Franchthi Cave

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Franchthi Cave
Σπήλαιον Φράγχθι (Greek)
Franchthi Cave from Koilada Argolidas.jpg
The entrance to the Franchthi Cave seen from Koilada
Franchthi Cave is located in Greece
Franchthi Cave
Shown within Greece
Alternate name Frankhthi cave
Location Koilada, Argolis, Greece
Region Argolis
Coordinates 37°25′24″N 23°07′56″E / 37.42333°N 23.13222°E / 37.42333; 23.13222Coordinates: 37°25′24″N 23°07′56″E / 37.42333°N 23.13222°E / 37.42333; 23.13222
Periods Paleolithic to Neolithic

Franchthi cave or Frankhthi cave (Greek: Σπήλαιον Φράγχθη) is a cave overlooking the Argolic Gulf opposite the village of Koilada in southeastern Argolis, Greece.

The cave was occupied from the Upper Paleolithic circa 38,000 BCE (and possibly earlier)[1] through the Mesolithic and Neolithic periods, with occasional short episodes of apparent abandonment.[2] Last occupied around 3,000 BCE (Middle Neolithic), it is one of the very few settlements in the world that shows nearly continuous human occupation for such an extended period of time, and is one of the most thoroughly studied sites from the stone age in southeastern Europe.[3]

Professor T.W. Jacobsen began excavations at Franchthi Cave in 1967 and ended in 1976. Since then numerous scholars have examined the extensive finds.[4]

During much of its history Franchthi was significantly further from the coastline than it is today, due to lower sea levels that have since risen around 400 ft.[5] Thus, its inhabitants looked out on a coastal plain that was slowly submerged over the course of their occupation.[6]

During the Upper Paleolithic Franchthi Cave was seasonally occupied by a small group (or groups), probably in the range of 25 - 30 people, who mainly hunted wild ass and red deer, carrying a stone tool kit of flint bladelets and scrapers.[7] Its use as a campsite increased considerably after the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM), with occasional hiatus in the sequence of occupation.[8] Obsidian from the island of Melos appears at Franchthi as early as 15,000 years ago (13,000 BCE), offering the earliest evidence of seafaring and navigational skills by anatomically modern humans in Greece.[9] (There is evidence that suggests prehuman mariners may have reached Crete at least 130,000 years ago.)[10]

An apparent break in the occupation of Franchthi cave occurred during the Younger Dryas climate cooling event,[11][12] after which a Mesolithic culture appeared as the world settled into the warm Holocene climate that continues today. The Mesolithic is represented by only a few sites in Greece, and, like Franchthi, nearly all of them are close to the coast.[13] They did not rely as heavily on big game as their predecessors, probably due to the changing climate and environment; instead they broadened their resource base to include a variety of small game, wild plants, fish and mollusks.[14] The evidence of increased fish bones and increased use of obsidian from Melos at Franchthi during this period shows they were accomplished seafarers.[15] There is a notable stretch spanning several hundred years (circa 7,900 – 7,500 BCE) when tuna became a major part of the diet at Franchthi cave,[16] implying deep sea fishing. It has also been suggested that the tuna could have been caught by placing nets near the shore.[17][18] A few graves have been found buried in the cave during the Mesolithic that suggest care for the dead.[19]

The cave also contains some of the earliest evidence for agriculture in Greece. The first inhabitants were hunter gatherers, but from around 11,000 BCE almonds, pistachios, bitter vetch, and lentils all appear at the same time,[20] while wild oats and wild barley appear from 10,500 BCE, while from 7,300 BCE peas and wild pears also appear. None appear to be native to the region, while two are certainly from Asia Minor. This would seem to indicate that the farming of legumes and nuts preceded that of grain in Greece, if not in Asia Minor at least. This would make this area the oldest known agricultural site in Greece.

Around 6000 BC, evidence of domesticated animals and plants (emmer and einkorn wheat) appears in the archaeological record at the cave.


  1. ^ K. Douka, C. Perles, H. Valladas, M. Vanhaeren, R.E.M. Hedges, (2011). "Franchthi Cave revisited: the age of the Aurignacian in south-eastern Europe." Antiquity 85 : p.1146
  2. ^ Mary C. Stiner, Natalie D. Munro (2011) "On the evolution of diet and landscape during the Upper Paleolithic through Mesolithic at Franchthi Cave (Peloponnese, Greece)", Journal of Human Evolution p.619
  3. ^ K. Douka, C. Perles, H. Valladas, M. Vanhaeren, R.E.M. Hedges, (2011) p.1133
  4. ^ William R. Farrand, (2003) "Depositional environments and site formation during the Mesolithic occupations of Franchthi Cave, Peloponnesos, Greece" The Greek Mesolithic: Problems and Perspectives, The British School at Athens p.69
  5. ^ Vivien Gornitz, (Jan 2007), "Sea Level Rise, After the Ice Melted and Today"
  6. ^ William R. Farrand, (2003) p.69
  7. ^ T.W. Jacobsen, "Franchthi Cave and The Beginning of Settled Village Life in Greece" p. 306
  8. ^ Mary C. Stiner, Natalie D. Munro (2011) p.619
  9. ^ N. Laskaris, A. Sampson, F. Mavridis, I. Liritzis, (September 2011) "Late Pleistocene/Early Holocene seafaring in the Aegean: new obsidian hydration dates with the SIMS-SS method" Journal of Archaeological Science, Volume 38, Issue 9, pp.2475–2479
  10. ^ John N. Wilford, (February 15, 2010) "On Crete, New Evidence of Very Ancient Mariners" New York Times
  11. ^ William R. Farrand (2003)p.74
  12. ^ Catherine Perles, (2003) "The Mesolithic at Franchthi: an overview of the data and problems" The Greek Mesolithic: Problems and Perspectives, The British School at Athens p.80
  13. ^ Cathrine Perles, (2001) "The Early Neolithic In Greece" Cambridge University Press p.22
  14. ^ C. Perles, (2001) p.28
  15. ^ Tracy Cullen (1995) "Mesolithic mortuary ritual at Franchthi Cave, Greece" Antiquity 69 p.273
  16. ^ C. Perles, (2001) p.28
  17. ^ C. Perles (2003) p.81
  18. ^ Mary C. Stiner, Natalie D. Munro, Britt M. Starkovich, (2012) "Material Input Rates and Dietary Breadth During the Upper Paleolithic through Mesolithic at Franchthi and Klissoura 1 Caves (Peloponnese, Greece)" Quaternary International 275, p.37,
  19. ^ T. Cullen (1995) p.270
  20. ^ T. Cullen, Mesolithic mortuary ritual at Franchthi Cave, Greece


  • Farrand, William R. 1999. Depositional History of Franchthi Cave, Fascicle 12: "Sediments, stratigraphy, and chronology". Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana University Press.
  • Galanidou, Nena and Perles, Catherine (editors). 2003. "The Greek Mesolithic: Problems and Perspectives" London: The British School at Athens
  • Perles, Catherine. 2001. "The Early Neolithic In Greece". Cambridge University Press.

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