The Neanderthals of Stelida Hill, Naxos: Uncovering a Prehistoric Presence

The Neanderthals of Stelida Hill, Naxos
Stelida from St. George's beach

The serene beauty of the Greek island of Naxos, known for its pristine beaches and classical ruins, holds a lesser-known secret that delves deep into the prehistoric era. Recent archaeological findings on Stelida Hill, a rugged promontory on the island, have unveiled compelling evidence of Neanderthal activity, shedding new light on the migration and habits of these ancient humans.

Geographical and Archaeological Significance

Stelida Hill, located on the northwestern coast of Naxos, offers more than just scenic views. Its strategic position overlooking the Aegean Sea suggests it was an ideal lookout and hunting ground for Neanderthals during the Middle Paleolithic period, which spans from about 200,000 to 40,000 years ago. The area’s rich lithic deposits also made it a prime spot for Neanderthals to craft tools, a key aspect of their survival and daily activities.

Discovery and Excavations

The discovery of Neanderthal tools on Stelida Hill was first made public in the early 21st century, but systematic excavations led by archaeologists from various international institutions have since intensified. These excavations have unearthed numerous flint tools typical of Neanderthal technology, such as hand axes and scrapers, which were likely used for butchering animals, working wood, and other tasks.

Implications of the Findings

The artifacts found at Stelida suggest that Neanderthals were more widespread in their geographic distribution than previously thought. The presence of these tools, combined with the strategic location of the site, supports theories that Neanderthals were capable seafarers or at least engaged in some form of island hopping. This challenges earlier notions that Neanderthals lacked the cognitive skills for such complex navigation.

Cultural and Environmental Context

The environmental context during the time of Neanderthal occupation at Stelida would have been quite different from today’s landscape. Studies suggest that lower sea levels during the Last Glacial Maximum may have connected Naxos to other parts of what is now the Greek archipelago, possibly facilitating movement between landmasses. This connectivity would have provided Neanderthals with access to a variety of resources, enhancing their ability to thrive in such environments.

Research and Future Prospects

Ongoing research at Stelida is focused on understanding the extent of Neanderthal habitation and the specific uses of the tools they left behind. Future excavations and studies aim to provide clearer insights into the social structures and lifestyle of Neanderthals on Naxos. Moreover, these findings play a crucial role in understanding human evolution, particularly the adaptability and ingenuity of Neanderthals in diverse habitats.