Mesolithic mortuary ritual at Franchthi Cave, Greece

Mesolithic mortuary ritual at Franchthi Cave, Greece

Franchthi is a oddly important site as it seems to document an expansion from Southern Anatolia in the Mesolithic into SE Greece. What isn’t mentioned below is that lentils, bitter vetch, almond and pistachio appear rather suddenly at 13,500 BP, not seen before that date, which strongly suggests (to me) that they are being grown there, not native prior to that point. Oats appear later, by about 500 years.

The Mesolithic inhabitants of the cave based their livelihood on a wide spectrum of resources, hunting red deer, pigs, and a range of smaller prey, fishing, and collecting nuts, land-snails, shellfish, fruits, legumes, and, for the first time, cereals. Hansen (1991: 119) reports ‘a dramatic increase in the quantity and variety’ of recovered plant remains at this time. An enormous leap in the number of seeds recovered from Franchthi – from 697 seeds representing 19 species at the end of the Upper Palaeolithic to almost 28,000 seeds from 27 species in the Lower Mesolithic – suggests not only a diverse subsistence base but also considerable activity during this phase of use of the cave

Having read through the papers I have, I know that a swap from a hunter gatherer lifestyle to a farming one results in a decrease in marine protein and an uptake in terestrial animals, as well as a large increase in the amount of vegetable matter consumed. The main subject of the papers is the cremations, and remarks on the cultural similarities to Grotta dell’ Uzzo in Italy, which is something I’ll have to look up.

3 responses to “Mesolithic mortuary ritual at Franchthi Cave, Greece

  1. I had just read that in Wikipedia but was unreferenced. It’s a fascinating early Neolithic… unless Zilhao comes around and dictamines it’s all wrongly dated. 😉

    All those crops could perfectly be from Southern Anatolia… and we would be talking of a hyper-early Neolithic, very much at the beginnings of the process.

    • That’s why I think the importance of Franchthi is terribly overlooked. They turn Up with four mainland Asian staple foods all at once -one could be natural, but four? No way. it’s why I’ve been going one about legumes being an earlier domesticate than wheat. I think the arrival of the quern along with the Natufians in S Anatolia made eating grains viable, so they were added to the diet a little later.

  2. Notably E1b1b in Greece is most common (c. 40%) in certain areas and not others (see at Dienekes and my illustrative map based on that post.

    And one of this areas is precisely around Franchti (Lerna/Farnchti in the Dienekes’ data). Other high E are seen in other areas of Peloponesos and Mid-North Greece (Thessaly, Epirus), notably early Neolithic sites like Sesklo/Dimini and Nea Nikomedia.

    J2 instead is found mostly in Crete (and Larissa that is legendarily a Cretan/Pelasgian foundation). J1 is rather rare and concentrated in the western coasts.

    So I do think you are on something when associating southern Anatolia to early European (especially Greek) Neolithic. It is very possible, IMO, that Sesklo (and maybe Otzaki-Cardium too) was largely derived from Franchti, rather than being any new wave. Pottery in Greece is among the oldest in West Eurasia.

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