This thesis explores possibilities for hominin movement and occupation over the exposed dry land landscapes of the Aegean region during the Early and Middle Pleistocene (focusing more on the Middle Pleistocene ca. 0.8- 0.2 Mya). The point of departure and inspiration is the recent palaeogeographical reconstructions from the study area. Geological evidence reveals the existence of extended terrestrial landscapes, with attractive environments, connecting western Anatolia to Europe via the Greek mainland, during the glacial lowstands of the Middle Pleistocene, and possibly during certain interglacials. These lands are now lost, lying underwater, but, in spatial terms, a completely new spectrum of possibilities opens up for hominins moving across or settling over this part of Eurasia, affecting the wider narrative regarding the early settlements out of Africa. Yet, the research potential of the submerged landscapes of the Aegean has not been fully integrated in the way(s) we study and interpret the Lower Palaeolithic evidence from this region.
The discussion about the early colonisation of Europe has been long focused on the western part of the continent due to the abundance of available evidence. The wider Aegean region was excluded, until recently, as a ‘cul de sac’ that blocked movement and dispersal towards the west, representing a gap in the European Lower Palaeolithic archive, with very little to contribute in terms of material culture or hominin fossil evidence. Advances in palaeogeography and geoarchaeology and exciting new finds urging now for a reconsideration. Could the Aegean exposed lands provide land bridges for movement and favourable niches for occupation, offering perhaps an eastern gateway to Europe during the Early and Middle Pleistocene? In order to answer these questions I drew information from archaeology and palaeoanthropology, palaeozoology and palaeoenvironments, and geology and palaeogeography. These multiple lines of evidence have been synthesised within an affordance-based GIS framework, which centres on the relationship between the hominins and their ‘affording’ world. The new methodological scheme developed here led to new hypotheses and scenarios of movement and occupation, predicting areas in the Aegean, onshore and offshore, with increased research potential for the Lower Palaeolithic, based on the level of suitability for the hominin survival, subsistence and dispersal.
The findings of my study suggest that despite the serious methodological challenges imposed by landscape dynamics, temporal limitations and extensive discontinuities in the archaeological record, a cross - and inter - disciplinary approach can help us gain valuable insights into the nature of the past landscapes and land use by hominins. In this respect, the complex topography concept and the concept of affordances constitute the backbone of my approach. The first, by setting out the background against which suitability was built, and the second, by attributing a lived and experienced element into the past landscape.
The contribution of this study is twofold: (a) offers a framing heuristic, to the newly founded discipline of the continental shelf prehistoric research, for testing further ideas on hominin movement and occupation in dynamic environments; and (b) proposes trans-Aegean corridors of opportunity for dispersal and occupation areas, complementing the current Lower Palaeolithic narrative with a potential eastern gateway to Europe.