FRANCHTHI CAVE - 2009
Type of Operation
American School of Classical Studies at Athens
Franchthi Cave. K.D. Vitelli (ASCSA) reports on continuing study and analytical programmes.
Study of the Franchthi ornaments was devoted to Neolithic assemblages, in particular from trenches FAN, FAS and L5. Eight phases and sub-phases are recognized, in general agreement with the lithic and ceramic phasing. Early and Middle Neolithic show strong continuity, whereas sharp breaks occur at the beginning of the Late and Final Neolithic.
Microscopic study and photography of the manufacturing and wear traces on the FAS and FAN material revealed variety among the apparently homogenous series of Late Neolithic beads. This obtains also for the ‘small fired steatite’ beads which may actually have been glazed. Study of cockle-shell bead blanks (Cerastoderma glaucum) was coupled with experiments to reconstruct manufacturing procedures and thus document different choices of blanks and different production steps for the Early and Late Neolithic cockleshell beads.
Study of the faunal sequence in trench H1-B was completed in 2009. Trench H1-B constitutes the longest Palaeolithic sequence at Franchthi Cave − at least 20,000 years of human occupation spanning numerous cultural and environmental changes. Basic trends in Upper Palaeolithic to Mesolithic foraging are identified as follows, based on these data. A terrestrial focus in diet defines the lower half of the sequence. The diet shifts fairly abruptly to a mixed marine-terrestrial focus above unit 172. Units 153−70 point to exceptional ‘instability’ in economic and other faunal patterns, some of which must relate to dramatic climate shifts leading into the Holocene. The shifts indicate major reorganization of human economic systems. Exploitation patterns restabilize as a new regimen above unit 150. As foragers started to turn to aquatic resources in earnest, they began by gathering pond turtles and marine shellfish. Marine fishing was also practised early on, but fishing became more important and diversified with time. The sequence in which aquatic resource types were integrated into the meat diet follows closely an optimality prediction, beginning with easily collected small animals, moving to greater use of fish and ultimately to fishing for tuna, large fish that are difficult to catch and land. The foraging regimens of units 172−58 were especially diversified, and this may indicate the first of several increases in occupation intensity at Franchthi Cave. Small game exploitation is somewhat less diversified above unit 154, but a variety of species continued to be exploited − in particular fish and carnivores. By unit 128, fish had become very important and more diverse, culminating in a heavy emphasis on tuna fishing.
It is not yet clear whether the rising intensity of occupation at Franchthi reflects changes in local human population densities. However, the heaviest use of marine shellfish began around the same time, as did the heavy exploitation of land snails and labour-intensive collection and processing of small-grain grasses and legumes. Increased pressure on local resources is expected to encourage humans to exploit lower-ranked species such as these. Speculatively, we may have evidence from the H1-B faunal sequence at Franchthi Cave of feed-back relations between rising populations and expansion into new habitats and technological innovations that span the Late Palaeolithic to the Mesolithic.
Unpublished field report, American School of Classical Studies in Athens
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