How long have humans been present in Greece? We know quite a bit about the classical Greek civilization. But what about before that?
In Timaeus, Plato tells how the famous Greek lawmaker Solon visited Egypt. And there he began to speak to an Egyptian priest about the ancient history of the Greeks. He spoke of Phoroneus and Niobe. According to some ancient Greek writers, Phoroneus was one of the primordial humans and Niobe was his consort. Solon also spoke of Deucalion and Pyrrha. Deucalion and his wife Pyrrha were the sole human survivors of a deluge unleashed by Zeus. They repopulated the earth, by throwing over their shoulders stones from mother earth (Gaia). The stones thrown by Deucalian became men, the stones thrown by Pyrrha became women. We are their descendants. As Solon spoke about these events, which he regarded as quite ancient, the Egyptian priest laughed and said the Greeks were not really old. They were just like children. In the vast course of time, there had been many devastations of fire and water, and the Greeks remembered only the last of them. But before that they had a history far, far more ancient than they imagined. They had, however, forgotten it because any records had been lost. But the Egyptians had managed to preserve their own records, and thus had a better idea of the history of the Greeks than the Greeks themselves.
Today scientists say the oldest evidence for a human presence in Greece can be found at the Petralona site, where human bones and artifacts (attributed to archaic Homo sapiens) go back to between 200,000 and 500,000 years ago. But, taking the role of the Egyptian priest, I might say to these modern Solons that the history of a human presence in Greece goes further back in time than they might imagine.
The Greek scientist who reported the Petralona discovery, A. N. Poulianos, has announced further discoveries far more ancient than Petralona man. The discoveries go back to the Pliocene (the geological period that extends from 2 million to 5 million years ago). The website of the Anthropology of Museum of Perdikkas gives this information: “In 1977, Isaak Pandelidis, the owner of a sandpit not far from the village of Perdikkas, chanced upon the remains of a large animal. He informed the Greek Anthropological Society, and the excavations directed by the anthropologist Aris Poulianos brought to light the skeleton of a mammoth ( Archidiskodon meridionalis) approximately 3,000,000 years old…Though the entire skeleton was found, the bones were not in their proper place, evidently because the beast had been killed here by hunters, who had then dismembered it in order to eat it… All that is missing is the tusks, which must have been taken away. The skeleton was accompanied by some 30 tools, mostly of quartz, which were used to cut the mammoth up and which came from other parts of the province of Eordaia.” The mammoth skeleton can still be seen as it was found in the ground in the museum at Perdikkas.
According to current understanding, the only hominins (the group that includes modern humans and their direct ancestors) in existence three million years ago would have been creatures of the Australopithecus type. The australopithecines have anatomical features (like long arms, and curved finger bones) that suggest they spent a lot of time in the trees, like apes. So we might speculate that perhaps the Perdikkas discovery could be explained in this way: the mammoth died naturally and some primitive apemen used stone tools to scavenge the carcass. If one chose to do that, then one would have to say that the australopithecines were the first hominins to leave Africa. At the moment, most archaeologists believe that Homo erectus, who came into existence about 2 million years ago, or a little earlier, was the first hominin to leave Africa.
But there is evidence that humans like us were already in existence in southern Europe during the Pliocene. Some of the evidence comes from nearby Italy. In the late 19th century, the Italian geologist G. Ragazzoni found anatomically modern human skeletons in undisturbed Pliocene formations at Castenedolo, as reported in Commentari dell’ Ateneo di Brescia (April 4, 1880). Another anatomically modern human skeleton was found in Pliocene formations at Savona, as reported in the proceedings of the 1871 meeting of the International Congress for Prehistoric Anthropology and Archaeology in Bologna. Further evidence of a human presence in the Pliocene, in the form of butchered whale bones and stone tools, was found at other locations in Italy, as reported in the proceedings of the 1876 meeting of the International Congress for Prehistoric Anthropology and Archaeology in Budapest.
But let’s get back to Greece. Evidence for butchered animal bones goes back even further in time in Greece than the Perdikkas discovery. In the 1870s, at a place called Pikermi, Baron von Dücker found bones of animals such as Hipparion (an extinct horse) that showed definite signs of having been deliberately split in order to extract marrow. Von Dücker stated all the bones bore “more or less distinct traces of blows from hard objects.” The fossils were found in formations of Turolian era of the Early Miocene, which would give them an age of least 5—8 million years. In his report given at the meeting of the International Congress of Prehistoric Anthropology and Archaeology in Brussels in 1872 (pages 104—107 in the conference proceedings), Von Dücker reported, “I also found among the stones a stone of a size that could readily be held in the hand. It is pointed on one side and is perfectly adapted to making the kinds of marks observed on the bones.”
Of course, here again it may be argued that it was not humans like us who broke the bones, but rather some kind of apeman like the australopithecines. But perhaps not. In the Aegean Sea region, there is evidence that humans like us were already existing in the Miocene. The evidence comes from the Dardanelles, the strait near the ancient city of Troy.
In the Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland (1874, vol. 3, p. 127), Frank Calvert wrote, “I have had the good fortune to discover, in the vicinity of the Dardanelles, conclusive proofs of the existence of man during the Miocene period…. From the face of a cliff composed of strata of that period, at a geological depth of eight hundred feet, I have extracted the fragment of a bone of either a dinotherium [extinct elephant] or mastodon, on the convex side of which is deeply inscribed the unmistakable figure of a horned quad-ruped….There are also traces of seven or eight other figures….I have found in different parts of the same cliff, not far from the site of the engraved bone, a flint flake, some bones of animals, fractured longitudinally, obviously by the hand of man for the purpose of extracting marrow.” The kind of artistic activity represented here—the carving of the figure of an animal—is something that archaeologists normally attribute to humans of our kind. As for the age of the site, Calvert wrote: “There can be no doubt as to the geological character of the formation from which I disinterred these interesting relics. The well-known writer on the geology of Asia Minor, M. de Tschihatcheff, who visited this region, determined it to be of the miocene period; and the fact is further confirmed by the fossil bones, teeth, and shells of the epoch found there.” Calvert sent drawings of some of these fossils to experts in England who confirmed that they were indeed from the Miocene. So at this Dardeaneles site near Troy, a city famous in ancient Greek times, we have further evidence for extreme human antiquity, evidence that allows us to posit that humans of our kind were responsible for the archaeological remains found at Perdikkas and Pikermi in Greece.
So that Egyptian priest who talked to Solon had it right. He had access to ancient Egyptian historical records that recorded a far more ancient human history than to be found in the Greek archives (or our modern textbooks today). Unfortunately, those Egyptian records appear to have been lost, in events such as the destruction of the library at Alexandria. Fortunately, however, ancient accounts of extreme human antiquity survive in other texts, such as the ancient Sanskrit writings of India, especially the Puranas (histories), which have been the major inspiration for my forbidden archaeology work. The Puranas tell us that humans like us have been present since the beginning of life on earth, but over vast periods of cyclical time, during which catastrophes periodically devastate human civilization, after which the earth is repopulated. This has happened time and time again.
Michael A. Cremo is author, with Richard Thompson, of the underground classic Forbidden Archaeology: The Hidden History of the Human Race. His latest book is Human Devolution: A Vedic Alternative to Darwin’s Theory (see www.humandevolution.com).