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Gioura – civilization over 10.000 years

Gioura Island presents a rugged mountain wilderness from sea-level to 800 meters altitude. Human habitation always must have been confined to some plain stretches of land with clay soil. Steep lime-stone ridges surround these earlier cultivated areas like natural fortifications.

One has to consider changes in sea-level of up to 85 meters below recent marks.

Excavations starting in 1992 in the so called Kyklops Cave, have revealed a very early occupation, at least dating back ten millenia, to the Mesolithic era.

The cave's large entrance is located well above the recent sea-level. It extends downwards to a large hall with very impressive  stalactites and stalagmites. On its bottom, in the lowest layers excavated, many fish-hooks made of bone have been discovered. As well as plenty remnants of fish. So it can be assumed that the first inhabitants which have left their  traces behind, had been skilled fishermen!

Why was that aspect never propagated in view of the Alonnisos coastal fishermen continuing this tradition!

I wish to add that pockets of "Ichthyophagi"  - fish-eaters - settled in prehistoric times also in small marine coves along the Arabian Peninsula (e.g. in the Sultanate of Oman) - a comparable, well studied pattern of civilization.

We cannot establish yet any wider evidence of the earliest Gioura inhabitants. Why Gioura should "never had permanent residents", as stated in an archaeological report, is difficult to understand and cannot be accepted like that. Equally the statement that the bones discovered in the lowest layer(s) originate from goats and not from any other ruminant species (e.g. sheep) is doubtful, because it is rather impossible to made such distinction of species on the basis of just a few bones.

More conspicuous as compared with the tools of bone and stone are Roman oil-lamps that littered the floor of the cave at the time of my first visits in 1957 and 1958 (cf. photographs above). At my second visit I handed over 7 intact lamps to warden Jorgos. I am wondering what has happened to them...

Evidently, these lamps were used to illuminate the cave constantly; one can see the blackish coat of soot that covers the cave floor and the stalactites. Only when this illumination was discontinued, the still growing columns of lime retained their natural orange colour again (cf. photographs above). Some fragments of lamps became cemented by sinter lime to their rock base.

At the bottom of the cave a basin built of clay with several channel extensions existed at the time of my visits (cf. photograph). This basin was likely built to collect water dripping from the ceiling (stalactites). Has it been preserved in the course of the excavations? It can be assumed that the oil lamps illuminated the way down to this permanent source of fresh drinking water.

The history of goats on Gioura requires some additional comments: I have dealt with the breed that now roams and devours the island, in my article Gioura, Northern Sporades -  ancient goat breed: It is a domestic breed that became feral. Which human population imported the goat we only can guess, it could have been monks or Roman settlers. Certainly it is not a wild species. The "goat"-bones excavated on the cave's floor have been dated back to the 8th millenium BC, with blooming conclusions about how and when the domestic goat was brought to Greece. For none of these hypotheses any proof exists, neither for the species identification, nor for the timing: in the soft clay of the cave's bottom (constantly dripping water), people or domestic animals may have shifted the bones to deeper layers by simply stepping on them. I am also wondering how the dating was obtained. I should add that goats retreat deeply into caves when they feel ill and ready to die. So goat bones and horns are characteristic remains in this and other islands' caves.

The name Gerontia was in use for Gioura in the classical period. We have no documentation on hand about the monastic history of the island. In his descriptive architectural study of the post - byzantine monuments of Alonnisos and the nearby islands, Dr. Alexis Alexiou of Thessaloniki  has published (2007) the only available particulars. Not even a name for the church is given. (According to another source the church was dedicated to Panagia Giouritisa). The Forestry Department of Skopelos did a thorough job in stabilizing the external walls of the church by re-inforced concrete. This appears to be a pattern of wider distribution: in the famous Gorge of Samaria the Forestry Service fully embrazed the small ancient church Osia Maria by a mantle of cement and steel: a stable construction certainly - not quite adequate, though, for a national monument.

I do hesitate to conclude this article about the history of civilization on Gioura Island with this shameful incidence: When I stayed with Wilfried Weigand, my late travel companion over Easter 1958 in the house of warden Jorgos, we had to discover in the external toilet the remaining pages of an ancient manuscript from the church. It was taken from there for an obvious purpose... No rock face appears steep enough to reflect this downfall of civilization to the bottom of the pit.

Veröffentlicht am Kategorien Goats, Northern Sporades, Rare breedsSchlagwörter , , ,

Über Thomas Schultze-Westrum

Dr. Thomas Georg Hans SCHULTZE-WESTRUM Author of Scientific and Popular Publications Producer and Director of Documentary Films and Videos Adviser in Nature Conservation and Preservation of Rural Cultures Initiator of Conservation Programmes German national. Born 1937 (Berlin). Classical education at the Benedictine monastery of Ettal in Upper Bavaria. Graduate of Munich University, with degrees in Zoology, Geology and Cultural Anthropology (Ethnology). Scholarship by “Studienstiftung des deutschen Volkes”. Research (University of Munich, other scientific institutions) and publications on social and population physiology of marsupials and other vertebrate fauna of New Guinea and the Mediterranean Region, cultural anthropology, conservation and resource management on the village level, mainly in Greece and New Guinea. Author of the books “New Guinea” (Berne 1972) and “Biologie des Friedens” (Biology of Peace), Munich 1974. Dr. Schultze-Westrum has joined for several years the Commissions on Ecology and Environmental Planning of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN). He is the founder of the working group (IUCN Commission on Ecology) “Conservation and Traditional Life Styles” 1979; the “ECOCULTURE” Movement 1981; the “Gesellschaft für die Erhaltung alter und gefährdeter Haustierrassen” GEH (Society for the Preservation of Old and Endangered Breeds of Domestic Animals) 1981; and the non-profit-making society “KALLIERGIA”, for traditional agriculture and village conservation in Greece, 1993. As a consultant he has worked for the EU, IUCN, OECD and WWF. As a film maker he has produced, directed and mostly also shot, for German television and international TV networks, 75 documentaries, mainly ecological portraits with emphasis upon the integration of local and traditionally living people into conservation projects. His first film (1974) was about alternative (sustainable) utilization of tropical rainforests in New Guinea, for ZDF. Never Dr. Schultze-Westrum has entered any of his films into an award winning competition, because he is more concerned about the effects of his TV work in actual conservation and public awareness. One of these real awards was the creation of the Marine National Park Alonnisos Northern Sporades in Greece as a result of his film “The Coast of the Monk Seals” in 1976/77 for ZDF (ratings 36 % - shown in 11 countries). His programme “Green Desert”, about traditional water management in the Sultanate of Oman was distributed by the Television Trust for the Environment TVE to 44, mainly Third World, countries. Another leading aspect of his film work was the production of environmental films for the people of the country where he was filming. So, he produced the first TV series of films on ecology, rural life styles and conservation for Greece (in the early 80’s, 14 programmes) and for the Sultanate of Oman (late 80’s, 12 films). His deep interest in ancient human traditions inspired him to produce “Omani Seafaring”, for Oman TV; “Im Kielwasser Sindbads” (In the Wake of Sindbad), for the series Terra X of ZDF; and “Insel der Magier” (Island of the Sorcerers: Waigeo) for ARTE TV. After retiring from TV film production at the end of 2002 he is returning to his earlier scientific work (abandoned in the early 70’s) about the social and population physiology of marsupials ( Petaurus breviceps papuanus and closely related species); village based conservation; the evolution of human communal behaviour and cultural diversity; and the evolution of art styles in the Papuan Gulf province of New Guinea. Since 1992 he is also involved in eco- and agrotourism programmes that are based on his earlier promotion of this alternative “soft” tourism through publications and films, in Greece and West Papua. His conservation activities are continuously focussed on Greece and New Guinea, since 1957 and 1959, respectively. Dr. Schultze-Westrum now is writing up his experiences of many years field work and he is keeping communications alive through his homepage, from the ancient village of Kazaviti on the island of Thassos in the northern Aegean Sea. The conservation and re-activation of outstanding traditional values of Kazaviti stand at the centre of a local museum and documentation centre to be set up in one or even two old Macedonian stone houses.