The Lowest Levels at Dikili Tash, Northern Greece: A Missing Link in the Early Neolithic of Europe

By Lespez, Laurent; Tsirtsoni, Zoi et al. | Antiquity, March 2013 | Go to article overview

The Lowest Levels at Dikili Tash, Northern Greece: A Missing Link in the Early Neolithic of Europe


Lespez, Laurent, Tsirtsoni, Zoi, Darcque, Pascal, Koukouli-Chryssanthaki, Haido, Malamidou, Dimitra, Treuil, Rene, Davidson, Robert, Kourtessi-Philippakis, Georgia, Oberlin, Christine, Antiquity


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Introduction

The tell of Dikili Tash is located in the south-eastem part of the Drama plain, in eastern Macedonia, northem Greece. It lies some 2.5km east of the ancient city of Philippi, on the outskirts of the modern town of Krinides, Kavala district. It is the biggest tell of the region, with its highest point standing at C. 15m above current ground surface (71m above sea level) and extending over 4.5 hectares (250 x 180m at its base). To its south stretched a large swamp ('Tenaghi Philippon') that occupied the lowest parts of the Drama plain until 1931.

A freshwater spring lies immediately to the north-east of the tell: until its capture in the early 1990s, the water formed a small pond here which was further drained by a small brook running along the east side of the tell (Figure 1). The site has been systematically investigated since 1961, under the auspices of the Archaeological Society at Athens and the French School at Athens. Two successive research programmes were carried out between 1961 and 2001, the first directed by D.R. Theocharis and J. Deshayes, the second by H. Koukouli-Chryssanthaki and R. Treuil. These revealed a part of the site's long stratigraphic sequence, from at least c. 5300 to 1200 cal BC according to a series of [sup.14]C and TL dates. Substantial architectural remains were brought to light from several periods, most remarkably the Neolithic (see in particular Treuil 1992; Koukouli & Treuil 2008).

A third programme began in 2008, which aims to fully reconstruct the sequence, giving special attention to the earliest occupation (Darcque et al. 2009). The date and nature of the first human occupation represents, indeed, one of the major points of interest. The matter is crucial in the debate about the modes of adoption of the Neolithic way of life in Europe (Kotsakis 2001; Lichter 2005). If one admits that the new trends (or at least part of them) carne ultimately from Anatolia and the Near East, one would expect Greek eastern Macedonia to be one of the 'entrance points', given its geographical position.

At Sitagroi, on the opposite side of the Drama plain (Renfrew et al. 1986), the first occupation leve1, explored in a narrow 3 x 3m trench, was hardly earlier than the earliest known Neolithic level at Dikili Tash ([sup.14]C dates between 5500-5200 cal BC). This supported the hypothesis that permanent settlements in eastern Macedonia could only have started around this date, i.e. at the end of the Aegean Middle Neolithic or the beginning of the Late Neolithic (Demoule & Perles 1993: 365, 388; Andreou et al. 1996: 586). At Dikili Tash, however, the virgin soil still lies some five metres below the lowest point excavated inside the tell proper (Darcque & Tsirtsoni 2010). This suggested a possibly earlier start. But how much earlier? These depths have yet to be reached in a trench--in spite of efforts to that effect--but the exploration of the earliest phases, reported here, has been achieved by coring.

The 1993 researches

A first coring campaign in 1993 provided valuable information about the site's topography and palaeoenvironmental conditions. Ten cores established that the site's substratum, representing the flat distal part of a Pleistocene alluvial fan, was located at about 51.5-52.5m asl, i.e. approximately 17m below the present tell's summit (Lespez et al. 2000). In the two main intra-site cores (Figure 1: 1993-A and 1993-B), the majority of the anthropogenic deposits consisted of successive occupation layers, from which several samples were selected for AMS dating. Nine samples were dated from core 1993-A, representing a 6m depth of anthropogenic layers. The [sup.14]C dates (Lyon-5010 to Lyon-5018) appeared for the most part in correct stratigraphic order: the seven upper samples, taken from layers between c. 57.7 and 54m, yielded dates between 4900/4700 and 5480/5325 cal BC (at 2cr), falling mostly into the Late Neolithic I (LN I) period. …

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