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Stélida is a 152m high hill located on the north-west coast of Naxos, about three kilometres to the south of Chora, the island’s modern port and capital.

What is Stélida?

The chert source of Stélida and its associated stone tool making areas (or knapping floors) were first discovered in 1981 as part of an archaeological survey of Naxos by the École Française d’Athènes under the direction of René Treuil. The initial publication of the site and stone tool manufacturing debris (or lithic assemblage) was undertaken by Michel Séfériadès (1983).

Stélida is a 152m high hill located on the north-west coast of Naxos, about three kilometres to the south of Chora, the island’s modern port and capital (Figures 1-2). Today, the hill forms part of a promontory into the Aegean, bordered by a narrow strip of flat land to the west. To the south, there is a larger coastal plain and some brackish lagoons; the east is bordered by granite hills, then salt flats and the island’s small airport (Figure 3). Since the 1980’s, Stélida has undergone major development, with a series of private residences and hotel complexes that have been constructed upon the hill and disturbed the archaeological remains. To the north, the hill was heavily mined (or quarried) in the 1980’s as part of the airport development.

The Mystery of Stélida’s Chronology

In the 1983 report on Stélida the French archaeologists found it difficult to say how old the site was. This problem with the site’s date (chronology) was due to two reasons.

  1. The type of stone tools found at Stélida had never been found before in the Cyclades; typically they were quite irregular and – of course – were made of the local chert. In contrast, most of the prehistoric sites previously excavated in the islands had produced fine blade tools made of obsidian, a distinctive black volcanic glass from the Cycladic island of Melos (Figure 4). The different, and less skilled character of the Stélida tools suggested that perhaps they were earlier in date than the well-known obsidian tool-kits of the region, perhaps Early Neolithic (first farmers), or Epi-Palaeolithic (hunter-gatherers). This however brings us to the next problem.
  2. At the time of Stélida’s discovery many Cycladic archaeologists were highly influenced by the work of John Cherry (1981), who had argued that the small islands of the Mediterranean – like the Cyclades - were not occupied until the later Neolithic (5th millennium BC). Therefore, the suggestion that the stone tools of Stélida were of an earlier date was radical.

Today we know that human activity in the Cyclades is much earlier than was claimed some 35 years ago. A small hunter-gatherer village has been excavated on Kythnos (Figure 4) and dated scientifically to over 11,000 years old (Sampson et al 2010), while on Melos stone tools of alleged Lower Palaeolithic (Old Stone Age) type hint at much earlier activity in the region.

After the first discoveries at Stélida in 1981 little happened at the site until 2002 when Olga Philaniotou (an archaeologist of the Greek Ministry of Culture) conducted a small ‘rescue excavation’ in an area that was to be built upon. This boom in hotel and villa construction led to further small-scale explorations by Irini Legaki (2012, 2014) whose finds included material that she importantly claimed to be of Mesolithic, Upper and Middle Palaeolithic date, i.e. perhaps as early as 80,000 years old (Legaki 2012, 2014).

Why are we here?

We hope to conduct a detailed survey and excavation of Stélida because it has the potential to make a significant contribution to our knowledge of the earlier prehistoric Cyclades.

This is an exciting time to be working on the earliest history of human activity in the Aegean. Our understanding of when the islands were first colonised is changing radically, with recent work on Crete suggesting that it was inhabited over 130,000 years ago (Strasser et al 2011).

We began a new programme of archaeological exploration at Stélida to contribute to these larger debates about the early Aegean, and to provide more detail on the site itself. Furthermore, with the hill being heavily disturbed by modern construction over the past three decades (Figure 3), we felt a new study was desperately needed to characterise and date the hill’s prehistoric activity before the evidence is forever lost.

Learn About the Project

Below are our Survey, Excavation and Results sections where you can learn more about our project.

 

 

Survey Methods

Survey Methods

Learn more about our survey methods, here.

Survey Results

Survey Results

What did we find from our Survey?

Geoarchaeology

Geoarchaeology

A key component of SNAP’s work is the geoarchaeological survey.

Excavation

Excavation

Learn more about our excavation processes, here.

Results & Discoveries

Results & Discoveries

What have we found? Click here to learn more.