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Teaser, summary, work performed and final results

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - EPOCH GeoChem (Early POpulations in Cretan History: Investigating residential mobility in the eastern Mediterranean using isotope GeoChemistry)


EPOCH GeoChem is a multidisciplinary (archaeology, osteoarchaeology, isotope geochemistry) project that investigates the Neolithic Transition and the subsequent socio-economic developments on Crete in Greece, which led to the development of one of the earliest European...


EPOCH GeoChem is a multidisciplinary (archaeology, osteoarchaeology, isotope geochemistry) project that investigates the Neolithic Transition and the subsequent socio-economic developments on Crete in Greece, which led to the development of one of the earliest European civilizations. For the first time, the focus is on the skeletal remains of the people themselves and the tools are cutting-edge isotope geochemistry and radiocarbon analyses. The main objectives of this research were to: a) investigate residential mobility during the Neolithic to Early Bronze Age on the island (around 5500 to 2000BC); b) refine the chronology of the early human occupation of Crete; c) achieve a nuanced reconstruction of the early Cretan bio-cultural history through in-context interpretation of isotopic data on diet and geographical origins ; d) create the tools necessary for this and further research on mobility in Europe and the Eastern Mediterranean.
There is a general consensus over a purposive Neolithic colonization of Crete by newcomers from Anatolia, who, probably arriving in more than a single episode over several centuries, are considered the first settlers. Additional gene-flow into Crete from western Anatolia, the north-eastern and central Aegean, plus mobility within the island have been postulated for the succeeding periods, largely based on settlement, material culture and mortuary evidence for population increase, inter-regional contacts, changes and innovations during this period, and modern DNA data. Despite the volume of the above data, before EPOCH GeoChem a direct bioarchaeological perspective through analysis of the humans themselves was absent.
EPOCH GeoChem used for the first time isotopic analyses of multiple elements (strontium, oxygen, carbon, nitrogen and sulphur) of the same archaeological human remains from nine archaeological skeletal sites, including the earliest yet excavated collection from Crete, to determine geographical origins and diet for the respective people. These data were then used as proxies to identify different, new populations, and, along with the radiocarbon data, track and interpret in-context any residential mobility and migration. Intra-group variations on diet and geographical origin by sex, age, kinship or other subgroup affiliation were further explored to gain a nuanced insight into the lifeways and social organisation of these people. Radiocarbon dating provided a clear chronological framework to the research.

Work performed

EPOCH GeoChem advances the research field in two different ways: (1) it creates critical, new knowledge in research into the Neolithic Transition and the subsequent developments on Crete, including the first absolute dating of the earliest human collection from there and using for the first time direct evidence from the skeletal remains of the respective people. (2) It offers an instructive investigation framework and an efficient novel methodological approach for research of this kind in other similar contexts in the Mediterranean, Europe and further afield. AMS radiocarbon dating of the collections and the integrated analysis and in-context interpretation of multiple isotope systems to determine geographical origins and diet as proxies for distinguishing between different groups are novel in research into the specific archaeological contexts above. As insights into past lifeways and social organization become possible, migration is not simply identified as an event responsible for change or discontinuity, but is defined as a socio-cultural phenomenon. This is impossible to achieve through other lines of archaeological evidence or modern DNA alone. Thereby, for the first time, EPOCH GeoChem took a holistic approach to the problem.
Analytical work in relation to EPOCH GeoChem, once completed, will have generated four datasets of isotope ratio values of carbon and nitrogen (234), strontium (162), oxygen (162) and sulphur (40) isotope ratio values, as well as 45 AMS radiocarbon determinations for all nine project skeletal collections. EPOCH GeoChem data are the first ever multiple isotope ratio data from Neolithic and Early Bronze Age Crete. They advance the state of the art and give the first direct evidence for: a) mobility on the island of Crete during the Neolithic and Early Bronze Age, b) inter-site and intra-site variation in terms of dietary practices, and c) the practice of transhumance and seasonal movements of livestock in Bronze Age and Iron Age South Turkey.

Final results

In addition to the research, as part of EPOCH GeoChem the Fellow engaged an array of media to address the general public, with particular emphasis on students and the younger generation. Public outreach activities included: school talks at Cambridge (UK), Athens and Heraklion (Greece), archaeological science-based video clips, one public seminar, one project website and one project page on Facebook, as well as participation in Open days, Science days, and the Festival of Ideas organized by the University of Cambridge in the period 2016-2018. These activities aimed to: a) make a science education and career more attractive for young people and b) raise public awareness regarding the common origins of early European civilizations, as well as regarding the long history of human migrations and the common causes and effects of migration, as well as the benefits that come from population mobility and migration to the people who move but also to the communities who receive them. Such contributions are extremely timely in today’s Europe with its socioeconomic changes, financial crisis and rapidly increasing economic as well as forced migration. They are in tune with the emphasis Horizon 2020 puts on using research and innovation to address societal challenges, and in line with its objective that ‘social sciences and humanities research will contribute to the evidence base for policy-making at international and national levels’.

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