The Neolithic Cultures of Thessaly, Crete, and the Cyclades

Illustration of a Neolithic settlement at Dmini

By Dr. Jeremy B. Rutter
Professor of Classics
Dartmouth College


Middle Neolithic Monochrome Painted Urfirnis: Collar-necked Jar. / Wikimedia Commons

In their comprehensive study of the Greek Neolithic, Demoule and Perl`s divide this era into three major horizons which they view as being separated by significant changes in such spheres as exchange systems, the production and function of ceramics, the sizes of and durations of occupation at settlement sites, and changing degrees of cultural uniformity throughout the region. The earliest of these horizons corresponds to Thessalian and Peloponnesian EN and MN (their Phases 1 and 2), the second to LN (a millennium-long period which they subdivide into Phases 3 and 4), and a last, even longer phase corresponding to FN (Phase 5).

The exploitation of wild (as opposed to domesticated) food resources played a surprisingly limited role in the Greek Neolithic. The economy may therefore be accurately described as {agropastoral} [farming = agro-; stock-rearing and herding = pastoral], with no significant emphasis on hunting, except for the copious evidence for fishing in the islands. During the earlier phases of the Neolithic era, settlements were concentrated on the most fertile alluvial and colluvial soils. Because these soils retained water well and could be easily enough turned over, or tilled, by human labor, there was no need for draft animals or artificial irrigation to any significant degree. Not surprisingly, therefore, the faunal record offers no evidence for the presence of donkeys, horses, or oxen, nor does Neolithic architecture in Greece include any large-scale irrigation works, although fairly wide and deep ditches around settlements are not uncommon is some areas (e.g. Thessaly). Villages occupied throughout the year (as indicated by the age at death of the pigs raised in them) and for long periods of time (as revealed by the deep stratification at numerous mound sites in Macedonia [where they are known as toumbas], Thessaly [where they are known as magoulas], and central Greece, as well as at Knossos on Crete) are the norm for the Greek Neolithic; the latter phenomenon in quite rare in the remainder of Europe at this time. Settlement density and settlement size are both significantly higher in the northern parts of Greece than they are in the Peloponnese and the islands (aside from Knossos on Crete). Right from the beginning of the Neolithic there is evidence for widespread trade in utilitarian goods (mostly stone tools and the materials from which these were produced) as well as in exotics (display items of shell and, in the later phases, metal). Evidence for at least part-time craft specialization is reasonably copious throughout, but compelling evidence for social stratification and organizational hierarchies is rare. Monumental architecture, whether funerary or ritual in function, is conspicuously absent.

The Neolithic Sequence in Thessaly

Aceramic Neolithic

Argissa excavation

This period has been identified at some half-dozen sites and can be roughly dated to shortly before 6500 BCE although no carbon dates are yet available for it. At Argissa, there is evidence for domesticated cattle and for some domesticatd plants (wheat, barley, oats). This diet was supplemented by peas, lentils, vetch, pistachios, acorns, and wild olives.

At Argissa, six shallow oval cuttings were found in the bedrock. Associated post-holes, hearths, and pebble floors indicate a small permanent settlement. The houses have been interpreted as “pit-huts” with sunken floors: gradually, some have theorized, the floor levels rose and the huts became buildings with floors at ground level. Other authorities consider such a development unlikely. No fired pottery occurs, but attempts at making it are preserved in the form of fragments of simple sun-dried pottery. Between 30% and 60% of the chipped stone is obsidian. Arrowheads at Argissa are of the transverse type. Other stone objects include “ear-plugs” (or were these used for the lips or nose?).

Early Neolithic (ca. 6000-5300 BCE)

Sesklo Neolithic settlement

The three subdivisions of this period are based on changes in the pottery. The numbeers and settlement stability of the EN occupation in Thessaly are striking in view of the dearth of Mesolithic sites in the region. Demoule and Perlìs report 120 EN sites in eastern Thessaly alone, with an average intersite spacing of less than 5 kms.; no less than 75% of these continue to be occupied in the subsequent MN period.

Early Ceramic

There is now evidence for domesticated sheep and goat. Plant remains at Sesklo, Souphli, and Achilleion include wheat, barley, pea, and lentil, all of which were already present in the Aceramic Neolithic. Pottery at Argissa is red or reddish-brown burnished ware in the form of simple hemispherical bowls and hole-mouthed jars, both shapes familiar from the Early Neolithic at Franchthi Cave.


Pottery becomes much better made and more varied. Features such as articulated rims, distinct bases, and sometimes quite elaborate feet appear. Typical is red- or pink-slipped ware. The first pattern-painted pottery occurs in a red-on-white style.

The richest Proto-Sesklo site is Nea Nikomedeia, located 60 kms. southwest of Thessaloniki, actually in southwestern Macedonia rather than in Thessaly. The site has four building levels broken down into two main Early Neolithic phases. Carbon dates from the site suggest an occupation period of ca. 5800-5300 BCE The layout of the architecture at Nea Nikomedeia is that of an “open settlement” with free-standing structures. The buildings are rectangular in plan and have a framework of oak posts entwined with reeds and rushes, both sides of which are coated with mud [the so-called {wattle-and-daub} technique of wall-building]. The use of mudbrick is unknown at the site. The houses are oriented east-west for protection from prevailing northerly winds. Those excavated tend to be relatively large (8 x 8, 8 x 8, 8.5 x 6 m.). In the first architectural period, four houses are grouped around a larger structure (12 x 12 m.), possibly a shrine, or perhaps a chieftain’s hut, to judge from its contents. This “shrine” is divided into three sections internally by two rows of posts. The resulting large central room also features internal buttresses. If not a communal shrine, this building would seem to be evidence for some sort of social hierarchy. In the first phase, the site was surrounded by a wall, but in the subsequent phase this wall was replaced by a deep water-filled ditch; neither feature makes very good sense as a serious defensive structure, and the latter may have been intended principally for drainage

Wheat (but not breadwheat), barley (naked, not hulled), and lentils were the main crops at Nea Nikomedeia, but peas and vetch were also known. Sheep and goat are the most common animals, but domesticated pigs and cattle were also present. Hunting and fishing are also well attested by the surviving animal bones. The most common type of pottery is monochrome, either plain burnished or slipped and burnished. There is also pattern-painted pottery, either red-on-cream or, less commonly, white-on-reddish-brown. Large female figurines of terracotta feature slitted eyes and fat buttocks; they may have been intended to represent pregnant females. A number of figurines, together with two polished stone axes and a cache of 400 flint blades, were found in the “shrine”. Other stone objects include “stamp seals” (also called “pintaderas”) designed to create geometric impressions, “ear plugs”, axes and adzes, and carved frogs; flint and chert sickle blades were set into bone or wooden handles. Clay sling bullets are more common than stone arrowheads. Awls, pins, needles, and fish-hooks were made of bone. There is evidence for twined basketry from impressions on the bases of clay vases. The dead were buried within the settlement area in a contracted position in shallow pits outside houses or within ruined buildings. Grave gifts are absent except in one case where a pebble was stuck in the mouth of a male skeleton.


This is an intrusive northern or northwestern culture found only in northern Thessaly, where it succeeds the Proto-Sesklo culture. Pre-Sesklo is characterized by the appearance in quantity of impressed wares: at first, barbotine and nail-impressed, then later a finer ware exhibiting impressions made with cardium shells. Figurines are crude and pear-shaped and lack any facial features or incised decoration. This intrusive culture is gradually absorbed and has almost entirely disappeared by the time of the emergence of the Sesklo culture in the Middle Neolithic period. There is some evidence for secondary burial in the Pre-Sesklo culture at the site of Prodromos in western Thessaly where eleven skulls and a few other bones were found in three successive strata underneath a house floor. At this same site, the EN remains of what was probably the roof of a building included squared beams joined by wooden pegs.

Middle Neolithic (or “Sesklo culture”) (ca. 5300-4400 BCE at Sesklo itself)

Vase with Urfirnis painted decoration

The culture of this period in Thessaly develops directly from the Proto-Sesklo culture of the Early Neolithic period and differs from its predecessor largely in being richer, more complex, and more uniform. The Sesklo culture extends from Servia in western Macedonia south to Lianokladhi in Phthiotis, an area of distribution comparable in size to that occupied by the contemporary MN culture of southern Greece characterized by Urfirnis pottery. The type site for this Thessalian phase, during which the total number of sites and the average size of individual sites both increase, is Sesklo. The hallmark of the period is the elaborately decorated red-on-white-painted Sesklo ware. Monochrome red-slipped ware is also very popular.

Sesklo consists of an acropolis surrounded by a lower town, the whole estimated to have covered some 25-30 acres and to have housed some 3000-4000 inhabitants. The acropolis of Sesklo appears to have been enclosed within a wall approximately one meter thick, not a very impressive fortification but nevertheless a barrier of sorts, while at some other sites contemporary fortifications take the simpler form of a surrounding ditch. The acropolis of Sesklo is covered with square and rectangular buildings. Near the center is a {megaron} (rectangular building with a porch in front of one of the short sides and an axially placed door in this short side). Not far off is a two-room rectangular building, identified on the basis of its contents as a potter’s shop, in one room of which there are internal buttresses to help support the roof. Such internal buttresses are also attested in House P at Tsangli and appear to be a fairly common architectural feature of this period. In general, houses are square or rectangular in plan, consist of relatively few separate rooms, and are separated from each other by narrow alleys. They have rubble {socle}s [that is, foundations of unworked fieldstones] about one meter high and superstructures of mudbrick (attested already in the Early Neolithic at Sesklo, in contrast with the wattle-and-daub architecture typical of EN Nea Nikomedeia); the roofs were pitched (on the evidence of house models from Krannon and elsewhere); the walls may have been pierced by windows and by several doorways, as well as perhaps being gaily painted (again on the evidence of house models).

The economic basis of this culture appears to remain largely unchanged from that typical of the Early Neolithic. The percentage of obsidian among the chipped stone at Sesklo rises, probably indicating improved and more extensive exchange networks throughout the Aegean. Figurines continue much as before, although there is now more evidence for male figurines. Stone “ear plugs” disappear. Not one Neolithic burial has yet been found at Sesklo. This fact indicates that either burial was performed beyond the bounds of the town or “burial” as a rite was not considered important and bodies were simply discarded. In the entire Middle Neolithic period throughout Greece, the only evidence for a “cemetery” is a group of secondary cremation burials in a cave at Prosymna in the Argolid. The Larissa phase, originally assigned by Milojcic to the early stages of the Final Neolithic, has more recently been recognized by Gallis to be a phase transitional between Middle and Late Neolithic. Its most distinctive pottery is a fine black- burnished ware decorated in white with linear patterns, a class of pottery which is similar in concept to a contemporary (i.e. transitional MN-to-LN) ware in southern Greece. To this Larissa phase dates the cemetery at Souphli, the earliest true cemetery of the Thessalian Neolithic, in which the cremated bones of the dead were crammed into black- burnished jars each of which was buried in an individual pit.

Late Neolithic (ca. 4300-3300 BCE)

The kiln at Dimini

The Late Neolithic in Thessaly is often referred to as the “Dimini culture” (for example, by Vermeule), but this is misleading in that the rich finds from Dimini itself represent a provincial eastern Thessalian variant of the later LN period in Thessaly as a whole. Milojcic and his German co-workers have divided the Late Neolithic period in Thessaly into four phases on the basis of changes in ceramics. These phases fall into two broad subdivisions as follows:

Tsangli-Arapi Phases: earlier Late Neolithic (ca. 4300-3800 BCE)

Pottery is either dark-surfaced, plain or incised, or light-surfaced with dark-on-light pattern-painted decoration executed in a matt paint. There are no figurines. Relatively little architecture from these phases is known, although the large megaron from Velestino may belong here. Measuring some thirty meters long, this is the largest Neolithic building thus far known in Greece. A cemetery of creamtion burials of the Tsangli Phase at Plateia Magoula Zarkou is located over 300 meters from the contemporary settlement and provides evidence for some sort of social differentiation, probably gender-based, in the form of a mutuall exclusive distribution of collar-necked jar and concave-sided bowl shapes among the tombs. From the settlement at this same site, where it had been carefully placed in a pit sealed beneath a house floor, probably as some sort of “foundation deposit”, comes a remarkable terracotta model of a roofless building containing eight human figures, two larger “adult couples” and four smaller children accompanied by a range of domestic equipment.

Otzaki-Dimini Phases: later Late Neolithic (ca. 3800-3300 BCE)

The famous pottery from Dimini showing a marked preference for spiraliform and meandroid patterns belongs to the later of these two phases but is typical of east Thessaly only. Naturalistic figurines are rare although they certainly exist (e.g. the well-known seated woman holding a child, from Sesklo). More characteristic are schematic figurines in marble which loosely resemble later Cycladic types of the Early Bronze Age. The architecture at Dimini and Sesklo is distinctive: small “forts” with multiple enclosure walls and a central megaron opening onto a courtyard. Parallels are fairly common in the Early Bronze Age of western Anatolia (Troy I-II, Karatas Semayük, Demirci Hüyük, etc.). It is at present unknown whether towns existed outside of these fortified Thessalian complexes. The total chronological span of these phases is a little unclear; there are three building levels at Dimini, two at Sesklo. The fact that bears are represented in the bone assemblages from Dimini and contemporary Pefkakia only by foot bones has suggested to some that these are all that is left of bearskins that served as either rugs or wall hangings. Typical of the later LN in Thessaly is a growing regionalism, while in contemporary southern Greece settlement in caves is on the rise.

Final Neolithic (ca. 3300-2500 BCE)

Rachmani pottery

Thessalian Final Neolithic is known as the Rachmani phase, a long period which overlaps with southern Greek Final Neolithic but which extends well beyond it so that its end is contemporary with the phase of the southern Greek Early Bronze Age known as Early Helladic II.

The pottery of the Rachmani phase is extremely varied. Distinctive is {Crusted ware}, in which vases are coated after firing with colored “paste” which can be scraped off relatively easily. This Crusted ware has technological parallels in the Final Neolithic of Franchthi Cave. Figurines of this phase are frequently { acrolithic}; that is, the heads are made of stone, while the bodies are of clay or wood. Copper objects appear for the first time, so the culture is properly described as {Chalcolithic} (chalkos = “copper” + lithos = “stone”). Architecture is poorly known except for the apsidal House Q at Rachmani itself. At the coastal site of Pefkakia in the Gulf of Pagasai, imported Early Helladic II pottery (so-called EH “Urfirnis”, including fragments of the distinctive sauceboat shape) is found in late Rachmani contexts, an indication of the extensive intercultural contacts of the middle phase of the Early Bronze Age which distinguish that era from the more self-contained Neolithic period.

The Neolithic Sequence in Crete

The Chania Neolithic settlement in Crete

There is as yet no evidence from Crete for human occupation in either the Palaeolithic or Mesolithic periods. Early Neolithic finds are so far restricted to the settlement at Knossos. The following summary is based almost entirely on J. D. Evans’ excavations at Knossos.

Aceramic Neolithic (from before 6000 to 5700 BCE) [Level X = at least four architectural levels]

There is no pottery, but two baked clay figurines have been found. Walls are of unbaked mudbrick or of stones, mud, and mudbrick. No complete house plans have been recovered. The economy is a fully developed Neolithic one including domesticated wheat, barley, lentils, sheep/goat, pig, and some cattle. Of the bones, ca. 75% are sheep/goat, 20% pig. Stone axe-heads are rare. Chipped stone includes some Melian obsidian from the beginning of the sequence. Querns and grinders of stone are also present from the beginning.

Early Neolithic (ca. 5700-3700 BCE)

This period is subdivided into two phases of drastically different lengths:

Early Neolithic I (ca. 5700-4000 BCE) [Levels IX-V]

This period constitutes by far the longest stage of homogeneous cultural activity on the site. The buildings in Levels IX-VIII are rectangular and constructed of fired mudbrick. From Level VII onwards, buildings are constructed of {pisé} (poured mud) on stone foundations. Wall surfaces are regularly mud-plastered. Although no complete house plans were recovered, it is clear that buildings of this phase, as later in the Neolithic sequence at Knossos, consisted of large numbers of relatively small rooms. Since the roofing over these structures was flat and fairly thick, all unsupported spans were necessarily kept relatively small. Pottery, which appears in a fully developed form and increases in quantity with time, is generally dark-surfaced and burnished. It is decorated with incised and dot-impressed ({pointillé}) motifs which are often filled with white, and occasionally with red, paste. Complex handles and rims are claimed as evidence that the pottery was not in a formative stage of development and hence that the technology behind it was imported wholesale from outside the island, but such features could conceivably have been imitated from containers in other media such as woodwork or basketry. Stone axes are still rare, while stone maceheads first appear in Level VI.

Early Neolithic II (ca. 4000-3700 BCE) [Level IV = three architectural levels]

There are no apparent changes in the architecture. Again no complete house plans were recovered, but one partially cleared building, none of whose original limits were certainly located, consisted of at least eight rectangular rooms. Towards the end of the period, new shapes in pottery increase in frequency and rippled relief decoration becomes popular. In an overall sense, however, the pottery is much the same as in the preceding period. Also near the end of the period the first evidence for a weaving industry appears in the form of spindle whorls, loomweights, and shuttles. Stone maceheads and axes increase in frequency. Rock crystal makes its first appearance among the materials used for chipped stone tools.

Middle Neolithic (ca. 3700-3600 BCE) [Level III = one architectural level]

This is a short transitional phase. For the first time, sizable portions of house plans were recovered. The buildings are large, basically rectangular units with many small rooms, in marked contrast to the small freestanding buildings of contemporary Thessaly which consist of between two and four rooms each. The changes in the pottery are minor. There is increased evidence for weaving, and the number of stone axes and maceheads continues to grow. A simple nine-room house at the site of Katsamba is contemporary with this period at Knossos.

Late Neolithic (ca. 3600-2800 BCE) [Levels II-I = three architectural levels]

The two large buildings excavated by Sir Arthur Evans under the central court of the later Minoan palace belong to this phase. These buildings contained two fixed hearths, unparalleled in the other Neolithic phases at the site and unusual in later Minoan Crete. The better preserved (A) consists of at least fifteen rooms. The pottery is largely unchanged except for the appearance of “crusted” decoration at the very end of this phase, at more or less the same time as it appears in both Thessaly (Rachmani) and southern Greece (Final Neolithic). The first evidence for the use of metal artifacts consists of a copper axe found by Sir Arthur Evans in one of the buildings he excavated. There is now growing evidence for occupation at a number of other sites in Crete in the form of pottery from Phaistos, finds from numerous caves in west and central Crete (e.g. Platyvola, Trapeza), and a house at the site of Magasa. The last, an unusual two-roomed structure in which no less than nineteen stone axes and four millstones as well as fragments of obsidian were found, may have been a toolmaker’s workshop or even something as rustic as a sheepfold; as an isolated building not forming part of a larger hamlet or village, it is distinctly unusual in prehistoric Crete.

Cretan Neolithic Burials

At Knossos, there is no evidence for adult burials, but infant and child burials are found in pits under house floors in the Aceramic, EN II, and MN levels. During the Late Neolithic period, caves and rock shelters served as burial places in other parts of Crete.

The Neolithic Sequence in the Cycladic Islands

The Saliagos Culture (ca. 4300-3700 BCE)

Saliagos Neolithic settlement

The Excavated Site

The only extensively excavated site of this culture, Saliagos, lies on what is now a small islet between Paros and Antiparos. This site was clearly a settlement, the finds from it including architecture, pottery, stone artifacts, and both plant and animal (including fish and shellfish) remains. The architecture consists of buildings with rectangular rooms. In the last of the three distinguishable strata on the site, much of the excavated area was occupied by a single rectangular complex measuring 15 by more than 17 meters. The pottery is dark-surfaced, usually unburnished when coarse and burnished when fine. Characteristic are open bowls, of which ca. 40% stand on high pedestal feet. Equally characteristic is the decoration of this dark-surfaced pottery with geometric ornament, both rectilinear and curvilinear, in white matt paint. The chipped stone, exclusively of obsidian, has as its most distinct types ovates and tanged or tanged-and-barbed points/arrowheads (perhaps all used in fishing for tuna); blades are rare. Marble figurines of both schematic (fiddle-shaped) and realistic (“The Fat Lady of Saliagos”, a {steatopygous}[excessively big-butted] female stylistically typical of the Neolithic period) types were found, though they were rare (only one of each). Fragments of two marble vases were recovered. Plant remains consist of emmer wheat and two-row barley. Of the animal bones, sheep/goat accounted for 83.5%, pig for 12.1%, and cattle for 3.5%. Large numbers of fish bones were found, of which 97% of the identifiable pieces belonged to tuna, often of very large size. Interestingly, however, no fish-hooks were identified among the artifacts of bone or stone and nets are unlikely to have been used to catch fish of this size. In all probability, the characteristic tanged arrowheads were used to spear such fish out of the water. Large numbers of shellfish were also collected by the Neolithic inhabitants of Saliagos (35 different species identified).

The Culture

Although a fairly large number of sites characterized by the stone tool assemblage found at Saliagos have now been identified in the Cyclades, the vast majority of these sites are small and many of them were probably nothing more than lookout posts or even spots where a single individual spent a short period of time obsidian-knapping. The only site to have produced evidence of farming activity is Saliagos itself, and sites of any size are few. In any case, the density of sites of any kind during this period seems low and the “colonization” of the Cyclades appears to have been a fairly late and gradual phenomenon which may have been connected with the exploitation of annual tuna runs through the central Aegean but which clearly was not connected with the first exploitation of Melian obsidian, a phenomenon predating the 200-to-400-year occupational history of Saliagos by some 6000 years. No traces of a cemetery or of tombs of any sort were found at Saliagos nor was any metal. The Saliagos culture is roughly contemporary with late MN and early LN on the Greek Mainland. In terms of both its pottery and its reliance on marine resources, it differs considerably from known Mainland Greek or Cretan Neolithic cultures. Similar pottery has been found at sites on nearby Naxos (Grotta, Cave of Zas); the closest mainland ceramic analogues come from Anatolia to the east rather than the Greek Mainland to the west, thus suggesting that the Cyclades may have been initially colonized during the Neolithic pereiod by human groups from both sides of the Aegean.

The Kephala Culture (ca. 3300-3200 BCE or later in radiocarbon years)

Kephala Neolithic settlement

The Excavated Site

Located at the northwestern tip of the island of Keos, Kephala consists of both a settlement and a nearby extramural cemetery. The settlement was short-lived (estimated occupational duration of one century) and small (maximum population estimate of 50) and is one of several more or less contemporary sites on the island (which include Paoura, Sykamia, and Ayia Irini). The settlement architecture at Kephala consists of small, poorly preserved buildings composed of one or more rectangular rooms. On the south side and near the base of the headland on which the settlement is located is a cemetery consisting of forty excavated graves containing the remains of sixty-five individuals (21 adult males, 25 adult females, 5 adults of unknown sex, 9 children, 5 infants). Thirty-five of the forty graves have walls constructed of small stones. In plan, these graves can be rectangular, circular, or oval, and they vary considerably in size (0.46-1.58 m. in length). In section, the graves occasionally narrow somewhat towards the top, though corbelling was not regularly practiced, and the interior height varies from 0.15 to 0.85 m. The graves were roofed with large slabs of schist. At least seven of these built graves were surmounted by built stone platforms, usually rectangular in plan, whose function is unclear. Of the five graves which were not constructed of small stones, two were small slab-sided cists (one containing a jar burial) and three were jar burials in simple pits. All five of these smaller and simpler tombs were used for the burial of children or infants. All burials were inhumations, the skeletons usually being contracted. Among the twenty-five tombs for which precise details are available, fifteen contained a single burial (nine adults, three children, three infants), five contained two burials, and five contained between four and thirteen burials. The tombs with multiple burials are likely to have been family tombs, some of which were clearly used over a considerable period of time. Of the twenty-seven for which there is definite information, only nine contained any grave offerings at all and only one contained more than one object. Grave goods were normally containers, marble vessels in two cases but more often clay pots. In only one case was a grave offering something other than a vessel: a flint scraper deposited with an adult male, who is the only certainly male recipient of any grave offering.

From the settlement comes evidence of metalworking on the site in the form of pieces of slag and of burnt clay fragments of furnace-lining or of crucibles. Four fragmentary copper artifacts from the site (the single piece analyzed was almost pure copper) were unfortunately surface finds, but there is little reason not to accept them as representative of the sort of metal artifact in use during the site’s occupation. Most of the chipped stone on the site is obsidian which was clearly locally worked and of which a far larger percentage consists of blades than at Saliagos. Half-a-dozen tools of flint/ chert are certainly imported. Eight terracotta figurines, all but one found in the cemetery although not in the tombs themselves, are either small, crudely modelled female figures (four examples), heads which resemble in their flat, backward-tilting faces and prominent noses the later marble Early Cycladic figurines (three examples), or {ithyphallic} [sexually aroused, as indicated by a prominent penile erection] males (one example). Among the pottery, the most common shapes are bowls, jars, and scoops. Decoration, when it occurs, may consist of incision, pattern-burnishing, or crusted decoration in red or white applied after firing. Of considerable interest are the impressions of woven mats on seventeen potsherds and of cloth on three more sherds.

The Culture

The Kephala culture, assignable to the Final Neolithic period, has numerous connections with sites in Attica (Athens, Thorikos, Kitsos Cave) and the Saronic Gulf (Kolonna on Aegina). The extramural cemetery at Kephala is, after the appreciably earlier cemeteries of corbelling burials from Souphli and Plateia Magoula Zarkou in Thessaly, the Aegean’s first communal burial ground to be located outside of a cave. The tomb types, marble vessels, and some of the figurines anticipate those characteristic of the subsequent Grotta-Pelos culture, the earliest Bronze Age culture thus far identified in the islands. The evidence from Kephala for Neolithic metalwork corresponds in date with that from contemporary Knossos on Crete, Pefkakia in Thessaly, and Sitagroi in eastern Macedonia, but only at Kephala and Sitagroi do slags or crucibles attest to the actual practice of some kind of metallurgy. Roughly contemporary deposits of copper artifacts accompanied by gold and silver objects with undeniable parallels among the treasures found in the rich Neolithic burials at Varna in coastal Bulgaria have also been found in the Cave of Zas on Naxos and in the Alepotrypa Cave on the west coast of the Mani in southern Laconia. Such distant contacts are eloquent testimony to the impressive distances over which objects were being exchanged by sea in the Aegean during the later fourth millennium BCE

A Final Neolithic Successor to the Saliagos Culture?

Grotta cave art

Recent excavations at Grotta on Naxos have produced white-on-dark painted pottery reminiscent of that of the Saliagos Culture but here associated with an obsidian chipped stone industry consisting primarily of blades. The excavator has suggested that this assemblage, rather than that described above as the Kephala Culture, may be typical of the central Aegean islands at the end of the Neolithic and may have a better claim to being the direct ancestor of the Grotta-Pelos Culture, the Cyclades’ earliest Bronze Age assemblage. The Kephala culture may thus be limited to Attica and islands in the adjacent waters of the Saronic Gulf and the westernmost Aegean.