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Paleoanthropology at the Gates of Europe: Human Evolution in the Southern Balkans

Final Report Summary - PAGE (Paleoanthropology at the Gates of Europe: Human Evolution in the Southern Balkans)

The PaGE project aimed to conduct systematic field exploration in Greece, to identify new paleolithic/paleoanthropologlical sites, to enhance the understanding of the existing human fossil record from Greece and the Balkans and to promote collaboration among researchers across the Balkan countries. Greece and the Balkans, despite their crucial geographic position at the crossroads of three continents, have until recently seen relatively little paleolithic and paleoanthropological research, resulting in a crucial gap in primary evidence necessary to test hypotheses about human evolution in Europe. In its endeavors PaGE collaborated closely with the Ephoreia of Paleoanthropology and Speleology (Greek MInistry of Culture), the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, and the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens. The ultimate goal of the project was to potentially document the presence and adaptation of Pleistocene humans in the region, early human dispersals into Europe, the possible late survival of archaic hominins and the likely interactions between the earliest modern humans and Neanderthals. To this end, four study-areas were selected for investigations. Since 2012, the PaGE team, together with the Ephoreia of Paleoanthropology and Speleology of Southern Greece, the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, and the University of Athens have conducted survey in Southern, Northern and Western Greece, located new Pleistocene sites and findspots, and conducted systematic and test excavations in several localities. These include Marathousa 1, a new Lower Pleistocene elephant butchering site excavated in collaboration with the Ephoreia of Paleoanthropology and Speleology, currently the oldest radiometrically dated archaeological site in Greece (dating to nearly half a million years before present) and the only known elephant butchery site from S.E. Europe; Mavri Spilia, a new Neanderthal cave site excavated in collaboration also with the Ephoreia of Paleoanthropology and Speleology; TSR, a new paleontological site dating to more than a million years before present, excavated in collaboration with the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki; and Popovo a new Middle Paleolithic site investigated in collaboration with the University of Athens and the Ephoreia of Thesprotia. PaGE has also organized a highly successful international conference, which brought together paleolithic archaeologists, paleoanthropologists, paleontologists and geologists from the Southern Balkan countries and Turkey to present the state of the art of paleolithic research in their regions and to promote the creation of research networks across the wider geographic area. The conference proceedings were published in the edited volume 'Paleoanthropology of the Balkans and Anatolia: Human Evolution and its Context' (Harvati and Roksandic, editors) by Springer Netherlands and will constitute a major contribution in documenting paleoanthropological research in the greater region. Furthermore, the conference resulted in a number of collaborative projects on the human fossil record from the Balkans. Finally, the multitude of PaGE partners and collaborators presented their results from their ongoing interdisciplinary research on the sites discovered and researched in the context of PaGE in a two day closing symposium in Tuebingen, held in December of 2016, whose proceedings are planned to be published in a special issue of a relevant journal.