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Palaeolithic tools tell tale of ancient seafaring

130,000-year-old tools found on the Crete are pushing the history of seafaring back by more than 100,000 years.

The oldest uncontested marine crossing until recently was from Indonesia to Australia, dating to perhaps 60,000 years ago and made by anatomically modern humans of our own species, Homo sapiens, although we now know that earlier settlement on the island of Flores in Indonesia also necessitated a sea-crossing.

Professor Runnels, the Palaeolithic expert in the survey team, said that the investigation was carried out along the southwestern coast of Crete near the town of Plakias, facing Libya more than 200 miles to the south. These first Cretans may have crossed the Libyan Sea rather than island-hopping through the Cyclades from mainland Greece. Recent finds of what are claimed to be Palaeolithic tools from the island of Gavdos, off the south coast of Crete, would support this southern approach.

The survey has focused on the area from Plakias to Ayios Pavlos, including the Preveli Gorge, and has recovered more than 2,000 stone artefacts from 28 sites; the early tools were found at nine of these, eight in the area between Plakias and Preveli. “The existence of Lower Palaeolithic artefacts in association with datable geological contexts was a complete surprise: until now there has been no certain evidence of Lower Palaeolithic seafaring in the Mediterranean,” Professor Runnels said.

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