Nickos A. Poulianos 


The excavations in the so-called Cyclope cave of the uninhabited island of Youra (N.E. of Alonnessos) started in 1992 by the Director of Antiquities Dr.  A.  Sampson.  The research showed that the cave was used as a temporal fishing station during the Mesolithic and Neolithic times. At 1995 and in a depth of 3.3 m. a human cranial vault (calva) of about 10-11.000 years old was discovered (Sampson, 1996; Maniatis, 1996). This is the first human remain of such an old age found in the Greek islands. Bones of domesticated animals (goats and pigs) and various birds suggest that the diet of the prehistoric fishermen was enriched by a big variety of proteins (Sampson, 1995, 1996).

 The cranial vault

            The biggest part of the parietal bones, along with the adjacent fragments of the frontal (almost until the metopion) and the inion bone (almost until the inion) are preserved.  As it is possible to observe in the photos 1-4, and since no more remains of  the skeleton were found around the calva,  it is evident that it  was  deposited  as  an  isolated  fragment.  It’s thin bone structure, the relatively small cranial width (see table 1) and the well-developed parietal tubercles suggest that it belonged to a female individual, of an age of about 65-70 years old (cf. Olivier, 1969). Signs of slight osteoporosis are present near the coronal suture.

            The maximum distance between the broken bones of the metopion and the inion is of 186 mm, indicating that the skull's length most probably could not be more than 190 mm and no less than 181 mm.  Thus, its cranial index must lay between the values of 71.5 and 75.1, with a central value of 73.3. Therefore the calva indicates a dolichocranic skull. The morphology of the calva’s norma verticalis resembles the pentagonoid form (after Sergi) and the development of the opisthocranion of 1 degree (according to Broca’s scale).  Worth of mentioning is the fine relief of the skull’s bones, which along with its other radioscopic and craniometric features indicates that its Aegean  - Mediterranean characteristics prevail against the epirotic - continental ones (for more details on the terminology see A. Poulianos, 1988). Its comparison with the female European Mesolithic skulls strengthens the above hypothesis.  In the comparative table 1, four female "Protomediteranean» Mesolithic skulls are reported, one from Monclus  - S.  France (Ferembach, 1974a, 1974b) and the average value of other three skulls from the Crimean necropolis of Voloshki (Debetz, 1955). At Voloshki a total of nine crania (six male and three female) have been found. Six of them are "Protomediterranean" and the other three (male) present also some Negroid features which remind of Mesolithic skulls from the M. East  (Debetz, 1955), also similar to some of those from the coasts of N.  Africa (Ferembach, 1962). However, they are quite different  to the typically Negroid skulls found p.ex.  in  Kenya (Leaky,  1935) and in Sudan (Greene & Armelagos,  1972).  To  my opinion and in addition to the above discussion the Youra cranial vault  indicates that the "Protomediterranean" influences at least to  the Crimean peninsula could originate in the N.  Aegean  area too, especially if  Youra represents the earliest “Protomediterranean” skull not only from the Balkans, but also from the rest of Europe.  It also indicates that by the end of the Upper Palaeolithic infra   and  inter  -continental  contact  between  the   various anthropological   groups   occurred,    during   favorable   Palaeo-climatological  conditions and such a process probably goes  back as early as that of the Lower Palaeolithic (N. Poulianos, 1995).

                 Regarding the Greek mainland other three skeletal remains of this epoch have been found.  One comes from Attica's Kokkinovouni cave (A.  Poulianos,  1974), from which only a (very large) inion bone  is  preserved.  The other two,  which on the  contrary  are represeted by almost complete skeletons, come from the Peloponnese Franchthi cave (Jacobsen,  1969, A. Poulianos, 1975) and from the Thessalian Theopetra cave (Stravopodi et al., 1994). The features of the above skulls and more evidently those from Peloponnese and Thessaly   indicate   that   they   belong   to   the epirotic anthropological type.  Thus,  it is possible to hypothesize that the Greek mainland (and perhaps all of the S. Balkan area) during the Mesolithic epoch was still occupied mainly by the  Epirotics, while in the islands the Aegeans had already appeared. The Aegean population, developing the sea economy,  "pushed" gradually in the forthcoming times the Epirotics to the  inner  land,  thus occupying  most  of  the  islands  and  the  Aegean  coasts. The predominance of similar features in the Aegean sea  during  the next periods is always more evident and such an example (table 1) may considered to be a female skull from the post-Minoan Knossos.


            Besides  the above anthropological observations,  some other of ethnoarchaeological nature may be added.  The first regards  a slight  "deepening" of the frontal bone (parallel to the  coronal suture),  which must be due to a kind of swaddling - band and may be considered as an unknown custom for such an early period.  The second  observation regards the fact that the  Aegean  population could  present a higher average of life-time,  since nowhere else until  today a Mesolithic skull of such an old age (65-70  years) has  been  found.  This could be due to the  comparatively  reach diet, the good climate and the more peaceful island environment. Consequently,   these  factors  could  indirectly  influence  the development  of  the fishing techniques and the knowledge of  the first navigation in the Aegean sea. The third observation regards the  possibility  that the Mesolithic women participated  at  the open sea fishing. This hypothesis is based on the following three factors:  a)  Youra is a very small and rocky island offering  no possibilities  of  agricultural activity  and  habitation  during winter. b) Thanks to the compulsory immigration from Youra to the surrounding  islands  and  costs during winter, the woman  of the calva certainly had a close encounter with the sea.  c) The  fact that up until today Greek island women participate in fishing.


            The Mesolithic (10-11.000 years old) cranial vault found  at Cyclope's  cave  most probably belongs to a female individual  of 65-70 years old and to the Aegean - "Protomediterranean" European  anthropological  type. The ethnoarchaeological evidence idicate  a  population  with  some peculiar cultural characteristics. Perhaps,  it represents the earliest “Protomediterranean” Mesolithic find not only of the Aegean area, but also from the rest of Europe.