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IS THE DRYAS

THEPrehistoric
CULPRIT?Society 40 (2010), 113-129
Journal
of The Israel

113

Is the Dryas the Culprit? Socio-Economic Changes


During the Final Pleistocene and Early Holocene
at Franchthi Cave (Greece)*
CATHERINE PERLS1
1

Universit de Paris X, CNRS, UMR 7555

INTRODUCTION
Besides his unique range of interests and competence, what I admire most in Ofer BarYosefs work is the profound coherence of his conception of human societies and their
modalities of change through time. Although prehistoric research is, by definition, anchored
in change through time, Bar-Yosef is actually one of the few prehistorians to have explicitly
stated his conceptions and applied them systematically to all periods (see in particular
Bar-Yosef 1998). Rejecting the gradualist views that have prevailed in the past twenty
years, he resolutely adopts a rather extreme view of radical and rapid change. This view
logically rests on a systemic conception of human societies, whereby feedback effects will
tend to maintain a basically stable state until the whole system is disrupted and undergoes
major transformations. This conception is clearly akin to Eldredge and Goulds theory of
Punctuated Equilibria in evolutionary biology, just as the gradualist conception of cultural
change parallels Neo-Darwinian theories. It can be shown, in both cases, that the different
conceptions of the modalities of change are rooted in different notions of the biological or
social organisms (Perls 1998). A major difference between biology and culture, however,
is that the disruptive factor for biological organisms is considered to be known genetic
mutations whereby it has to be inferred, case by case, for human societies.

This paper was written in 2003 and was up-dated in the presentation of the data. Part of the
argumentation may require nuancing in light of the new data available, but this was not feasible in
the context of the present publication.

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For instance, Bar-Yosef and Anna Belfer-Cohen explicitly stated in 1992 that the Natufian
was a revolutionary event, which took place in a geographical, well-delineated Levantine
homeland (Bar-Yosef and Belfer-Cohen 1992: 39). According to them, this revolution was
a result of complex feed-back processes that integrated several factors, including climatic
variations, the availability and predictability of plant resources, the relative sedentism of the
game, an appropriate technology as well as some degree of demographic pressure (idem). In
1998, however, while agreeing that social responses varied in different parts of the Levant,
Bar-Yosef (1998: 147-148) appears to give more weight to climatic variations as a single
causal factor: This major shift [The Natufian] can be interpreted as a reaction to an abrupt
environmental change (the Older Dryas?) which necessitated a new approach to the way
resources were exploited (id: 147). In parallel, he suggests that the beginning of agricultural
practices was linked to a decrease in the abundance of wild cereals, caused by the later
degradation of the Younger Dryas climatic event.
With such a model in mind, I decided to present Ofer a parallel reconstruction of the
economic changes at Franchthi Cave (Argolid) after the Pleniglacial.1 I had indeed wondered
for a long time about the drastically different responses to climatic change in broadly
comparable environments. In other words, I was wondering why we had no Natufian in
Greece. But before I could even pretend to address such a question, what I discovered to my
surprise was the great difficulty of directly relating socio-economic change to environmental
transformations. Indeed, in a site-specific context, environmental transformations are filtered
by changes in the status of the site, by the groups choices and traditions; at Franchthi at
least, they are difficult to evaluate.2 Second, in a systemic approach, it sometimes appears
difficult to discriminate between climatic factors and many other potential factors of change,
related to the internal dynamics of the groups and cultural choices. To illustrate these points,
I will briefly outline the Franchthi sequence during the period corresponding to the Late
1

This reconstruction derives from on-going work to be published as a synthesis of the Franchthi
Cave record, from the Upper Palaeolithic to the Final Neolithic. It is based on the following
published fascicles or papers: Cullen 1995 for the human remains; Hansen 1991 for the carbonized
seeds and charcoal; Farrand 2000 for the sedimentology and stratigraphy; Jacobsen and Farrand
1987 for the general presentation of the site and sections; Perls 1987, 1990 for the lithic
asemblages; Perls and Vanhaeren 2010 for the ornaments; J. C. Shackleton 1988 for the marine
molluscan remains; Payne 1975 for the faunal remains from trench H1A; Stiner and Munro in
press for the faunal remains from trench H1B, Stroulia 2010 for the ground stone tools; van Andel
and Sutton 1987 for the site setting and local geology. I have also made used of unpublished reports
by Payne on microfaunal remains, Rose on fish remains and Whitney-Desautels on land snails.
These references will not be repeated in texto.
But see Stiner and Munro (in press) for a very different interpretation of the data from that
presented here.

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Geometric Kebaran, the Natufian and the incipient PPNA, i.e. the Final Pleistocene and Early
Holocene.

THE CAVE SETTING AND EARLIEST OCCUPATIONS


The Franchthi Cave is located at sea level in the southern Argolid, in a presently dry
environment (ca 500 mm of annual rainfall at Nafplion), with a thermo-Mediterranean
vegetation. During the Late Pleistocene, a small coastal plain opened in front of the cave,
backed by low hills and small internal basins. The caves surroundings were covered by an
open woodland and woodland-steppe comprising several taxa, similar to that found in the
Levant, in particular almonds, pears, lentils, oats, barley, etc. In broad terms, the environment
would have been comparable to the park woodland and woodland-steppe environments
inferred for the Near East (Hillman 1996, figs 1 and 2).
The cave was first occupied during the Middle Palaeolithic, and, sporadically, during the
Early Upper Palaeolithic. These early UP occupations (Phases 1-3)3 present characteristics
of short and infrequent hunting halts: a very low density of finds, no evidence for gathering
activities, i.e. no carbonized seeds, no edible sea shells, and no fragmented or burnt land
snails. The food remains include large game, with Cervus elaphus dominant at the beginning
and progressively replaced by Equus hydruntinus, together with rarer remains of Bos
primigenius, Capra ibex, and Sus scrofa. Alongside the large mammals, remains of birds
(in particular Phasinidae and Alectoris sp.) as well as remains of hare (Lepus europaeus) are
especially abundant (Stiner and Munro in press). The lithic assemblage is heavily dominated
by bladelets, backed bladelets and backed points considered to be weapon inserts. There are
almost no ground stone tools and no bone tools, but shell ornaments are present.

THE BLLING: FIRST OCCUPATIONS BY COMPLETE FAMILIES


After a long depositional hiatus (or erosional phase), the occupation resumed during the 13th
millennium BC cal,4 i.e. during the climatic improvement of the Blling. Carbonized seeds
are now present, and, despite their limited number, the variety of plant species in Phase 4 is
important (table 1). According to Hillman (2000), most species correspond to park-woodland
and woodland-steppe environments. The charcoal (Hansen 1991: 111) indicates the presence
of juniper-type shrubs and hardwood trees such as almond, pear, pistachio, and deciduous

3
4

For correlation with the published data, these phases correspond to units 227-209 in FAS, units
215-ca 172 in H1B, 220-205 in H1A.
Phase 4 comprises units 171-161 in H1B and 203-190 in H1A. It is not represented in FAS.

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CATHERINE PERLs

Table 1: list of plants species present in each period of occupation at Franchthi Cave
Period 2
(Blling)
Buglossoides arvensis (uncarbonized)
Alkanna cf orientalis(uncarbonized)
Anchusa sp. (uncarbonized)
Lithospermum officinale
Pistacia cf. lentiscus
Prunus amygdalus
Pyrus amygdaliformis
Celtis cf. tournefortii,
Adonis sp.
Fumaria sp.
Phalaris sp.
Medicago sp.
Malva parviflora
Capparis cf. spinosa
Erodium sp.
Calendula sp.
Crucifera sp.
Liliacae
Galium sp.
Cf. Colchicum/Polygonatum
Vinis vitifera ssp. sylvestris
Fumaria sp.
Cirsium sp.
Avena sp.
culm nodes ind.
Hordeum vulgare ssp. spontaneum
Lens sp.
Lathyrus sp.
Large Lathryrus
Small Lathryrus
Lathyrus cicera/sativa
Vicia/Lathyrus sp.
Vivia ervilia
Pisum/vicia sp.
Large Pisum sp.
Pisum elatius/humilis
Small Leguminosae
Medium Leguminosae
Large Leguminosae
TOTAL

X
X
X
X
X
X

Period 3
(Allerd)
X
X
X
X
X
X
X
X

X
X
X
X

X
X

X
X
X

X
X
X

X
X
X

X
X
X
X

X
X
X
X
X

422

240

Period 4
Period 5
(Younger (Preboreal)
Dryas)
X
X
X
X
X
X
X
X
X
X
X
X
X
X
X
X
X
X
X
X
X
X
X
X
X
X
X
X
X
X
X
X
X
X
X
X
X
X
X
X
X
X
X
X
X
X
X
X
X
X
X
X
X
X
X
X
X
X
X
X
X
X
X
X
244
Ca. 28,000

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oaks (Quercus pubescens type). The carbonized seeds comprise a variety of fruits, legumes,
mostly lentils and vetch, Boraginaceae, as well as a few seeds of vine and wild cereals
(oats and barley (Hansen 1991). Open areas where herds of wild cattle (cf. Bos primigenius)
could find favorable grazing are indicated by the presence of the gromwell (Buglossodes
[Lithospermum] arvensis), the alkanet (Alkanna cf. orientalis) and legumes such as the
vetches (Hansen 1991: 111). Most of these plants are edible, and were clearly collected as
such, indicating that collecting was now taking place around the site. The inhabitants of
Franchthi also hunted several species of large game: Cervus elaphus, Equus hydruntinus,
Bos primigenius, and Capra ibex. Hares are still hunted, but other small-game taxa are now
exploited, such as hedgehogs (Erinaceidae) and tortoises (Testudo sp.). Some small-scale
fishing (Sparids) is now also practiced despite the fact that the coast is still a few kilometers
away from the site.
Compared with earlier occupations, the density of finds is much higher and the intensity of
occupation has markedly increased. The status of the site has clearly changed, from episodic
hunting-halts to a more residential locus. The evidence for varied gathering activities would
suggest the presence of women and children, and the presence of young children (and
therefore complete families) is indeed confirmed by the recovery of the shed milk tooth.
Thus, not only the subsistence activities, but even the composition of the groups inhabiting
the cave is likely to have changed.
Thus far, the picture could be considered broadly similar to that found in the late
Geometric Kebaran of the Levant: a climatic improvement, a marked increase in available
resources, a broad-spectrum subsistence basis including hunting, fishing and collecting.
However, the change in the status of the site, the difference in the composition of the groups
that inhabited it, and the consequent transformations in subsistence activities preclude any
direct comparison in terms of available resources. In all probability, the biomass increased
during the Blling, but human choices appear to me prevalent in the changes observed, and
they obscure a direct evaluation of the effects of climatic change. All one can say is that no
change in the large game and birds available can be observed.

SNAIL EATERS OF THE ALLERD


According to one charcoal 14C date (see Farrand 2000), the cave may have been occupied
during the brief Middle Dryas (Dryas II), but no archaeological information is available about
this phase.5 The next occupational period (Phase 5)6 takes place, after a hiatus in the trenches
5
6

The 14C sample comes from Trench H, a trench excavated during the early years of excavations
when water-sieving was not yet practiced. It was thus not included in the specialized studies.
Units 161 to ca 154 in H1B, 189 to 175 in H1A. This phase is not represented in FAS.

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under study, somewhere during the Allerd. The very large intervals of time covered by the
calibrated 14C dates do not allow us to discriminate between the warmer and colder phases
of the Allerd. Whether the climate has improved or deteriorated during this phase
cannot be assessed for the moment by the absolute chronology7 and is extremely difficult to
assess from the available archaeological data. It is all the more surprising and frustrating
that the exploitation of local resources witnessed major transformations during what is the
richest phase in terms of archaeological remains. The most spectacular change is the sudden
appearance of massive amounts of land snails (Helix figulina), forming dense shell middens.
Nearly 30,000 shells were counted in trench H1B alone, about 1.7 m by 1.5 m and 60 cm
thick, and the middens extended over the adjacent H1A trench (Whiney-Desautels, in prep;
Farrand 2000).
In parallel with the appearance of the snails, the higher-ranked ungulates previously
exploited decline in frequency: Bos primigenius is virtually absent from the faunal assemblage,
which is now dominated by deer with a proportional rise of Sus scrofa. Equus hydruntinus
declines in relative frequency throughout this phase. Capra ibex makes up small proportions
of the large game. Carnivores, Vulpes, Lynx, Martes and Felis make their appearance in the
faunal spectrum. Pond-turtle replaces the tortoise, hares are still hunted, but the hunting of
birds shows a marked decline. An enlarged scope of resource exploitation is confirmed by the
presence, for the first time, of edible marine molluscs. However, neither the small fish nor the
marine molluscs can compare, in terms of importance, to the land snails. Carbonized seeds
are scarce the ratio of seeds to land snails is less than one for a thousand, but they show
the same variety as in the previous period. The only difference is the presence of a few seeds
of hackberry (Celtis cf. tournefortii), which might suggest a rather warm episode.
The interpretation of these economic changes is not obvious. The botanical remains do not
suggest major environmental changes, but they correspond to intentionally selected species8
and may not reflect variations in natural abundance or proportions. The disappearance of
the Bovids might be related to the reduction of the coastal plain with the rise of the sealevel. It could also suggest a dryer environment, as would the absence of Pitymis and the
rise in Spalax. However, this should not have affected Equus cf. hydruntinus, also on the
decline. Alternately, the relative abundance of deer and Sus would rather suggest an increase
in tree cover, adversely affecting grazers more than browsers. A continued expansion of
woodland or garrigue vegetation might thus have affected the availability of the higherranked resources, and, following an optimal foraging model, led to the compensation by
lower-ranked species such as land snails and, more marginally, sea shells. Stiner and Munro

7
8

New 14C dates are awaited.


Pollen is not preserved in the cave sediments.

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(in press) consider indeed that the enlarged diet breadth probably signals a declining return
on the high-return species. However, processes other than environmental factors might be at
work: the seasonal data based on isotopic analyses of the marine molluscs strongly suggest
that the cave was occupied during the fall, i.e., at the beginning of the rainy season. This
would accord well with the intensive exploitation of land snails and the quasi-absence of
juvenile snails in the assemblage. This rather spectacular change in resource exploitation
may thus have corresponded to a new seasonal pattern in the caves occupation, rather than
to marked environmental changes.9 The groups may have used the opportunity for abundant,
easily collected, and, why not, appreciated food?10 Even if the quasi-disappearance of Bos
and decline of Equus do suggest environmental transformations, there is nothing to prove that
the deer and boars could not by themselves have provided enough meat for the group and that
snails were eaten for lack of other resources.

A QUASI-DESERTION OF THE CAVE DURING THE YOUNGER DRYAS


The following occupations (Phase 6)11 are marked by a drastic reduction of the faunal
assemblage, now exceptionally poor in number of remains. These occupations can be placed
right into the Younger Dryas (XIth millennium BC cal.) and one could expect further and
rather drastic environmental changes (Moore and Hillman 1992; Rossignol-Strick 1995,
1997). However, the list of botanical species remains almost unchanged (table 1). Similarly,
the scarce large ungulates bones correspond to the already-present species, Cervus, Sus and
Capra. Besides the drop in land snail frequencies, which might confirm a dryer climate, there
is no clear indication that the Younger Dryas radically transformed the environment.
However, it may have provoked a drop in productivity and a decrease of the biomass.
This may explain why the caves occupation appears to be sporadic and of low intensity.
All density indexes drop markedly, and the overall picture suggests occasional halts of
brief duration, without any focus on specific resources and activities. Besides the rare large
mammal remains, hare and fox are still present but, in trench H1B at least, do not show any
spectacular increase in frequency. Sea shells and some land snails were still collected, the
latter in much lower quantities than before. The few concentrations of carbonized seeds,
land snails and shells all come from different excavation units, as though different resources
9

Since marine molluscs were not collected in earlier periods of occupation, no comparable
seasonality data are available.
10 This is not merely a typically French appreciation of land snails. The latter are also greatly
appreciated in Greece nowadays.
11 Units 206-199 in FAS, 174-167 in H1A, 153-151 and 150-148 (mixed with Lower Mesolithic) in
H1B.

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were primarily exploited at each visit. This accords with the seasonality indicators, which
show that the sea shells were variously collected during the summer, the fall and the winter
(Deith and Shackleton 1988). It is thus tempting to believe that the Younger Dryas provoked
a depletion of resources, and led to an increased mobility of the groups as it did for some
Natufian groups. However, here again the changes in seasonality patterns render direct
comparisons difficult. Since the resources that were exploited were all already consumed
during the Allerd, it is also possible that the cave was simply no longer a major element in
the territorial pattern.

THE PREBOREAL: YEAR-ROUND DOMESTIC OCCUPATIONS OR RITUAL


ACTIVITIES?
At the end of the Younger Dryas, the cave was apparently completely abandoned. After an
occupational or sedimentary hiatus that lasted several centuries (Farrand 2000), the early
Holocene witnessed spectacular transformations in the occupation pattern, which deserves
slightly more detailed discussions. The lower Mesolithic (Phase 7)12 at Franchthi has indeed
been compared to the Natufian (Runnels 1995), despite the chronological difference, on the
assumption of a permanent settlement and a rich material culture. Some characteristics of
the Lower Mesolithic may indeed recall Natufian practices, but, by and large, I find the
differences more striking than the resemblances and the interpretation of what was going on
in the cave especially puzzling.
The Lower Mesolithic at Franchthi (Phase 7) is dated to a few centuries between ca 8700
and 8300 cal. BC. and takes place during the markedly improved climatic episode of the
Preboreal. Increased tree cover is presumed from the global rise in rainfall, but, once more,
our data do not directly reveal any major environmental change. Most plants found in the
seed assemblages come from open biotopes (pistachio, pear, almond, juniper, oats and barley
for instance) and the dominant species are the same as before (almonds, Pistacia lentiscus,
pears, lentils, vetches etc.). However, the presence of capers (Capparis cf. spinosa) and the
reappearance of Celtis would indicate warmer temperatures. The ungulate spectrum is now
reduced, but the remaining three species exploited, mostly deer and wild boar, with a few
bones of Bos, were also already present during the past millennia. According to Stiner and
Munro (in press) this restricted spectrum would indicate a loss in large terrestrial resources,
possibly related to the reduction of the coastal plain with the eustatic sea rise. Foxes are
relatively abundant, hare is still hunted, hedgehogs more systematically exploited. To the
contrary, birds and tortoises are now extremely rare. Partridges have disappeared. Fishing

12 Units 198-174 in FAS, 147-121 in H1B, 166-120 in H1A.

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continues on a small and seemingly rather sporadic scale. The disappearance of Spalax in
the microfauna is the only element that would confirm some environmental changes and a
substantial increase in humidity (Payne 1976).
Game hunting, however, seems to have remained on a small scale and the focus of
subsistence activities was clearly on gathering rather than hunting. The number and variety
of carbonized seeds is impressive (table 1): Hansen counted almost 28,000 seeds (as opposed
to ca. 1200 for our Phases 1-6 altogether), and this figure is still below the original number.13
Land snails (Helix figulina) were again collected in massive quantities: nearly 55,000 shells
were counted in two of the four excavated trenches, H1B and FAS, although their density
is lower than during Phase 5 (from 2 to 10 per liter of sediment versus 6 to 30 in Period
3). Similarly, sea shells witness a drastic numerical increase (from ca. 1800 for the late
Palaeolithic to nearly 16,000 for the Lower Mesolithic alone), but their status is debatable:
the assemblage is heavily dominated by Cyclope neritea, a small gregarious gastropod which
lives in shallow waters or even marshy conditions. More than a third of the Cyclope display
intentional boring from the inside of the shell, another large third broke during perforation,
and only 25% show no traces of work. Although J. Shackleton considers them as food refuse,
subsequently recycled as ornaments, other specialists deny that the small Cyclope were ever
eaten (Reese 1990: 682; Stiner 1999; Taborin 1993). They are, to the contrary, well known for
their use as ornaments in Europe since the Upper Palaeolithic (dErrico and Vanhaeren 2000;
Stiner 1999; Taborin 1993, 2003) and we now consider them as purely ornamental species
(Perls and Vanhaeren 2010). Accordingly, the contribution of marine molluscs to the diet
would have been reduced to the sporadic exploitation of Patella, Murex and Cerastoderma
glauca, and possibly Cerithium sp. if the latter was used for human consumption. This
reduced exploitation of sea shells would accord with the small quantity of fish bones (mostly
eels, sea breams and mullets), all of which could be caught in shallow waters without boats.
All the available data thus suggest that land snails and plants constituted a main source
of food. Surprisingly, however, the number of identified grinding and pounding tools is
extremely low eight and, besides a grooved shaft straightener, they consist mostly of
natural implements used as rubbing stones or pestles (Stroulia 2010). As in some Natufian
series (Dubreuil 2002), highly polished sea-pebbles, of unknown use, were also recovered.
The chipped stone assemblage mostly comprises crudely manufactured retouched flakes,

13 Trench H1A was only very partially water-sieved, and trench FAN was not excavated down to
the basal Mesolithic levels. However, the surface excavated are larger in the Mesolithic: 6,5
m2 for FAS and FAN (versus ca 2,5 m2 in the Palaeolithic), and 9,5 m2 pour H1A and H1B
(unchanged). Due to the abundance of shells and snails, the deposits are very thick (ca 1,3 m) but
archaeologically homogeneous.

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scrapers, notches and denticulates, also made on flakes. Microliths are scarce (ca 6%) and
their status is debatable: they correspond to Final Palaeolithic types, and could possibly be
contaminant. The bone tools mostly consist of awls made on elongated, flat splinters from
long bones, with a scraped-down point.
There are no figurines or decorated artifacts, but the Cyclopes are not the only ornaments
found in the cave: hundreds of Dentalia and perforated Columbella rustica were also
recovered in these levels, together with rare perforated pebbles. It is clearly tempting to relate
the vast amount of shell ornaments with the presence of human remains, a new and major
feature in the caves occupation.
Besides a conspicuous pit-burial of a young man and numerous scattered bones, Franchthi
yielded the remains of several individuals that, according to Cullens thorough analyses, could
correspond to a collective burial (Cullen 1995). Unfortunately, these remains come from
Trench G1, one of the first trenches excavated in the site, and only rare contextual information
is available. Nevertheless, Cullen was able to identify the remains of seven individuals in a
single excavation unit (1,5 X 2,5 m, on the depth of 10 to 38 cm). Five of them one male,
three females and an infant would have been laid in a flexed position in shallow pits, later
disturbed. Two others, a male and a young adult female, were partially cremated. Besides
several bones that could have belonged to the above-mentioned individuals, the remains of a
juvenile and an adolescent were found in adjacent units, bringing the total to a minimum of
10 individuals in this single area of the cave. Isolated bones from other trenches are equally
interpreted as disturbed burials. Thus, from the very beginning of the Early Mesolithic, the
Franchthi Cave acquired a definite status of burial ground.
The most straightforward interpretation of these changes may undoubtedly follow a
Natufian model : the climatic amelioration of the Preboreal would have greatly enhanced
the primary productivity of the environment, allowing for a sedentary occupation of the cave,
and consequently, an emphasis on continuity between the living and the dead, now associated
in the same space (Cullen 1995; Runnels 1995). The hypothesis of a permanent occupation
is supported by the results of isotopic analyses on seashells, which indicate that the shells
were collected in all four seasons of the year (Deith and Shackleton 1988). It also accords
with the drastic increase in the number of plant remains and their successive availability over
the spring, summer and autumn. Thus, the Preboreal in the Argolid would have had similar
effects to the Blling in the Levant.
There are, nevertheless, several points that I find troublesome in this interpretation:
1. First, we have no clear evidence for a marked environmental transformation.
2. Second, there are some problems with the hypothesis of year-round occupation. Sedentism
is usually associated with important investment in the building of permanent domestic

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123

features: houses, storage pits, terraces, etc. At Franchthi, only hearths have been reported
in association with these occupations, and no special elaboration has been noted.
3. Similarly, sedentism is usually associated with the development of heavy equipment,
such as grinding tools and mortars. This is clearly not the case at Franchthi.
4. Mice, considered a good indication of sedentism or long-term occupation (Tchernov
1991), are absent (Payne 1975). Thus, the seasonality indicators might be interpreted as
the result of repeated visits to the cave, at different periods of the year, rather than yearround occupation.
5 Some remains may be considered as over-abundant. Even in the case of sedentary
occupations, I find the quantity of seeds problematic, since the majority consist of actual
seeds, not of nutshells that would have been thrown as fuel or rubbish in the fire places
(see Hansen 1991: 43 for the pistachio, for instance). In addition, no storage feature has
been recognized, and the richest seed assemblages were found in the hearths (idem: 120121).
6 The quantity of Cyclope neritea also raises questions. More than 5900 were recovered
trenches FAN, FAS, H1A and H1B and N. J. Shackleton reports enormous quantities
of Cyclope in G1, the trench where human remains were recovered (Shackleton N. J.
1969).14 Thus, the number of Cyclope (even counting only the bored Cyclope) and
Dentalia must be 10 to 20 times larger than in any Epipaleolithic or Natufian site, for
instance, listed by Reese (1991: 614; see also Bar-Yosef Mayer 1997).
7 Finally, I cannot help feeling that the proportion of food remains (seeds and snails in
particular) and of ornaments, when compared to stone and bone tools, is singularly
unbalanced.
Thus far we have assumed that the cave was first and foremost the focus of domestic
activities, a place for the living, to which the dead were associated. Should we not also
consider the alternative, i.e., that the living were practicing some types of activities in what
was essentially a place for the dead? Here again, a Natufian model can be brought forward,
since the domestic status of Hayonim and El Wad caves has been questioned and a ritual use
suggested (Bar-Yosef and Belfer Cohen in press; Goring-Morris 1995). Contrary to the two
above-mentioned sites, Franchthi is not associated, as far as we know, with a nearby open-air
occupation, but the recent submersion of the coastal plain leaves this possibility open.
However stronger parallels can be found looking westward. Multiple burials in caves,
including inhumations and cremations, are also known in the Epipalaeolithic and Mesolithic
of in the Western Mediterranean basin. These burials are frequently associated with very
large quantities of ornaments made on marine shells (dErrico and Vanhaeren 2000). Thus,

14 We were not able to locate the Cyclope neritea from trench G1.

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the possibility that the cave was the center of ritual and symbolic activities, including the
manufacturing of shell beads, should not be dismissed. In this respect, the over-abundance
of carbonized edible seeds (and of snails?) may evoke the ritual feasting and waste of food
discussed by Dietler (1996) or Miracle (2001). This, needless to say, is a mere working
hypothesis; some might even say a fable. However, it is no less reasonable than the
plausible, but equally undemonstrated hypothesis of year-round occupation. It would also
imply that the transformations in the caves occupation and status are only fortuitously related
to climatic or environmental changes, and that social factors would have been prevalent.
This conclusion can hold true for most of the transformations observed during this
Tardiglacial-Early Holocene sequence. The local botanical and faunal data from Franchthi
indeed appear extremely resilient to climatic change. Most transformations in resource
exploitation, from phase to phase, are also related to transformations in the status of the
cave and how it was inserted in a broader system of territorial exploitation and social
construction of space. Whether these transformations are directly related to the effects
of climatic fluctuations, rather than to the socio-economic dynamics of the local groups,
remains to be demonstrated. The answer cannot come from the analysis of a single site and
requires integrated regional studies. However, are we not, by an unconscious parallel with
biological evolution, too easily tempted to look for external factors of change? Climate, for
instance, is invoked, often in contradictory ways, for such drastically different phenomena
as the disappearance of the Neandertals, the spread of the Aurignacians, sedentism or the
beginning of agriculture (see discussion in dErrico and Sanchez Goni 2003). The climate
and the environmental transformations, such as the restriction of the coastal plain, may be
the obvious culprit for the changes in the nature of the caves occupations, but one has
learned in detective stories that the obvious culprit is often not the right one The very
complexity of human socio-economic systems offers many opportunities for internal factors
of change, which we may tend to underestimate in favor of more easily perceptible external
phenomena.

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Figure 1: The Frachthi cave, Argolid (Photograph C. Perls)

Figure 2: Lower Mesolithic bone tools (Photograph C. Perls)

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Figure 3: Lower Mesolithic pit-burial of a young male adult (Photograph Franchthi Archives)

Figure 4: Mesolithic perforated cobbles (Photograph Franchthi Archives)

IS THE DRYAS THE CULPRIT?

Figure 5: Lower Mesolithic perforated Cyclope neritea (Photograph C. Perls)

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