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Discovery News-Some Ancient Caves Designed for Comfort

PostPosted: Aug 24, 2006 3:02 pm
by Evan G
Aug. 24, 2006 — A new find of a condo-like cave suggests not all cavemen were club-wielding, nomadic hunter-gatherers, but included some farmers and shepherds.

Evidence of such homebody cave dwellers comes from a recent excavation of a neolithic cave complex in Greece, dating from 5300-3900 B.C.The abode features a three-room complex with plastered floors and evidence of crop-growing and an attached stable nearby.

"This household was self-contained," said Panagiotis Karkanas, who conducted the excavation of the Kouveleiki Caves, which are located on the cliffs of a shallow valley in southern Peloponnese.

Karkanas, an archaeologist at the Ephoreia of Palaeoanthropology-Speleology in Athens, added, "I believe that the site was an ordinary household. The people were living there, cooking, sleeping, etc. probably during the whole year. They were both farmers and shepherds."

Karkanas made this determination after studying objects uncovered within the caves and after performing a detailed microanalysis of the cave sediments.

Findings will be published in the November issue of the Journal of Archaeological Science.

The complex consists of two caves, the first of which is divided into two chambers by several rock blocks that appear to have fallen from the roof before the caves were inhabited.

The cavemen used this natural divide to their advantage, since one of the fallen rocks was curved and straightened to resemble a wall, which created a corridor between the two chambers.

Burnt manure found in the front chamber suggests a few animals — likely sheep and goats — were housed there. Karkanas told Discovery News that the animals probably were "milkers or very young." Cereal husks and residue found within the dung indicates the cave dwellers probably farmed the land in front of the caves.

He points out that farming in Greece started in the 7th Millennium or about 6500 B.C., at the beginning of the Neolithic era, also known as the New Stone Age.

In the first cave he found fine painted pottery, polished axes, spindle whirls, clay and marble figurines, grinders and a collection of obsidian, chert and quartz tools.

The dark, back "room," measuring just over 1,614 square feet, appears to have been the main area of habitation. Evidence for hearth fires was found. The floor was plastered with a mixture of burnt dung and red clay.

Karkanas suggested this type of plaster was unusual for the time, though it became popular later — and is still used today.

"Plaster made of dung, sometimes burnt, and clay is common today in some villages in Africa and India," he explained.

He said the second cave "was probably used as a complimentary activity area," sort of the prehistoric version of a tool shed. Nine human burials discovered within the caves suggests some people may have lived out their entire lives at the site.

Curtis Runnels, professor of archaeology at Boston University, told Discovery News he found Karkanas’ paper to be "both informative and convincing."

Runnels added, "The move to caves came for many reason, among which was the reorganization of the economy during this period to emphasize sheep and goat herding. Part of the change was a focus on the production of wool and hair for textiles, which were traded for imported materials, possibly exotic flint or obsidian."

Runnels thinks people who wanted to practice both farming and herding moved to caves in the somewhat remote, agriculturally marginal regions. Then, as the new find suggests, they settled down.

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