Thessaloniki: Visiting the cave of Petralon Halkidiki again, the “home of the archanthropos”

The “secret” cave of Petralona Halkidiki in the reopened after 5 years that was not visited. Visiting the public is again, from 28 February, the Petralon Cave in Thessaloniki, while the official opening of the exhibition is expected to take place in a few days by Culture Minister Lina Mendoni. It is noted that the work started in 2019 under the project “Development of the Petralon Cave and upgrading of its infrastructure”, a budget of around one million euros, integrated into the Central Macedonia – NSP 2014-2020. A common secret to the inhabitants of Petralona Halkidiki was for decades the fact that, near their village, at the foot of Mount Katsika, there was a narrow hole from which sound sounded like water running. In May 1959, two young people of the village came down with ropes and discovered a cave while soon after, residents opened a small entrance from where they could easily enter, holding lanterns and candles to illuminate the absolute darkness that prevailed. And when the first fossils were recovered and in particular an almost intact human skull, the cave of Petralons, was “lit” after thousands of years! He now also enjoys a brave facelift completed a few days ago after keeping the cave gates closed since 2019. The Athenian/Macedonian News Agency was found in the Petralon Cave and was guided in its reformed areas by the Head of the Paleoanthropology Ephorate- Cavekeeping Andrew Darla. “The first step in the cave is now done with.. disinfection of visitors’ shoes , simply stepping on a special floor at the entrance,” says Mr. Darlas opening the cave doors that since the mid-1970s, attracts thousands of visitors and is an important attraction for the area. However, due to the great traffic, it had been damaged and its renovation and upgrading was necessary. During the work, the runway was widened and at some points, for historical reasons, the rails on which the wagon was moved that was previously used for the opening to carry the bearers. In fact, as Mr Darlas says, in the transatlantic work, the possibility was given for the first time to undertake excavation documentation. “The old corridor was always removed with the safety of the visitors and the integrity of the monument and a change took place, at some points of the route, which now extends to 250 meters,” explains Mr. Darlas. With an area of about 10,000 sq.m. but accessible to 10% to 20%, Petralon Cave is estimated to have been formed over a million years ago and it was a place where food hunters and wild animals, lions, bears and many hyenas, as evidenced by the majority of the fossils found. Impressive is its large “sala”, known as the “S cave of red stones” because the red of iron oxides prevails. As part of the work, special care was made for lighting, with many hours of testing and mounting led. “The caves are a world of darkness, and that is why we have taken particular care of the lighting that is adjustable and gives the necessary feel,” says Mr.Darlas, adding that the temperature and humidity are being recorded, inside the cave, in real time while an intercom was placed in some places and a closed television circuit. The Stone skull A unique rare find in which the Petralon Museum owes great from its reputation and traffic, is the human skull found in 1960. “The skull was found stuck in height, i.e. not on the floor and was in very good condition. But the point is that it was found by a resident of the area who unstuck it and brought it to the surface and scientists. He later pointed to the point where he found it but certainly valuable evidence had been lost since his discovery was not made by experts who would provide more scientific evidence based on his exact position,” said Mr.Darlas indicating the area estimated to be the skull. “His uniqueness”, he continues, “is also due to the fact that it was almost intact”. As quoted in the 2007 edition of the AUTH entitled “Petralon, a cave, a pre…history” signed by Evangelia Tsukalas and George Koufos, the skull of Petralona is placed in the species Homo heidelbergensis. This species places a series of skulls that essentially include all forms, which constitute the transition from Homo erectus to Homo sapiens and referred to as archaic Homo sapiens. The anthropologist Aris Pulianos, who spent many years on the find, appreciated that he was the oldest European and named him “An Archman”. The dating of the skull became the object of controversy and was at the heart of the multi-annual struggles for the operation of the cave between the late Pulianos and his Anthropological company and the Ministry of Culture. Specifically in 1981 the EOT granted the Anthropological Society the operation of the cave but when the site was later described as archaeological, it became administrative miscarriage and the EOT denounced the contract. A harsh court dispute ensued that ended in April 2011 with the definitive expulsion of Puliano from the Petralon Cave. “The point is that the cave had been inhabited by people, which has been questioned, after the discovery of leftovers, tools and by-products of the construction of stone tools and is an archaeological site” Mr. Darlas clears. 200,000 years old the age of the skull The first findings of the cave, from 1960 until the mid-1970s and of course the famous skull, are kept at the Museum of Geology – Paleontologia – Paleoanthropology run by a five-member scientific committee and housed on the ground floor of the building of the School of Positive Sciences of the AUTH. “The skull is a paleontological find, not archaeological. Archaeologists deal with the cultural manifestations of man, we deal with bones, with natural anthropology,” says the APE-AME Professor Palaeontology at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki and a member of the Museum’s administration, Evangelia Tsukalas. As he explains, chronologically the skull has been determined at 200,000 years, but it is not his age but the state of his preservation that makes it unique on the planet. “It was found whole and still ongoing studies and within its intracranial imprint” complements. As for the reopening of the cave as well as the forthcoming opening of the Petralon Museum that had closed for work along with the cave, Ms.Chukalas reported that they are done without the presence of the AUTH, which should not be done. “Ethically, since the AUTH went first it had to be called and asked for its cooperation” concludes.