New Lower Palaeolithic elephant butchering site has been discovered in Greece

Excavation with some of the elephant bones exposed. Image: Greek Ministry of Culture

Excavation with some of the elephant bones exposed. Image: Greek Ministry of Culture

A new Lower Palaeolithic elephant butchering site, Marathousa 1, has been discovered in Megalopolis, Greece, by a joint team of researchers from the Ephorate of Palaeoanthropology and Speleology (Greek Ministry of Culture) and the Paleoanthropology group, University of Tübingen.

Marathousa 1 is located in an open-cast coal mine, on what was once the shore of a shallow lake. It has yielded stratified stone artefacts in association with a nearly complete skeleton of Elephas antiquus, as well as the exceptionally well-preserved remains of fauna (rodents, birds, amphibians, reptiles, mollusks and insects) and plants (wood, seeds, fruit). The association of lithic artefacts with the elephant remains, as well as the discovery of cutmarks on elephant bones, indicate that Marathousa 1 is an elephant butchering site. Preliminary results suggest a Middle Pleistocene age (roughly between 300 and 600 thousand years before present).

Stone tools found during excavation. Image: Greek Ministry of Culture

Stone tools found during excavation. Image: Greek Ministry of Culture

The researchers found stone tools, which the early hunters are likely to have used to cut the meat from the bones. “That makes Megalopolis the only site in the Balkans where we have evidence of an elephant being butchered in the early Palaeolithic,” says Professor Katerina Harvati of the Senckenberg Center for Human Evolution and Palaeoenvironment (HEP) at the University of Tübingen.

Cut marks on the bone as seen under a microscope. Image: Greek Ministry of Culture

Cut marks on the bone as seen under a microscope. Image: Greek Ministry of Culture

Most likely route for human migration

Marathousa 1 is one of the oldest archaeological sites in Greece. The region is one of the most likely routes for human migration into Europe and also likely acted as a refugium for fauna, flora and human populations during glacial periods.

Despite this crucial geographic position, Palaeoanthropological and Palaeolithic research has been under-represented in the region due to a traditional focus on later prehistory and Classical times. As a result, very little information exists on the Lower Palaeolithic of Greece. Marathousa 1 is of paramount importance for the understanding of human dispersal patterns into Europe, as well as the adaptations and behaviour of early humans in the region,” says Harvati.

Full article in Antiquity