With support from the National Science Foundation, Dr. Alan Simmons and an international research team will conduct an archaeological investigation of the initial human colonization of the Mediterranean island of Cyprus. This occurred during the Neolithic period, which represented the shift from hunting and gathering to the domestication of plants and animals and settled village life. The "Neolithic Revolution," one of humanity's most momentous transformations, first occurred in the Near East around 10,000 years ago. The adjacent Mediterranean islands were considered marginal to Neolithic research, since early studies indicated that most of them were not occupied until well after the Neolithic had begun. Recent research, however, has revolutionized perspectives on the colonization of these islands, showing that Cyprus was occupied far earlier than previously believed. These studies have changed how archaeologists view domestication, its accompanying social changes, and how the Neolithic spread. Simmons and his team will conduct two excavation seasons and one study season at the site of Ais Girokis (ca., 7,500 cal. BC). This site is one of but a handful of recently discovered settlements that have pushed the Neolithic colonization of Cyprus back by over a 1,000 years. Ais Giorkis stands out from other sites due to its unique uplands location, as opposed to the coastal setting of other early sites. It contains evidence of feasting, has unique architectural features, and has some of the earliest domestic plants and animals (including cattle, which previously had not been documented in early Cyprus) in the entire Near East. The central theoretical framework of the project relates to how under-inhabited regions, such as islands, were permanently colonized. It is hypothesized that Ais Giorkis formed a unique part of Cyprus' initial colonization strategy that was distinct from coastal settlements. The intellectual merit of this study views Cyprus within the wider Near Eastern landscape, providing a broader context for early seafaring technology and the expansion of the "Neolithic Package" from its continental cores. This is important since conventional wisdom was that the Neolithic spread overland from the Near East to Europe. The new Cypriot research, however, suggests that maritime routes also may have been used. Indeed, a recent DNA study of a Scandinavian Neolithic burial shows some genetic linkages to both modern Greeks and Cypriots. The Ais Giorkis project has anthropological significance that involves global comparisons of island colonization, seafaring technologies, and adaptations related to economic and social networks involved in settling new lands. The project's broader impacts include how scientists understand the Neolithic transformation, a critical period in the evolution of human societies. This research, the only American project in Cyprus dealing with the Neolithic, partners with international collaborators and contributes to the professional training of both US and non-US undergraduates and graduate students. This research also provides insight into how ancient farming societies adapted to expanding populations, new environments, and resource depletion. Understanding their choices may help contemporary society as it encounters many of the same challenges that these early farmers faced.

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University of Nevada Las Vegas
Las Vegas
United States
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