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European Kingdoms

Early Cultures


Akrotiri Culture (Mesolithic) (Cyprus)
c.10,000 - 9200 BC

With the first true native culture to appear on Cyprus being the later Khirokitia culture (around 7000 BC), the Akrotiri phase covers hunter-gatherer appearances at the beginning of this period. These seem to have been fitful, arriving and leaving as conditions warranted while the Epigravettian culture dominated areas of Southern Europe. It was a long time before archaeologists were able to find any evidence at all of settlement prior to the Khirokitia.

The Akrotiri peninsula was once a small island. It began to be merged into the rest of Cyprus when the mouth of the River Kouris started to silt up from about 5400 BC. The end of that process is believed to have taken place around two thousand years ago, making Akrotiri a peninsula instead of an island. The river still runs, mainly as a run-off outlet for mountain water.

The peninsula's southern cliffs, an area which is known as Aetokremmos, host the earliest-known archaeological site in Cyprus. It is here that the Akrotiri hunter-gatherers made their occasional appearances. They hunted pygmy hippos and pigmy elephants. The fossilised bones of a number of large mammals have been found at their main site. A good deal of debate still takes place about the nature of Akrotiri hunter-gatherers and whether or not they were a permanent presence on the island.

Khirokitia inhabitation on Cyprus

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information from External Links: Cyprus Archaeological Sites (Cyprus Ministry of Culture & Sports), and Earliest Prehistory of Cyprus (Bryn Mawr College, an archaeology-led look at the early cultures on the island - dead link), and Ancient Origins, and Akrotiri (World Archaeology), and Visit Akrotiri, and Cyprus (Encyclopaedia Britannica).)

c.10,000 BC

The earliest solid evidence of human activity on Cyprus comes from Akrotiri-Aetokremnos, a site on the southern-central coast of Cyprus at the very tip of the Akrotiri peninsula, although at this time that peninsula is still an island neighbour of Cyprus. The Akrotiri culture here is contemporary with the Nautufian period in the Levant as well as the Epi-Palaeolithic era.

Nissia Neolithic site on Cyprus
The Nissia Neolithic settlement on Cyprus is located to the south of Vyzakia beach, in the area of Protaras, with its archaeological discoveries coming under the Neolithic B period of 5200-4800 BC

Akrotiri is a cave shelter at the top of a cliff, about fifty metres above sea level. There are four strata inside the shelter, two with cultural remains. The lowest stratum, Level 4, is found on a clean bedrock and is a mix of animal bones and ashy material, containing ninety-nine percent of the entire site's material.

The majority of the remains are pygmy hippopotami bones, with most of the others being those of pygmy elephants. Level 3 is sterile, showing a period of abandonment by humans. Level 2 shows evidence of stone tools and more animal remains. The site appears to be only periodically used, being abandoned and then re-occupied.

Hunter-gatherers also become active on Cyprus proper, especially at two pre-Neolithic sites at Nissi Beach, at Ayia Napa, and on the Aspro water causeway in the Akamas. They probably reach the island from the coast of the Levant, although this is disputed.

Map of Mesolithic Europe 8000 BC
Although culturally and technologically continuous with Palaeolithic cultures, Mesolithic cultures quickly developed diverse local adaptations for special environments, as this map shows (click or tap on map to view full sized)

There are two dominant cultures there at this time, with the older Natufian in the process of being overlapped and replaced by the Khiamian. It is quite possible that these arrivals bring with them domesticated animals, and perhaps even a few wild ones, such as foxes. Early cattle dies out during the eighth millennium BC and is not reintroduced until at least the Sotira period.

c.9200 BC

The hunter-gatherers of the Akrotiri culture on Mesolithic Cyprus end their presence on the island, either through extinction or an end to periodic visits. It takes a full millennium before the island shows any further occupation, by the people of the Early Aceramic Neolithic period.

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