Finding the Early Neolithic in Aegean Thrace: The Use of Cores

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The region of north-eastern Greece known as Aegean Thrace is one of the last missing pieces on Europe's early Neolithic map. By the end of the twentieth century, there were reports in the literature on several mound sites of middle Neolithic age in the region (Bakalakis & Sakellariou 1981; Andreou et al. 1996; Efstratiou et al. 1998; see also Hellstrom 1987). However, there was still no settlement that could be securely dated back to the early Neolithic: that is, to around 6000 cal BC. Given the position of Aegean Thrace--bounded as it is by Turkish Thrace on the east (with Anatolia located behind it), by Bulgaria on the north and by the Aegean world to the south--the region clearly represents a lacuna of some importance for the study of the Neolithic transition (Figure 1). Indeed, it is fair to say that Aegean Thrace currently holds the key to a better understanding of the collage of material cultures that make up the early Neolithic in this part of Europe (e.g. Perles 2001; 2005). The aim of this preliminary report is to present some of the results of work that we have recently undertaken at two mound sites in the region, Krovili and Lafrouda, in an attempt to dose this gap. The emphasis here will be on the new and less invasive approach that we have taken to the initial phase of the sites' investigation and on the radiocarbon dates that have just become available for the two sites.


Before we turn to the new evidence, it is useful to introduce some background on what is known about the start of the Neolithic in neighbouring regions and to say a few words about our previous research in Aegean Thrace. In the case of Turkish Thrace, there is the excavation of the mound site called Hoca Cesme (Ozdogan 1999; 2001). Located near the Evros River just to the east of the Greek border (see Figure 1), its earliest Neolithic levels (phase IV) have produced four [sup.14]C dates that fall in the time range between 6500 and 6000 cal BC (Bln-4609, Hd-16725-119145, GrN-19355, GrN-19779). The pottery recovered from this phase is held to have affinities with the ceramics found at coeval sites in Anatolia. Turning next to Bulgaria, where white-on-red painted pottery is the hallmark of the Karonovo culture, a number of early Neolithic sites have produced radiocarbon dates that go back to around 6000 cal BC and perhaps even a century or two older in some cases (the dates and references for sites such as Slatina, Galabnik, Hesnica, Tell Azmak and Tell Karanovo are given on the website The Bulgarian site located nearest to Aegean Thrace is that of Kovacevo, and it has produced several radiocarbon dates close to 6000 cal BC (Demoule & Lichardus-Itten 1994; its oldest date is now Ly-1437 7180 [+ or -] 45BP).

Within Greece, the region with the best evidence for the early Neolithic is, of course, the Plain of Thessaly where the ceramics are well known and differ from what is found both at sites in Bulgaria and at the site of Hoca Cesme. By boat, the distance between Aegean Thrace and Thessaly is not much more than 200km. In terms of absolute chronology, the earliest occupation at mound sites in Thessaly goes back at least to about 6400 cal BC (e.g. Perles 2001: Table 6.1; Thissen 2005: Figure 5). Finally, in the area of Eastern Macedonia that is located just to the west of Aegean Thrace, there are three Neolithic sites--Sitagroi, Dikili Tash and Limenaria--that should be mentioned here. While each site has produced a number of radiocarbon dates, it is still not clear whether any of them offers a fully convincing case for occupation as early as 6000 cal BC. The well-known site of Sitagroi was excavated some years ago; its oldest radiocarbon determinations, when they are calibrated, date to the middle of the sixth millennium BC (Renfrew et al. 1986: 173; see also Elster & Renfrew 2003). Dikili-Tash now has eight radiocarbon determinations but the problem here is that two of the oldest ones (Gifo-1426 6800 [+ or -] 150BP and Gif-2630 6720 [+ or -] 160BP) have large errors associated with them (Treuil 1992; 2004). …