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Social Networking and Raw Material Selectivity in Early Prehistoric Mediterranean Seascapes

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - PRENET (Social Networking and Raw Material Selectivity in Early Prehistoric Mediterranean Seascapes)

Reporting period: 2015-09-01 to 2017-08-31

The PRENET aimed at investigating the extent and directions of social communication in the early prehistory of the Eastern Mediterranean seascape and the cognitive/behavioural factors behind the observed patterns.
The specific scientific objectives of the proposal were: 1) the investigation of social interactions in Eastern Mediterranean through the examination of raw material movement in early prehistoric Cyprus and, 2) the determination of cognitive/behavioural elements behind our ancestors’ choices of specific raw materials, through the study of raw material selectivity.
Misconceptions abound with regards to the eastern part of the Mediterranean, and especially the island of Cyprus, with current notions seeing the sea as a barrier to early human presence. However, given its geographical location and its complex ecology and habitats, this lack of human presence in Cyprus seems to be research–related rather than factual. The new data that PRENET generated contribute significantly to this debate by establishing the presence of long-distance, continuous and multi-directional social interactions between Cyprus and the mainland during the Early Holocene contrary to what was previously believed.

The research conducted within the framework of PRENET advanced archaeological science beyond the state-of-the-art by 1) the documenting human mobility (social networking) in eastern Mediterranean in the Early Holocene, 2) defining the nature, underlying factors and patterns of raw material selectivity in the chosen region and, 3) arguing that the conventional view, which sees the inhabitants of the Mediterranean islands living in comparative isolation with ‘impoverished’ adaptations and limited cognitive/social skills, is firmly challenged by new data.

By addressing these issues PRENET has had a significant impact on European society as it is prepared and proposed in times of pan-European financial recollection and austerity, which greatly affect research and innovation in general, and particularly Social Sciences and Humanities. PRENET aimed to achieve a research-driven advancement in the field of Social Sciences & Humanities, which will promote gender balance, excellence and skills development within the ERA and particularly within one of the less prevalent areas of the EU. At the same time Europe will also benefit, as the project helped foster a sense of European identity among the younger generation of researchers. PRENET’s outreach activities aim at raising awareness about the importance of developing active citizenship that is open to the world, respects cultural diversity a cultural diversity and reflects the basic values of the EU. The programme took into account the richness of the tangible and intangible cultural heritage of the Mediterranean area and considers it a crucial element of human development strategies as well as an essential tool of cultural diversity as the main condition of intercultural dialogue. PRENET with its research focus on the Mediterranean region and work-base in a politically, geographically and historically significant part of the Mediterranean world, i.e. Cyprus, has significantly contributed to the development and promotion of the Euro-Mediterranean cultural heritage.
"PRENET was divided in six work packages each pertaining to a specific set of activities for the timely implementation of the project. Specifically, scientific training on analytical techniques for geochemical characterisation of artefacts, geospatial and statistical analysis, petrography and geology of Cyprus. Complimentary skills were also targeted, including teaching, grant and peer-reviewed paper writing, management skills, reviewer skils, conference organisation, as well as research integrity and health and safety. The research comprised of a literature review component, including archives and museum collections and the geochemical analysis of 1000 artefacts (obsidian, carnelian and picrolite) located at various museums within Cyprus, followed by the geochemical/geological surveying of in situ picrolite outcrops on Cyprus. National and international conferences were targeted for the dissemination of the project's results and outcomes with oral and poster presentations as well as peer-reviewed papers in international journals and conference proceedings. The wider public was targeted with a series of outreach activities that involved participation in events, such as ""Researcher's Night 2016"" and public talks and seminars, as well as through social media, including a website dedicated to PRENET, and press releases/articles in public newspapers."
The scientific activities of PRENET have progressed the study of Cypriot prehistory well beyond the state-of-the-art and generated data with wider implications to the broader field of Eastern Mediterranean archaeology. In the course of the project, nearly a thousand artefacts were geochemically analysed (the first large scale analysis of lithic collections ever to be conducted in the broader region) - this is all the obsidian, carnelian and picrolite artefacts from Early Holocene Cyprus. The new data resulted in the elemental (geochemical) characterisation of archaeological material and their fingerprinting to sources of origin. This enabled the reconstruction of social interactions/networks within and between Cyprus and the mainland in a precise and secure manner. Analytically, PRENET provided also the first results on the elemental characterisation of carnelian and picrolite, two materials very important in eastern Mediterranean prehistory, albeit very little studied using cutting-edge technologies.

The project’s dissemination and outreach activities raised awareness in Palaeolithic Archaeology and the ancient technology of stone tool making in university students with a new full-term course offered to University of Cyprus students but also to school children of all ages with workshops/events and hands-on experimentation in flint-knapping. The feedback has been extremely positive with children being very excited and happy to learn while “playing” with rocks. This opens up new opportunities for introducing the wider society in new and fun ways of learning about their past. It is expected that the wider public’s interest in such activities could potentially have a socio-economic impact on Cyprus by renewing the public’s interest in educational tourism, e.g. visiting prehistoric archaeological sites around the island or even by establishing open days where the public can join specialists, for example the project’s Experienced Researcher and others, in learning about ancient technologies and the field of Archaeology in general through games and hands-on experiments.
The project's logo
The Experienced Researcher conducting pXRF analysis on archaeological museum collections
The Experienced Researcher conducting pXRF analysis at the museum
The Experienced Researcher in the field investigating picrolite sources
University students experimenting in stone tool-making
The Experienced Researcher weighting artefacts during lithic analysis at the museum
The Experienced Researcher giving a talk in February 2016
The Experienced Researcher teaching stone tool - making at unversity students taking her course
The Experienced Researcher in the field documenting picrolite sources