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450,000 Years Ago Ancient Humans Sailed The Mediterranean
Early people discovered how to sail across the sea to discover new locations as early as around 500,000 years ago.
The Aegean Islands are currently ranked among the most beautiful destinations on earth. They are an archipelago of several islands that spans the Aegean Sea between Turkey, Greece, and Crete. They have also been inhabited for a very long time; artifacts have been found that may date back as far as 476,000 years.
There is no alternative way prehistoric hominins to have gotten to what are now known as the Aegean Islands, according to a recent examination1 of shorelines from the mid-Chibanian epoch. Archaeologists have discovered old artifacts on the islands that date back before Homo sapiens made their first documented arrival. This shows that these early people developed a method of crossing wide bodies of water.
Boats have typically been fashioned of wood throughout history, a material that rarely endures the test of time unaltered, let alone for tens of thousands, let alone hundreds of thousands of years. Therefore, there is little to no chance of discovering a record of the first ships skimming across the seas. Instead, we have a record of bones and artifacts that have endured, such as stone tools that don't degrade, as well as analysis methods that allow us to piece together how the world has evolved over many centuries. This is how the group of researchers that published the study were able to carry out the new investigation.
These prehistoric tools found on Lesbos, Milos, and Naxos have been connected to the Acheulean style, which was popular in Africa and Asia around 1.76 million years ago and is linked to Homo erectus. These tools have also been found in surrounding archipelagos around Turkey and Crete and date back to 1.2 million years ago.
Previous research hypothesized that during the ice ages, prehistoric humans traveled between the islands on foot. Sea levels fall when the planet freezes, allowing people to cross areas that would otherwise be submerged under water in more temperate climates.
The authors of the current study recreated the geography of the area, including a reproduction of the shoreline surrounding the Aegean Islands from 450,000 years ago, to ascertain whether this is a possibility. They did this by using rates of subsidence caused by tectonic activity as well as old river deltas, which may be used to estimate sea level. They also discovered that earlier reconstructions were flawed.
The water level was at its lowest point over the last 450,000 years, approximately 225 meters (738 feet) lower than it is now, which indicates that, although some of the Aegean Islands were connected to one another when sea levels were lower, the islands have constantly remained isolated from the surrounding land masses during the past 450,000 years.
Even at the lowest point of the sea level, it would have taken several kilometers of open water to travel to the closest Aegean Island. The researchers point out that there is other evidence that indicates this was not the earliest sea crossing. Archaic humans are believed to have traveled the seas of Indonesia and the Philippines between 700,000 to a million years ago. These cumulative crossings imply that humans' forebears and relatives—rather than Homo sapiens—developed the ability to travel by sea.
In addition, if ancient hominins were able to cross the Aegean Sea, they undoubtedly could have done the same across the Gibraltar Straits. Based on the consensus that sea-crossing cognitive abilities were only possessed by anatomically modern humans, the aforementioned allow a revision to the generally accepted theory on the population of southwestern Europe during the mid and late Middle Pleistocene from the Sinai Peninsula and Levantine plains staging post via the Anatolia coastal zone and the Bosporus land-bridge.
Ferentinos, G., Gkioni, M., Prevenios, M., Geraga, M., & Papatheodorou, G. (2022). Archaic hominins maiden voyage in the Mediterranean Sea. Quaternary International: The Journal of the International Union for Quaternary Research. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.quaint.2022.09.001