Palaeoenvironmental reconstruction and flora exploitation at the Palaeolithic cave of Theopetra, central Greece: the evidence from phytolith analysis

  • Georgia TsartsidouEmail author
  • Panagiotis Karkanas
  • Gilbert Marshall
  • Nina Kyparissi-Apostolika
Original Paper


This paper presents the results of phytolith analysis carried out on sediments from Theopetra Cave in Thessaly, Central Greece. Theopetra is one of the most important late Pleistocene sites in the region, with occupation spanning the Middle Palaeolithic to the end of the Neolithic. The aim of this study is to contribute to our understanding of the nature of human occupation in the cave during the Palaeolithic and Mesolithic. Palaeoenvironmental issues are also addressed in order to understand the climate and vegetation around the cave during that time. Twelve layers of anthropogenic and geogenic origin which mark distinct occupation episodes have been sampled. The anthropogenic layers consist of combustion features and are valuable indicators of human activity within the cave, providing information on the types of vegetation collected for everyday activities and consumption. The geogenic sediments are mostly of natural origin and mark intervals during which the site was mostly unoccupied. They provide evidence for the climate and plant communities growing around the cave. The results point to intensive occupation of the cave during the transition from the penultimate glacial to the last interglacial, a period of mild climate, high precipitation and rich vegetation in the catchment area. Sporadic use of the cave is implied during the last glacial, followed by more frequent visits towards the end of the Pleistocene. A range of plants were used for fuel, food and other day-to-day activities. Theopetra is discussed in comparison with Klissoura, a key Palaeolithic cave site in southern Greece. A number of conclusions are drawn concerning life at the two sites and their surroundings, based on similarities and differences in phytoliths and other key environmental and dietary indicators.


Phytoliths Palaeolithic Mesolithic Greece Cave Combustion features 



This study was carried out during GT’s Fellowship in Environmental Studies in 2010 at the Wiener Laboratory of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens. She is grateful to Dr. Sherry Fox, the director of the Wiener Laboratory, for her support. We also thank the two anonymous reviewers for the detailed and constructive criticisms of this manuscript.

Supplementary material

12520_2014_183_MOESM1_ESM.xls (44 kb)
Supplementary material Table 1 All the samples (TH1–TH102) analysed, their provenience as well as the numbers of phytoliths per gram sediment and AIF. The samples are sorted by layer and depth (XLS 43 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Georgia Tsartsidou
    • 1
    Email author
  • Panagiotis Karkanas
    • 1
  • Gilbert Marshall
    • 2
  • Nina Kyparissi-Apostolika
    • 1
  1. 1.Ephoreia of Palaeoanthropology–Speleology of Southern GreeceAthensGreece
  2. 2.The Wiener LaboratoryASCSAAthensGreece

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