The Balkans in Prehistory: The Palaeolithic Archaeology of Greece and Adjacent Areas

By Bailey, Geoff | Antiquity, March 1995 | Go to article overview

The Balkans in Prehistory: The Palaeolithic Archaeology of Greece and Adjacent Areas


Bailey, Geoff, Antiquity


Thirty years ago, the finding of a single hand-axe in Greece was remarkable enough to have its own note in ANTIQUITY. A recent conference is occasion to review the regional picture, now broad as well as deep enough for patterns to emerge which look more like early prehistoric realities than the chance consequence of where the pioneers have been looking.

Until about 30 years ago, almost nothing was known about the Palaeolithic archaeology of Greece apart from isolated finds of uncertain provenance, and little more was known elsewhere in the Balkan region south of the Danube except for the early excavations of Garrod et al. (1939) at the Bacho Kiro cave in Bulgaria and preliminary work on the massive cave sequence of Crvena Stijena (Benac & Brodar 1958) in Montenegro [ILLUSTRATION FOR FIGURE 1 OMITTED]. Most of what has been discovered since then has come to light in the past decade, and the First International Conference on the Palaeolithic Archaeology of Greece and Adjacent Areas (ICOPAG), held in Ioannina 6-11 September 1994 drew 39 papers on a variety of themes and projects ranging from Bosnia to southern Anatolia. The conference was organized with the specific aims of stimulating interest in the Palaeolithic archaeology of Greece, improving communication between those working in Greece and adjacent areas, and placing the results of recent research in a wider context (for details of the Conference, see endnote).

In Greece the glories of the Classical and Bronze Age Civilizations have long overshadowed the earlier prehistory, which has remained the province of amateurs or foreign expeditions. The surveys of E. Higgs in northern Greece in the early 1960s first placed Palaeolithic archaeology firmly on the Greek map with finds at Kokkinopilos and Palaiokastro (Higgs 1963; 1964), followed by excavation of stratified assemblages of Middle and Upper Palaeolithic material at the Asprochaliko and Kastritsa rockshelters, and the subsequent promotion of a palaeogeographical and palaeoeconomic approach (Dakaris et al. 1964; Higgs & Vita-Finzi 1966; Higgs et al. 1967). Other projects from this pioneering phase are the surveys by A. Sordinas on Corfu and excavation of the Grava rockshelter and the Sidari midden (Sordinas 1969); the excavation led by T. Jacobsen (1967-1976) of the Franchthi Cave in the Argolid, where deposits span the environmental and cultural transitions to modern climatic conditions and the introduction of agriculture (Jacobsen 1973); and the discovery of the Petralona hominid in the Chalkidike, brought to prominence by the work of A. Poulianos during the 1970s (Poulianos 1971).

During the past decade some of the fruits of this early work have been published, notably the detailed results of the Franchthi work (Hansen 1991; Jacobsen & Farrand 1987; Perles 1987; 1991; Shackleton 1988; Van Andel & Farrand 1982; Wilkinson & Duhon 1990), and re-examination of the Higgs material (Adam 1991; Bailey 1992; Bailey et al. 1983). New projects focused on cave and rock-shelter excavations have also been initiated or intensified throughout the Balkan region: at Klithi in Epirus (Bailey et al. 1984; Bailey in press), and Theopetra in Thessaly, at Malisina Stijena in Montenegro (Radovanovic 1986), at Badanj in Bosnia (Whallon 1989), at Temnata Dupka in Bulgaria (Kozlowski & Sirakov 1975; Kozlowski et al. 1989; 1992), and in Turkey at Karain (Yalcinkaya et al. 1992) Okuzini (Albrecht et al. 1992) and Yarimburgaz. Nevertheless, the Greek map of Palaeolithic finds remains sparse, with large tracts of essentially unexplored country between local concentrations of finds and research activity, and this is true throughout the Balkan region, with individuals and research groups working in relative isolation reinforced by political and geographical conditions.

Ioannina, the conference venue, is the provincial capital of the Epirus region, which has received more intensive Palaeolithic investigation over the past 30 years than any other area of Greece [ILLUSTRATION FOR FIGURE 1 OMITTED], including three current projects: the British-led Klithi project, which over the past 12 years has stimulated a wide range of collaborative research on the archaeology and palaeoenvironments of the region (G. …

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