter of a million years older than previous record
Stone tools crafted by hominins from and Choremi 7 in Greece.

Several prehistoric sites in Greece reveal that our human ancestors hunted hippos and elephants between 280,000 and 700,000 years ago. The oldest site pushes back the earliest known hominin presence in the region by up to 250,000 years.

It’s not clear which ancient hominin (a term that includes humans and our ancestors) used the site, but researchers suspect it was archaic Homo sapiens.

Sitting about 124 miles (200 kilometers) southwest of Athens, the Megalopolis Basin in Arcadia hosts one of the largest lignite mines in Greece. Although archaeologists have known for decades that the site harbored ancient fossils, little targeted excavation had been carried out.

Recently, though, the Hellenic Ministry of Culture & Sports and the American School of Classical Studies at Athens launched a five-year excavation to better understand the context of the Megalopolis sites. 

Mining activity revealed five new sites in the basin, which “exposed the fossil-bearing sediments to a much greater depth, thus revealing older remains,” Katerina Harvati, a paleoanthropologist at the University of Tübingen in Germany and co-project lead, told Live Science in an email. 

The most recent site, Choremi 7, dating to around 280,000 years ago, yielded stone tools as well as deer bones with evidence of cut marks. Tripotamos 4, at 400,000 years old, had a large concentration of stone tools and evidence of new methods of stone working compared to older sites.

These sites are important for understanding the technological development of the Lower Paleolithic period (3.3 million to 300,000 years ago), according to a statement from the Hellenic Ministry of Culture & Sport.

At a site called Marathousa 2 dating to 450,000 years ago, the researchers discovered evidence that ancient human relatives were killing and presumably eating hippopotamuses, as part of a hippo skeleton had stone tool cut marks on it. A nearby site, Marathousa 1, shows evidence of elephant butchering. 

An ancient deer skull, as found at Kyparissia site 4.

“The cut marked hippopotamus bones from Marathousa 2, which were also found together with a lithic artifact, are the only such findings from the Middle Pleistocene of southeast Europe,” Harvati said. The team found that megafaunal exploitation was likely common during this time period.

A surface survey showing the artificial levels of the Megalopolis lignite mine in Greece.

About 230 feet (70 meters) below the surface, the team discovered the site of Kyparissia 4. Dating to 700,000 years ago, it is the oldest archaeological site from the Lower Palaeolithic era in Greece.

The researchers found numerous stone tools as well as remains of extinct species of giant deer, hippo, rhino, elephant and macaque.  When glaciers covered much of Europe during a major ice age between 500,000 and 300,000 years ago, this region would have been ice-free.

The sites Kyparissia 3 and 4 in the stratigraphic sequence of the lignites.

“Our research reconstructing the paleoenvironment of the basin has indicated that it would have functioned as a refugium during Ice Age conditions,” Harvati said, “allowing animal and plant populations — but also hominin groups — to survive during harsh glacial times when they would have disappeared from more northern parts of the European continent.”

The “outstanding and highly unusual preservation conditions” in the Megalopolis basin mean that the team is recovering not only stone tools and fossils but also remains of small animals, wood, plant remains and even insects, according to Harvati.

The basin has provided evidence that spans almost the entire middle Pleistocene, an important discovery considering southeastern Europe is relatively unexplored for this time period.

“The Megalopolis basin therefore provides a crucial piece of the puzzle of human evolution in Europe,” Harvati said.