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Transportation Technology

Stone Tools Found On Crete Push Back Humans' Maritime History 176

Posted by timothy
from the perhaps-a-swallow-brought-them-there dept.
The New York Times reports that stone tools discovered on the Greek island of Crete, and reported last month at an academic conference, are strong evidence for rethinking the maritime capabilities of early humans. The researchers who found the tools (hand-axes, cleavers, and scrapers) estimate them to be at least 130,000 years old; if they're right, humans have been traveling long distances at sea (Crete is 200 miles from the northern African coastline) for at least several tens of thousands of years longer than earlier believed.
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Stone Tools Found On Crete Push Back Humans' Maritime History

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  • by Webster9 (1156495) on Sunday February 21, 2010 @03:14AM (#31216786)
    132,010 BC @ 00:12 Webster9 wrote: First Post
  • First Post (Score:5, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday February 21, 2010 @03:14AM (#31216788)

    In a related story, next to one of the axes they found a mast with the words "First Post".
    But the amazing part was the -1 Offtopic heading right beside the inscription.

  • FIRST BOAT (Score:4, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday February 21, 2010 @03:15AM (#31216792)
    Yay, now I'm a troll too
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday February 21, 2010 @03:15AM (#31216796)

    ...and pretty much have always been.

    Humans didn't evolve genetically to this modern technological state, the cleverness has always been inherent.

    • by Jeffk67 (78579) on Sunday February 21, 2010 @05:51AM (#31217248)

      True. Ancient people were just as intelligent as we are. The only reason this is not more evident is because time has erased the remains of their material culture. It would be more surprising if no one thought of make a raft or boat for tens of thousands of years.

      • by HangingChad (677530) on Sunday February 21, 2010 @08:30AM (#31217662) Homepage

        It would be more surprising if no one thought of make a raft or boat for tens of thousands of years.

        It's more than that. If they had boats, they had to have some way to navigate and something resembling charts or maps. You don't just launch a raft and hope to get somewhere. Aiming for an island, even a big island, if you're off by a couple degrees you could miss by a hundred miles.

        If this discovery holds up, it's going to overturn a lot of what we think we know about human history. Getting around by sea is more than a hairy frat party on a raft. The ocean is rather effective at eliminating the unprepared and unwary. It means packing tools to make repairs at sea, carrying food and water and something to bail out the boat. Doesn't sound like much until you try it with the technology they had. Then come the questions about what compelled them to make a dangerous journey like that in the first place?

        • From practical esperience, a raft can easily be constructed that will sail at 2MPH, but wont quite steer as well as intended.

          Given that a sailing boat is powered 24 yours a day, we are talking a 4 days journey, not necessarily to the intended destination. No great achievement.

          Lets say some scum are after you and your family, so you got on your fishing raft to sail up the coast a few miles, and accidentally lost your steering contrivance. 4 days later, you are in Crete, with your wife and kids, and possibk

        • by CrimsonAvenger (580665) on Sunday February 21, 2010 @10:20AM (#31218222)

          Aiming for an island, even a big island, if you're off by a couple degrees you could miss by a hundred miles.

          In order to miss by a hundred miles with a couple of degree course error, your trip has to be about 3000 miles long, rather than 200. To miss Crete from North Africa would require a sustained course error of about 30 degrees.

          In addition, let's not forget the basic navigational techniques of the Polynesians (another Stone Age people who sailed great distances routinely).

          The flights of birds can give you clues to the location of land from dozens to hundreds of miles away - some birds fly over water but sleep only on land - if they're flying in a particular direction late in the day, that's a pretty solid hint of land in that direction.

          Wave patterns can also show you hints as to the directions of land too far away to see, but plenty close enough to reach.

          Plus there's those mountains. Crete's highest peak is visible from about 100 nm. Makes it a lot easier to find when you can see it after you've completed half your voyage.

          And finally, consider that there is a chain of islands from Turkey to Crete (as well as an alternate chain from Greece - and Crete's mountain peaks are barely visible from Greece) - if that chain were followed (as by successive waves of migration), the path would be from one island to the next visible island repeated till you hit Crete.

        • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

          by Daengbo (523424)

          You don't just launch a raft and hope to get somewhere. Aiming for an island, even a big island, if you're off by a couple degrees you could miss by a hundred miles.

          Except the Polynesians have a whole culture based on practically nothing but that and a set of taboos. The Hawaiian chain is thousands of kilometers from anything else. How did the firth Hawaiians get there? By aiming in a direction and going until they hit something.

          It's also worth noting that right from the beginning, ancient cultures spend a lot of time staring at the stars and memorizing them. It's a very short step to using them for some navigation.

      • by quenda (644621)

        True. Ancient people were just as intelligent as we are.

        but any Cretin can build a boat.

        And what about the Flynn effect [wikipedia.org]?

      • by Alomex (148003)

        Ancient people were just as intelligent as we are.

        If by this you mean people 10K years ago, you might be correct. If you are thinking anything beyond that there seems to be evidence for active selection for intelligence around the time of the discovery of agriculture, 10-30K years ago.

        The tools in the study (no pun intended) are 130K years old.

        • by RockDoctor (15477)

          If you are thinking anything beyond that there seems to be evidence for active selection for intelligence around the time of the discovery of agriculture, 10-30K years ago.

          It depends a little who you ask, but the consensus about the origin of agricultural technologies is that it took place from about 10000 years ago until the last few hundred years (where do you draw an end - at the 18th century experimental farms of the squirarchy, or at the statistical sciences developed at Rothampstead in the 1920s and 1

  • by carp3_noct3m (1185697) <slashdotNO@SPAMwarriors-shade.net> on Sunday February 21, 2010 @03:26AM (#31216832)
    Although they state that the tools have been dated to be around 230-190k years ago, but that tools could have been made far prior to that, giving a possible estimate of the tools being up to 700k years old. Despite this, they never really say why this changes their view on sea-faring of ancient times. Currently the north shore of Africa is about 200 miles from crete, but what they seem to have failed to take into account (or at least mention in the article) is that in ancient times sea levels were much much lower. This is estimated to be due to deglacification around 7k years ago. The National Institute of Oceanography states that in studies the sea level of India's coast were about 100m lower about 14k years ago, so extrapolating (a dangerous game I know =) we could say it may be possible that at some point the voyage to Crete was either walkable, or a very short sea voyage. It should also be noted that the technology is of the Acheulean type. Regardless it is still a fascinating discovery, and it never ceases to amaze me at how much we underestimate our ancestors, until we slowly find things that we never thought possible before, for example the Antikythera mechanism. Who knows what we'll find out tomorrow.
    • by pitchpipe (708843) on Sunday February 21, 2010 @04:16AM (#31216976)

      The National Institute of Oceanography states that in studies the sea level of India's coast were about 100m lower about 14k years ago, so extrapolating (a dangerous game I know =) we could say it may be possible that at some point the voyage to Crete was either walkable, or a very short sea voyage.

      So you're saying that the oceans didn't even exist 1,529,360 years ago!? I know, snarky, but I couldn't resist. Hey, you said it was a dangerous game!

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by phantomfive (622387)
      Will Durant said, "Civilization is always older than we think. Beneath our feet were also people who lived and loved." Indeed, it never is a good idea to think that we've found everything. Not even close (which is what still gives me hope for FTL travel lol).
    • by Sique (173459) on Sunday February 21, 2010 @10:17AM (#31218210) Homepage

      Currently the north shore of Africa is about 200 miles from crete, but what they seem to have failed to take into account (or at least mention in the article) is that in ancient times sea levels were much much lower.

      They did. Because the Mediterrean is very deep (average ~1500 metres), especially in the southern part, lowering the shore line doesn't do very much to the distance.

    • by pnewhook (788591)

      This is estimated to be due to deglacification around 7k years ago. The National Institute of Oceanography states that in studies the sea level of India's coast were about 100m lower about 14k years ago, so extrapolating (a dangerous game I know =) we could say it may be possible that at some point the voyage to Crete was either walkable, or a very short sea voyage.

      Good point. The size of the glaciers in the last ice age peaked about 18k years ago so the sea levels would have been lowest about then (the water had to come from somewhere). So potentially people could have either walked to Crete around that time frame, or it would have been a much easier boat trip so the boats need not have been very sophisticated, maybe no more than rafts.

      Just putting forward an alternate explanation, I'm no expert in this area.

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Natural Join (1711970)

      Despite this, they never really say why this changes their view on sea-faring of ancient times. Currently the north shore of Africa is about 200 miles from crete, but what they seem to have failed to take into account (or at least mention in the article) is that in ancient times sea levels were much much lower. This is estimated to be due to deglacification around 7k years ago. The National Institute of Oceanography states that in studies the sea level of India's coast were about 100m lower about 14k years ago, so extrapolating (a dangerous game I know =) we could say it may be possible that at some point the voyage to Crete was either walkable, or a very short sea voyage.

      Not if the sea floor was anything like it is today. A drop of 100m/328 ft would get you about 7 miles further off the coast of Africa than with today's sea levels. On the Crete side, the sea floor drops precipitously off the southern coast, and 100m gets you only about 1 mile. So the lower sea level you cite would shave less than 10 miles off the 200 mile journey.

      You can verify the sea floor elevation with Google Earth.

    • Although Crete is 200 miles from the coast of Africa, there are lots of intervening islands between it and Greece, and the crossings are more like 10 and 20 miles rather than 200. You can see one island from the next. These are still formidable crossings for ancient humans, but not so grand as a single 200-mile trip.
  • From TFA:

    Crete has been an island for more than five million years, meaning that the toolmakers must have arrived by boat. So this seems to push the history of Mediterranean voyaging back more than 100,000 years, specialists in Stone Age archaeology say.

    There have been some pretty severe ice ages within the last million years when the sea levels were very low. For instance Japan used to be connected to Korea (and the Sea of Japan was a lake) only 18,000 years ago. Crete was probably really close to Greece back then too, maybe even connected.

    • by TapeCutter (624760) * on Sunday February 21, 2010 @03:52AM (#31216916) Journal
      You highlight the quote - "Crete has been an island for more than five million years"

      What part of the quote are you and the GP failing to understand? Why do you both seem to be under the delusion that archeoligists have never heard of ice age migration when archeology was the discipline that discovered it?
      • Getting to an island that is now ~500 km off shore is understandably hard for the GP to imagine being anything other than daunting if not nearly impossible for hominids living at that time. The GP and GGP are just looking for an explanation that makes it easier for such an ancient journey(s) to have taken place. TFA doesn't explicitly cover this but considering that the average depth of the Mediterranean Sea is ~1500 meters I would imagine that islands would be rather rare even during periods of glaciatio

        • by clarkkent09 (1104833) * on Sunday February 21, 2010 @05:34AM (#31217180)
          Getting to an island that is now ~500 km off shore

          Where do you get that number from? Other people are mentioning 200 miles which is also wrong. According to Wikipedia, Crete is only 100 miles (160km) from mainland Greece and looking at the map there are several small islands in between so each single journey by sea might only involve 30 miles or so. If the sea level was lower it is quite likely that there would be more islands sticking out, and if the surface was frozen in the winter, then there is your problem solved without any seafaring technology.
          • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

            by gujo-odori (473191)

            I'll leave it someone less lazy than I to check if there was an ice age around the time they think the tools were made.

            If we assume for the moment that there wasn't, and further assume that there are no islands in between Crete and Greece, I still could be convinced that ancient humans might have made such a voyage. After all, Pacific islanders have been known to make long sea journeys in outrigger canoes without navigational tools. Plus, as TFA states, the human migration to Australia started about 60K yea

            • by TempeTerra (83076) on Sunday February 21, 2010 @07:02AM (#31217438)

              The original humans reached Australia when the sea levels were significantly lower, and while you're right that you couldn't just walk it, there may have only been a single crossing of ~90km between southeast asia and the Australia-ish landmass. Wiki [wikipedia.org]

            • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

              by perko (923358)
              The Maori (sorry but I can't be buggered to copy and paste all the macrons) and Tahitian and Hawai'ian navigators had a 32 point compass rose based on the stars. Furthermore, they didn't set out blindly in a Great Fleet; they migrated over time, and there were voyages back and forth among the Polynesian islands. "Without navigational tools" sort of discounts how useful the stars can be.
              • The Maori (sorry but I can't be buggered to copy and paste all the macrons

                Just use doubled vowels. Thats how it should have been transliterated in the first place. Its not as if its a sound that doesn't occur in English, its just lengthened.

          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by MichaelSmith (789609)

            and if the surface was frozen in the winter, then there is your problem solved without any seafaring technology.

            Even during an ice age I doubt the Mediterranean ever came anywhere near freezing. But I agree with your other points.

  • Bah. (Score:3, Funny)

    by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Sunday February 21, 2010 @03:36AM (#31216868) Journal
    "Don't talk to me about humans' maritime history. It's nothing but primitive stone tools, sodomy, and the lash."
  • I'm not so sure the find is suggestive of "maritime capabilities". To prove such a statement, you would have to prove evidence of navigation. Even if it were only celestial navigation, stronger evidence would be to find more than one such remote site with similar styles of survival technology. From the article: More than 2,000 stone artifacts, including the hand axes, were collected on the southwestern shore of Crete, near the town of Plakias. The question, at least for now, should be whether or not they
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      I'm not so sure the find is suggestive of "maritime capabilities". To prove such a statement, you would have to prove evidence of navigation. Even if it were only celestial navigation, stronger evidence would be to find more than one such remote site with similar styles of survival technology. From the article: More than 2,000 stone artifacts, including the hand axes, were collected on the southwestern shore of Crete, near the town of Plakias. The question, at least for now, should be whether or not they went back.

      Try looking up Kon Tiki, and Maori chants as navigation.

    • by s_p_oneil (795792)
      Ever watch a documentary on how the Hawaiian islands were found by Polynesians with no instruments, and before they learned how to write and do any kind of math? The could find islands that were hundreds of miles away by watching for certain cloud patterns in the sky. Compared to that, even sailors who were completely brain dead could find land sailing around in the Mediterranean. I mean, any direction you go from any point, and you'll find land.
  • by MichaelSmith (789609) on Sunday February 21, 2010 @03:59AM (#31216926) Homepage Journal

    Its pretty easy to island hop from mainland Greece to Crete. You would be looking at 20km at a stretch. Thats very easy in a modern sea kayak. Even if proper hulls were beyond them they could build a sailing raft. There was more wood around in those days.

    • by Petrushka (815171)

      Its pretty easy to island hop from mainland Greece to Crete. You would be looking at 20km at a stretch.

      A fair point, which deserves an answer. The reason they're not thinking that is, probably, that there has as yet been no evidence that there were humans in mainland Greece anything like that early. The earliest known sign of human habitation in Europe is only ca. 40k years old [wikipedia.org].

      Humans in Africa, however ...

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Dunbal (464142) *

        The reason they're not thinking that is, probably, that there has as yet been no evidence that there were humans in mainland Greece anything like that early. The earliest known sign of human habitation in Europe is only ca. 40k years old.

        There's too much speculation. "No evidence of human habitation" doesn't mean there absolutely were no humans, only that we haven't found settlements. I for one would be much more comfortable with an undiscovered Greek sea-faring civilization engaging i

        • by whatajoke (1625715) on Sunday February 21, 2010 @07:02AM (#31217434)
          an undiscovered Greek sea-faring civilization engaging in island-hopping trade among islands within sight of each other than a mysterious African tribe that suddenly invented the boat to colonize the island
          Still not comfortable with our African ancestry I see.
          • by Dunbal (464142) *

            Still not comfortable with our African ancestry I see.

                  Nah, it's called using dramatic device to make a point :) I have no problems with our ancestry because if we go back far enough, we all come from the same puddle of slime.

      • Its pretty easy to island hop from mainland Greece to Crete. You would be looking at 20km at a stretch.
        ==========
        The reason they're not thinking that is, probably, that there has as yet been no evidence that there were humans in mainland Greece anything like that early.

        The logical answer. Of course, that leaves the question of why a group who could cross the 200 miles from northern Africa stopped at Crete, rather than island-hopping on across to Greece.

      • by hchaos (683337)

        A fair point, which deserves an answer. The reason they're not thinking that is, probably, that there has as yet been no evidence that there were humans in mainland Greece anything like that early. The earliest known sign of human habitation in Europe is only ca. 40k years old [wikipedia.org].

        Humans in Africa, however ...

        There is no evidence for Homo sapiens in Europe 130k years ago. However, according to the article, these tools are Acheulean [wikipedia.org] technology, which was used by Homo erectus. These were not modern humans, and th

    • by Eskarel (565631)

      And to the best of my knowledge, a modern sea kayak would have been substantially beyond what it was believed humans were capable of over 100 thousand years ago. I can drive from one side of the country to the other in a car in just a few days. Even a few hundred years ago, that trip would have been considered almost impossible.

  • left behind when some friends and I were camping. You can keep them.

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