Stone Age people settled Mediterranean island Cyprus earlier than thought

The rich human occupation  of Mediterranean island Cyprus has been pushed back thousands of years by new research led by Cypriot and Australian archaeologists.

Contrary to previously held theories, large Mediterranean islands like Cyprus were not difficult for Early Stone Age hunter-gatherers to reach, the researchers argue. In fact, they would have been favourable destinations for the Palaeolithic people.

A new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA shows the first human occupation on Cyprus between 14,257 and 13,182 years ago.

Colour coded map of cyprus

This places the first human settlements on the island thousands of years earlier than previously thought, to the tail end of the Palaeolithic (3.3 million to 11,650 years ago), Old Stone Age which ended at the same time as the last Ice Age.

The new study is based on an analysis of the 10 oldest human sites in Cyprus.

The archaeologists say after the first humans arrived, Cyprus  was rapidly settled. Within 300 years  the population ballooned to about 4,000–5,000.

“It has been argued that human dispersal to and settlement of Cyprus and other eastern Mediterranean islands is attributed to demographic pressures on the mainland after abrupt climatic change saw coastal areas inundated by post-glacial sea-level rise,” says senior author Theodora Moutsiou from the University of Cyprus.

It was previously thought  farming populations were forced to move to new areas out of necessity rather than choice.

“However, this interpretation came as a consequence of major gaps in the archaeological record of Cyprus, deriving from differential preservation of archaeological material, preservation biases, uncertainties associated with dating, and limited DNA evidence,” adds co-first author Christian Reepmeyer from James Cook University in Queensland.

“Our research, based on more archaeological evidence and advanced modelling techniques, changes that.”

They say their results are more in line with recent evidence showing the rapid settlement of other large islands around the world including the ancient island of Sahul made up of what is today Australia, New Guinea and the Aru Islands.

“This settlement pattern implies organised planning and the use of advanced watercraft,” says first author Corey Bradshaw from South Australia’s Flinders University.

Part of the MIGRATE project, the research highlights the need to revisit previously held beliefs about early human migration in the Mediterranean in light of new data, methods and technologies.

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