Greece and Sesklo had wonderful clay, great stone and good fuel supply. Because of this, they excelled at pottery, ceramics and thus the neolithic age.
The prehistoric settlement of Sesklo is situated near the modern village of the same name, 15 kilometres to the southwest of Volos. In Thessaly. Excevations here have dated the habitation to pre-pottery neolithic (*about 9000 years ago) to late neolithic age, 4500 BC (or, about 6500 years ago).
The people of Sesklo built their villages on hillsides near fertile valleys, where they were able to grow an abundance of wheat and barley. They kept herds of mainly sheep and goats, although they also had cattle, swine, and dogs.The long habitation of the area is due to the fertile arable soil, the abundance of water and the direct access. It provided, to both the Pelion mountains, and sea of the Gulf of Pagassai. Initially, settlements were discovered in the 19th century, and the first excavations were made by the Greek archaeologist, Christos Tsountas.
Pre-Sesklo aceramic, or, pre-pottery 6800–6500 BC;
The oldest fragments researched at Sesklo place. Show a development of the culture as far back as 7510 BC to 6190 BC. It is known as the proto-Sesklo, pre-Sesklo, or Sesklo aceramic period.
They show an advanced agriculture and a very early use of pottery. For the age, it rivals those documented in the near east. It is believed this early known neolithic culture of Europe, helped spread, inhabit, and establish other early cultures. Such as the ones in other parts of Thessaly and Macedonia.
Initially, at Sesklo, a small settlement of the pre-pottery neolithic was limited to the “citadel”. It consisted of subterranean huts with post walls. During the early neolithic it stretched to the west of the hill and was called Sesklo B and C. It consisted of four sided, one roomed buildings with stone foundations, and mudbrick walls. As life continued into the neolithic. In the free spaces, all kinds of economic and social activities were organized with neighboring households. They enjoyed cooking, pottery making, carving, trading and flintknapping. And things expanded.
6500-5800 BC Early neolithic
In the early period, Sesklos houses were still small. With one or two rooms. Built of wood or mudbrick. Construction techniques later, became more homogeneous and all homes were built of stone foundations and adobe. The first houses with two levels begain. And, were found clearly indicating an intentionally that urbanism existed. The lower levels of proto-Sesklo lacked pottery. But the Sesklo people soon developed very fine-glazed earthenware. They begin decorating it with geometric symbols of red and brown colors. These new types of pottery were incorporated in the early neolithic Sesklo period, and expanded into the middle too.
5800-5300 BC Middle neolithic
During the Middle Neolithic the settlement covered Kastraki hill (“citadel” or Sesklo A), and further (Sesklo B and C). Accommodating 200-300 inhabitants. This middle neolithic is also called Sesklo culture, since it was here that for the first time different cultural achievements were characterized in Thesssaly.
It was then when a denser habitation was observed.
Rectangular buildings with stone foundations, walls of mud-bricks and gable or hipped roofs predominated from this period. It was a main practice of Greek architecture that was neolithic. They usually had one room, on the ground floor, while there was indications of existence of a second storey. Their interior included hearths and constructions for storing goods, and sleeping. The arrangement of the houses at the “citadel” differed from that of the so-called “city”. The “citadel” followed a free-standing arrangement. Homes were at a short distance from each other. While in the “city” they were built one next to the other. Forming clusters at some distance one from one another. In both cases though, the effort to ensure as great building space as possible was manifest. In the “citadel” curvilinear retaining walls were built. It created terraces for buildings on the west slope.
Characteristic painted pottery, red on light brown, continued into the Middle Neolithic. They were unearthed at the “citadel” of Sesklo but it was not found in the “city” of Sesklo. This could be attributed to some economic and social inequality not typical of the society of the Middle Neolithic, but was thought to became more evident towards the end of the Neolithic. When natural disasters, trade routes and metallurgy changed things.
Late neolithic I 5300–4800 BC; &, late neolithic II 4800–4500 BC
At 5000 BC, the neolithic settlement of Sesklo covered an area of approximately 20 hectares (50 acres). It was its peak period, and comprised about 500 to 800 houses with a population estimated to be as large as 5,000 people.
Some professors believe an “Sesklo invasion theory”. Stating that Sesklo culture lasted until around 5000 BC. When it was violently conquered by people of the Dimini culture. The Dimini culture had many similarities, but in this theory is considered different from that found earlier at Sesklo. An alternative theory states, they lived and worked together a number of centuries, before turning on each other.
One thing is for sure. Around 4400 BC this thriving settlement was destroyed by an earthquake, followed by fire. It was the case with other Thessalian settlements. Because of the fire. For approximately 500 years, it left behind abandoned ruins. Among them was a pottery workshop. Sealed off for centuries, was some of the finest specimens of pottery, figurines; stone industry pieces; seals; and, jewellery from the period.
After this, only the “citadel” of Sesklo was re-inhabited. At its highest spot, a large megaroid house was built, with open porch and two closed rooms around 152 square meters (around 500 square feet). This building became the most important of the settlement and was surrounded by stone enclosures. Similarly to those of neighbouring Dimini. Around it, other homes and shops were built.
Growth of pottery was growth of neolithic cultures
Evolution and growth of culture was again what neolithic Greece, and Sesklos became successful at. During the early and mid neolithic, using pottery and art, they were able to store, trade and barter tools and supplies better, and with style. While the neolithic period was going on. Toward the end, ceramic decorations evolved to flame motifs. Pottery of this “classic” Sesklo style also was used in Western Macedonia, as found at Serbia and some others. Found in the near eastern regions. There were many similarities between Asia minor pottery and early Greek neolithic pottery. It has been acknowledged Sesklo settlers could have migrated from Asia Minor (and vice versa). However, such similarities seem to exist among all early pottery found in near eastern regions. And, Asia minor vessels had a few differences. The repertoire of shapes is not very different, but they seem to be deeper than Thessalian counterparts.
Differentiating from Anatolian settlements. Shallow, slightly open bowls are characteristic of the Sesklo culture. The earliest appearance of figurines is completely different as well. One significant characteristic of this culture is the abundance of women statuettes, often pregnant. It was probably connected to the widely hypothesized theory Gorgons, and prehistoric fertility cults. Throughout many millennia, these sculptures of women were present in all the Balkan cultures and most of the Danube civilizations.
It is no doubt that Sesklo culture is crucial in the expansion of the Neolithic into Europe. Dating and research points to the influence of Sesklo culture on both the Karanovo (Bulgaria) and Körös (central Europe) cultures, as well as, Danube Serbia. It is debatable though, that a largely independent indigenous development of Greek neolithic settlements was in place. At some points they probably had to work for and against each other. Trading, bartering, co-operating, working with weather and whatever systems were in place. One things for sure, if protruding tongues, tusks, puffy cheeks, snake hair and glazing eyeballs that turned others to stone was on your side. You sure wouldn’t have messed with it.
Bibliography: The Language of the Goddess, February 1, 2001 by Marija Gimbutas (Author), Joseph Campbell (Author) ISBN-10: 0500282498, ISBN-13: 978-0500282496;
Liritzis, I (1981). Dating by thermoluminescence: Application to Neolithic settlement of Dimini. In: Anthropologika 2, 37–48 (in Greek with English summary).
Reingruber, Agathe and Thissen, Laurens (2005). Aegean Catchment Aegean Catchment (E Greece, S Balkans and W Turkey) 10,000 – 5500 cal BC (paper on CANeW 14C databases and 14C charts).
Curtis Neil Runnels, Priscilla Murray: Greece Before History: An Archaeological Companion and Guide. Stanford University Press, Stanford/CA 2001, p. 146: “Theocharis believed that the entire area from there to the upper acropolis of the site was filled with habitations and that Sesklo was a town of perhaps 5,000 people, rather than a village. Other archaeologists working at the site have reduced the population estimate to between 1,000 and 2,000, but either way, Sesklo was a settlement of impressive size in its day.”