Project Team Members:
The focus of the study is the hill of Stélida on the northwestern coast of Naxos, the largest of the Cycladic islands. The site comprises a major outcrop of chert plus large quantities of manufacturing debris from the tools that were made from the raw material. Stélida was first documented as an archaeological site in the early 1980’s by the French School as part of a larger survey of Naxos. While the nature of the site was evident, its date was far from clear. With the chert tools bearing little resemblance to those of obsidian published from Cycladic Neolithic and Bronze Age sites, the French archaeologists tentatively suggested that the material might be of an earlier date, but with no clear parallels from anywhere else, the question of dating remained largely unresolved. Thus SNAP’s aims included not only mapping and characterizing the archaeology, but also providing a more secure date for the site. Methodologically the project draws on well-developed Aegean survey techniques, starting with linear transects being walked across the site with a standardised geo-referenced 1m² grab-sample of all artefacts every 10m. This approach provides a relatively rapid impression of artefact distribution and density, after which more dedicated units of analysis were positioned in the richest areas. Study of the actual finds has only just begun, so the project’s results are highly preliminary, though the site’s largely, if not exclusively pre-Neolithic date has been confirmed. A significant amount of this material appears to be Early Mesolithic based on comparisons with artefacts from recently excavated sites on Kythnos and Ikaria, which should date at least one phase of the site’s use to the 9th millennium BCE. While sea-levels at the time would have been significantly lower than today, it remains that we are dealing with the traces of early maritime activity by mobile hunter-gatherers. The project is thus contributing to a new wave of studies that are rewriting the history of seafaring in the Mediterranean. More specifically, it is also helping to radically alter our ideas concerning the early occupation of the Cyclades, with pre-Late Neolithic settlement of the archipelago only proven in the few years.