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Flints hint at ancient mariners’ daring

Archaeologists find evidence on Cyprus that seafarers went on long-distance voyages up to 12,000 years ago — far earlier than previously thought.
/ Source: Reuters

Archaeologists have discovered what they believe is the earliest evidence yet of long-distance seafaring in the eastern Mediterranean, undermining beliefs that ancient mariners never ventured into open seas.

Fragments of stone implements believed to be up to 12,000 years old have been found at two sites of Cyprus, suggesting that roving mariners used the areas as temporary camp sites after forays from what is today Syria and Turkey.

The flints are unlike anything found in the geological makeup of Cyprus, and more than 1,000 years older than the timing of the first permanent settlers to the island.

The discovery adds to a body of evidence contradicting the widespread belief that ancient mariners would never venture out of sight of land or had limited navigational capabilities.

“If this is verified, this would be the earliest evidence of seafaring in the East Mediterranean,” said Pavlos Flourentzos, director of Cyprus’s department of antiquities.

Cyprus, lying at least 30 miles (48 kilometers) away from any other land mass, was not settled by humans 12,000 years ago, but there is evidence it was populated by pygmy elephants and hippopotamuses.

Its earliest inhabitants, dating from the 9th millennium B.C., are believed to be from the land mass that now rings it north and east.

Bungee jumping into archaeology
Flint fragments were found at sites on the southeast and the west of the island by Albert J. Ammerman, an archaeologist at Colgate University.

The site on the southeast is a hilly outcrop overlooking Nissi Beach, one of the most popular beaches on the island.

“It’s a rock where they now do bungee jumping,” Flourentzos told Reuters. “Ammerman was with his children on this particular beach when he found the fragments.”

The disclosures were contained in an archaeological paper Ammerman released at the American Schools of Oriental Research conference in Philadelphia in mid-November.

“They have yielded good evidence for the earliest voyaging in the Mediterranean and for the increased mobility of people at the end of the ice age and the beginning of agriculture,” Ammerman was quoted as saying in Tuesday’s edition of the New York Times.