Palaeolithic Greece - The Old Stone Age c.25,000-10,300 BC.
Cave dwelling, stone tools.
Mesolithic Greece - The Middle Stone Age. c.10,300-8,000 BC.
‘Hunter-Gatherers’ and seasonal settlements. Often coastal-based.
Neolithic Greece - The New Stone Age c.8,000-2,500 BC
The first all-year settlements, the first farming, the first pottery
Aceramic Neolithic Greece - The New Stone Age. c.8,000-7,700 BC
Marked by the first year-round settlements
Ceramic Neolithic Greece - the Stone Age but with pottery c.7,500-2,500 BC. The first farming.
Particular areas have different cultures within this Age
Mainland Greece (Early Helladic named after the Greek’s own word for Greece Hellas) - The Cyclades islands - Minoan Crete - Western Turkey/Anatolian (Troy)
Early Bronze Age
Early Helladic (Inc. Lefkandi I)
The Cycladic cultures (Grotta-Pelos, followed by Keros-Syros and then the Kastri Group and Phylakopi culture),
Early Minoan tombs and Pre-Palatial Crete,
Middle Bronze Age
Middle Minoan: Proto-Palatial (Old Palace) - Neopalatial (New Palace)
The Akrotiri on volcanic Thera
Late Bronze Age
Late Minoan: Post-Palatial (although Knossos continues)
Mycenaeans (Late Helladic)
Greek Dark Age
Archaeological evidence of destruction and migrations. Little innovation.
Greek Iron Age - Greek colonisation around the Mediterranean & cultural revival. ‘Greekness’ begins. The Age of Tyrants, Sparta & Athens (Cleisthenes) and the invasion of Greece by Persia
Greek Classical Age - The Golden Age of Athens follows the defeat of the Persians.
Alexander the Great & the Hellenistic Era
Alexander the Great conquers the Eastern Mediterranean and beyond, bringing Greek culture to all his Empire.
Roman Era Greek regions come under Roman rule, until it is fully absorbed into the Roman Empire. Greek culture continues within the Roman world.
Archaeological Features & Sites to Look For;
Palaeolithic - The Old Stone Age
Stone tools - flint and chert - plus some obsidian (from Melos) appear in Franchthi Cave c.10,900 BC. Detailed analysis of seed deposits etc in summer inhabitation of Franchthi Cave reveal plants for ‘bedding’ or dye plus lentils, vetch, pistachios & almonds from 11,000 BC;. Various animal bones here include red deer, pig, hare, tortoise, bird, then large wild cows and goats and a few fish appear and then the cows and goats reduce and voles appear.
No pottery nor architecture. No burials found.
Franchthi Cave, across the bay from modern Koilada village, had continuous habitation from c.20,000 BC or earlier to c.3,000 BC
Beyond Franchthi Cave, there are few excavated sites:
Asprochaliko Cave in Louros River Valley in Epirus
Kastritsa Rock Shelter at south end of Lake Pambotis/Ioannina in Epirus
Klithi Roch Shelter near Albanian border
Grave Rock Shelter on Corfu
Sidari open-air sire on Corfu
Theopetra Cave in Thessaly
Seidi Cave in the Copaic Basin of Boeotia
Kephalari Cave in the Argolid
Kleisoura Rock Shelter in the Argolid
Kalamakia Cave in the Mani area of Laconia
Palaeolithic stone tools have been found in surface surveys in Thessaly, Boeotia, Epirus and in the central and SE Argolid and on the island of Euboea,
Mesolithic - The Middle Stone Age
‘Hunter-gatherers’ with seasonal settlements nearly all on coastal areas. Marked by the presence of small flint tools (‘microliths’)
Pistachios appear in Franchthi Cave c.9,000 BC and wild oats and barley appear c.8,000 BC. The era here begins with deposites of bones of open forest creatures (red deer, fox, hare, hedgegod, birds but fish bones (especially large fish) increase - as do the deposits of obsidian from Melos - as the era continues.
Millstones appear, as do burials and cremations.
Aceramic Neolithic Greece - The New Stone Age. c.8,000-7,700 BC
Marked by the first year-round settlements (unusual in the rest of Europe at this date but indicated here by age of pigs when killed) and the first farming, indicated by sudden loss of wild oats, barley, lentils, pears and peas while emmer wheat and cultivated forms of barley and lentils appear.
Domesticated sheep and goat appear suddenly too and wild animal bones tail off dramatically. The main settlement areas were, not surprisingly, the most fertile alluvial soils which were easy to till by hand (there is no evidence for horses, oxen or donkeys) and which retained water well
Polished stone tools appear, plus blades for ‘sickle’ use on crops.
The first settlements had no pottery (aceramic) but grinding millstones increase. Fish hooks made of bone appear.
Sites & cultures in Franchthi Cave,
Thessaly from 6,500 BC but with no preceding Mesolithic sites in the area. At Argissa, there are six ‘pit-huts’ with sunken pebble floors, hearths and post holes, sun-dried pottery, arrowheads and chipped stone (about half of which is obsidian). Evidence of domesticated cattle and cultivated wheat, barley and oats, with extra peas, lentils, vetch, pistachios, acorns and wild olives.
Crete & Cycladic islands
Mound sites in Macedonia (‘toumbas’) and Thessaily (‘magoulas’), central Greece and Knossos on Crete).
Widespread trade was carried out for stone tools and raw materials, and for ‘luxury’ items such as those made of shell.
There are absolutley no monumental features (unlike the Neolithic in Northern Europe where they are almost a trademark. eg. Carnac or Orkney’s Stones of Stenness).
Ceramic Neolithic Greece - the Stone Age but with pottery c.7,500-2,500 BC
Pottery indicates permanent settlement (nomadic lifestyles are not conducive to heavy, bulky and breakable pottery).
Early Neolithic (c.7,500-6,000 BC) pottery is plain, dark ,burnished jars and hemispherical bowls, fired at fairly low temperatures (<650C). Red and red-brown burnished paint appears on some vessels. There is little evidence for their use in cooking or storage - more for display, it seems. Sesklo, Souphli and Achilleion, all in Thessaly, reveal wheat, barley, pea and lentil continue to be used.
Middle Neolithic (c.6,000-c.5,500 BC) pottery is finer, harder, more uniform and lighter in colour with a lustrous reddish slip/wash sometimes in simple linear patterns. Fired at higher temperatures (c.800C) in larger (stacked) batches. ‘Coarse wares’ also made for use as cooking vessels.
Animal bones become more common than fish bones.
Arrowheads found, and more obsidian chipped stone.
Burials found, with grave goods but the adults ‘re-buried’.
Einkorn wheat appears at the very end of the Middle Neolithic
Late Neolithic (c.5,500-c.4000 BC) pottery is ‘matt’, a dull dark-on-light pattern-painted ware (possibly due to using a manganese-based paint instead of an earlier iron-based one). Some Fine Black-burnished ware (with a ghost of a white paint decoration surviving).
Barbed and barbed and tanged arrowheads appear (these continue into the Early Bronze Age).
Wild grape pips appear in the archaeology.
The final phase of this Late Neolithic (sometimes called the Final Neolithic) is marked by coarse, odd-handled pottery with moulded rather than painted decoration.
Large triangular arrowheads join the obsidian chipped stone at Franchthi.
Burials are found and, as in the Middle Neolithic, adults appear to be ‘secondary’ (re-buried) burials.
Neolithic is the first era providing any archaeological evidence in Crete or the Cycladic islands.
Top Archaeological Sites
Minoan Crete - Knossos is top of the list if you can see past the reconstructions to the real archaeology below. Phaistos, Malia & Kato Zakro give you a good spread of sites across Crete.
Museums & Places To Visit
Tom Holland’s ‘Persian Fire’ explores the meeting of East and West in the great Persian invasion of Greece - its history, its impact and its legacy.
You don’t need to know Greek to read the literature of the Ancient Greeks. Most texts can be found in the excellent Penguin Classics series.
If you have a little Greek, you might like to explore the LOEB library of books, in which the original text is on the left hand page and a translation on the facing right hand page.
Thorough, detailed, modular on-line course on everything from the Palaeolithic in the Aegean to the end of the Mycenaeans and the ‘Post-Palatial Twilight’ of the 12th century BC. Extensive bibliographies are listed for every chapter.
Minoan Crete: A Bronze Age Civilisation
This detailed and easy to read and navigate website by Ian Swindale provides excellent material on Minoan Crete, its history, sites and archaeology, for all levels of interest and plenty of links to further exploration.
Produced by the John Latsis Foundation, this isn’t the easiest to navigate ebook around but the images within it are wonderful.
A good introduction to many aspects of Minoan society - arts, religion, natural environment, economy, achievements ...
A Visual Glossary of Greek Pottery www.ancient.eu.com/article/489
Read the very latest excavation reports from Greek sites. A joint bulletin venture between the ecole francaise d’athenes and the British School at Athens provides some English, some French short reports. Richly illustrated. Enough to make you want to emigrate with your trowel ...
Hollywood epics such as Troy and 300 are a good romp often loosely set in a background scene of ancient Greece and with a nod to history. Enjoy them, but don’t write your dissertation on the ancient world from them!
In our Time on Radio 4 is hosted by Melvyn Bragg and the always-accessible archives include several programmes related to Ancient Greece
The Greek Myths; The Trojan War;