The World's Oldest Human Construction Is The Theopetra Cave In Greece

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The Theopetra Cave is an archaeological site in Meteora, in the central Greek region of Thessaly.

The World's Oldest Human Construction Is The Theopetra Cave In Greece

The Theopetra Cave is an archaeological site in Meteora, in the central Greek region of Thessaly. As a result of archaeological excavations which have been conducted over the years, it's been demonstrated that the Theopetra Cave has been occupied by humans as early as 130,000 years ago.


Furthermore, evidence for human habitation in the Theopetra Cave can be found without interruption from the Middle Palaeolithic to the end of the Neolithic period. That's important, as it allows archaeologists to have a better understanding of the prehistoric period in Greece.


The Theopetra Cave is located on the northeastern slope of a limestone hill, around 100 m (330 foot above a valley). The cave overlooks the tiny village of Theopetra, and the Lethaios River, a tributary of the Pineios River, which flows nearby. Geologists estimate that the limestone hill was formed between 137 and 65 million years ago, corresponding to the Upper Cretaceous period. According to the archaeological evidence, human beings only started to occupy the cave during the Middle Palaeolithic period, i.e., about 130000 years ago. The cave has been described as being roughly quadrilateral in shape with small niches on its periphery and covers an area of around 500 sq meters (5380 sq foot). The Theopetra Cave has a big entrance that allows light to enter abundantly into the interior of the cave.


The archaeological excavation of the Theopetra Cave started in 1987 and continued up until 2007. Dr. Nina Kyparissi-Apostolika directed the project that served as the head of the Ephorate of Palaeoanthropology and Speleography when the excavations were being carried out. It should be mentioned that when the archaeological work was first conducted, the cave was being used by local shepherds as a temporary shelter where they'd keep their flocks. The Theopetra Cave was the first cave in the area of Thessaly to have been archaeologically excavated, and the only one in the country to have a continuous sequence of deposits from the Middle Palaeolithic to the end of the Neolithic period. That's significant, as it has allowed archaeologists to have a better understanding of the transition from the Palaeolithic to the Neolithic way of life in the mainland.


Several exciting discoveries have been made through the archaeological study of the Theopetra Cave. For instance, one of these pertains to the climate in the area when the cave was being occupied. By conducting a micromorphological analysis on the sediment samples collected from every archaeological layer, archaeologists could determine that there had been cold and hot spells during the occupation of the cave. These climate changes resulted in the cave’s population fluctuating accordingly.


Another interesting find from the Theopetra Cave is the remains of a stone wall which once partially closed off the cave's entrance. The remains were discovered in 2010. Using a rather new method of dating known as Optically Stimulated Luminescence, researchers were able to date this wall to about 23000 years old. The age of this wall coincides with the last glacial age and has led researchers to suggest the wall had been built by the inhabitants of the cave to protect them from the cold outside. It's been claimed that this is Greece's oldest known human-made structure, and possibly in the whole world.


According to ancient-origins.com, a year before this discovery was made, it was announced that a trail of at least three hominid footprints which were imprinted onto the cave’s soft earthen floor had been uncovered. Based on the size and shape of the prints, it has been speculated that Neanderthal children made them, aged between two and four years old, that had lived in the cave during the Middle Palaeolithic period.


The Theopetra Cave was officially opened to the public in 2009, although it was closed temporarily one year later, as the remains of the stone wall were discovered in that year. Though the archaeological site was later re-opened, it was closed again in 2016 and remains closed due to safety reasons, such as the risk of landslides occurring.


The World's Oldest Human Construction Is The Theopetra Cave In Greece

Excavations at the Theopetra cave began in 1987 under the direction of N. Kyparissi-Apostolika. (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)


The World's Oldest Human Construction Is The Theopetra Cave In Greece

The interior of the Theopetra Cave. Credit: Meteora.com.


The World's Oldest Human Construction Is The Theopetra Cave In Greece
The cave is located on the slopes of a limestone hill overlooking Theopetra village. (CC BY-SA 4.0 )


The World's Oldest Human Construction Is The Theopetra Cave In Greece

The wall at Theopetra - possibly the oldest existing man-made structure. (Credit: Visit Meteora)


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Thinking Humanity: The World's Oldest Human Construction Is The Theopetra Cave In Greece
The World's Oldest Human Construction Is The Theopetra Cave In Greece
The Theopetra Cave is an archaeological site in Meteora, in the central Greek region of Thessaly.
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