Sesklo (Greek: Σέσκλο, Aromanian: Seshklu) is a village near the city of Volos, in Thessaly (central Greece), in the regional unit of Magnesia. It is part of the municipal unit Aisonia. Nearby, a Neolithic settlement was discovered at the end of the 19th century and the first excavations were made by Greek archaeologist, Christos Tsountas.
This settlement gives its name to the first Neolithic culture of Europe, which inhabited Thessaly and parts of Macedonia (Greece). The oldest fragments researched at Sesklo place the civilization's development as far back as 6850 BC with a +/- 660 year margin of error. The first settlements, which predate the 6th millennium BCE, are known as proto-Sesklo (main group) and pre-Sesklo (secondary groups with differentiated characteristics) and they show an advanced agriculture and a very early use of pottery that rivals in age those of the Near East, in an area geographically close to the Petralona cave and the Archanthropus living environment.
The peoples of Sesklo built their villages on hillsides near fertile valleys, where they grew wheat and barley, also keeping herds of mainly sheep and goats, though they also had cows, pigs and dogs. Their houses were small, with one or two rooms, built of wood or mudbrick in the early period. Later the construction technique becomes more homogeneous and all homes are built of adobe with stone foundations. In the 6th millennium BCE, the first houses with two levels are found and there is also a clear intentional urbanism.
The lower levels of proto-Sesklo lack pottery, but the Sesklo people soon developed very fine glazed earthenware (cups and bowls) that they decorated with geometric paintings in red or brown colours. In the Sesklo period new types of ware are incorporated. At the end of the period the decoration evolves to flame motifs. Pottery of this 'classic' Sesklo style was also used in Western Macedonia as at Servia.
When investigating whether these settlers could be migrants from Asia Minor, there are many similarities between the rare Asia Minor pottery and Greek Early Neolithic pottery, but these similarities seem to exist between all early pottery from Near Eastern regions. The repertoire of shapes is not very different, but the Asia Minor vessels seem to be deeper than their Thessalian counterparts. Shallow, slightly open bowls are characteristic of the Sesklo culture and absent in Minor Asia settlements. The ring base was almost unknown in Anatolia, whereas flat and plano-convex bases were common there. Altogether the appearance of the vessels is different. The appearance of the earliest figurines is additionally completely different.
The very rare pottery from levels XII and XI at Çatal Hüyük closely resembles in shape the very coarse ware of Early Neolithic I from Sesklo, but the paste is quite different, having a partly vegetable temper. This pottery is contemporaneous with the better made ware and not a predecessor of the Thessalian material. On the whole, the artefactual data argues in favour of a largely independent indigenous development of the Greek Neolithic settlements.
The data available also indicates that the domestication of cattle has taken place at Argissa as early as 6300 BC during the Pre-Pottery Neolithic. The non-pottery bearing levels at Sesklo contained bone fragments of domesticated cattle too. The earliest occurrence reported in the Near East is at Çatal Hüyük, in stratum VI, dating around 5750 BC, though it may have been present in stratum XII too - somewhere around 6100 BC. This indicates that the domestication of cattle was indigenous on the Greek mainland.
One significant characteristic of this culture is the abundance of statuettes of women, often pregnant, probably connected to the widely hypothesized prehistoric fertility cult. Whichever the case, these abundant sculptures are present in all the Balcanic and most of the Danubian Neolithic complex form many millennia, though they can't be considered exclusive of this area.
The culture of Sesklo is crucial in the expansion of Neolithic into Europe. Dating and research points to the influence of this culture to other Balcanic (Karanovo I-II and Starčevo-Körös) which seem to originate here, and will be these which will stimulate the birth of the important Danubian Neolithic current. Also, it is thought[CN] that the differentiated settlements of pre-Sesklo can be, at least partly, responsible for the origin of the Mediterranean Neolithic (Cardium pottery). So it can be said that, with some geographically isolated exceptions, European Neolithic seem to originate here: in the Thessalia of Sesklo .
The "invasion theory" states that the Sesklo culture lasted more than one full millennium up until 5000 BC when it was violently conquered by people of the Dimini culture. The Dimini culture in this theory is considered different from that found at Sesklo. However, Professor Ioannis Liritzis provides a different story pertaining to the final fate of the "Seskloans". He, along with R. Galloway, compared ceramic materials from both Sesklo and Dimini utilizing thermoluminescence dating methods. He discovered that the inhabitants of the settlement in Dimini appeared around 4800 BC, four centuries before the fall of the Sesklo civilization (ca. 4400 BC). Lyritzis concluded that the "Seskloans" and "Diminians" coexisted for a period of time.
^ The Petralona Cave and Anthropological Museum
Reingruber, Agathe and Thissen, Laurens. "Aegean Catchment Aegean Catchment (E Greece, S Balkans and W Turkey) 10,000 – 5500 cal BC"
Liritzis.I (1981) Dating by thermoluminescence: Application to Neolithic settlement of Dimini. Anthropologika, 2, 37-48.(in Greek with English summary)
Liritzis, Y and Galloway, R.B (1982) Thermoluminescence dating of Neolithic Sesklo and Dimini, Thessaly, Greece. P.A.C.T Journal, 6, 450-459.
Liritzis, Y and Dixon, J (1984) Cultural contacts between Neolithic settlements of Sesklo and Dimini, Thessaly. Anthropologika, 5, 51-62 (in Greek, with complete English version sent on request)
Sesklo Neolithic settlement
Sesklo photos (site in Greek)
Sesklo (in Greek)
Petralona Cave, Greece
Argissa Tombs, Greece
Medieval Greece / Byzantine Empire
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