Location: Gulf of Diros
Entrance Orientation: W
Entrance Altitude: 16m asl
Cave Formation: Horizontal
Cave Map: pending
Main Research Years: ongoing
Occupation Eras and Dates: LN. 5300-3200
Papathanassopoulos, G.A. 1996a. Neolithic Deros: the Alepotrypa Cave. In G.A. Papathanassopoulos (Ed.) Neolithic culture in Greece (Athens): 80-4.
Papathanassopoulos, G.A. 1996b. Burial Customs at Deros. In G.A. Papathanassopoulos (Ed.) Neolithic culture in Greece (Athens): 175-7.
Papathanassiou, A. 2001. A Bioarchaeological Analysis of Neolithic Alepotrypa Cave, Greece. Oxford, BAR International Series 961.
Tomkins, K. 2009. Domesticity by Default. Ritual, Ritualization and Cave-Use in the Neolithic Aegean. Oxford Journal of Archaeology 28(2), 125-153.
Cave Description: This cave has numerous chambers, one of which is 280m long, in the largest chamber there is a lake of fresh water safe enough to drink. There are lots of small natural niches within the cave. The entrance is 50m from the modern shore line. The main chamber is 130 x 50m however there are a lot of passageways, smaller chambers and smaller lakes with brackish but potable water.
Research Chronicles and Data: This cave contained a large Neolithic settlement with thick cultural levels. Along the 300m cave, 50 sites of activity have been identified, including habitation zones and mortuary. The settlement disappeared due to a terrible earthquake which caused rocks to fall and block the entrance, and trapped a large amount of the population inside. Skulls appear compressed between fallen rocks. The first modern visitors to the cave found articulated skeletons on the surface. The entrance was narrow, however when the Greek Organisation of Tourism decided to open the cave to the public, the entrance was greatly increased using dynamite. To prevent destruction to more of the cave the Greek Archaeological Service of the Ministry of Culture assumed management of the site, halted public access and stopped any more potentially destructive activities.
There are some very well preserved tools, weapons, and jewellery and everyday vessels found whole in their original position as well as pyres, baking ovens, holes for the storage of food and thousands of decorated objects of household and religious use. The pottery is of a local style with lots of different shapes. Other artefacts include obsidian and flint lithic tools, hand axes and grind stones used for food preparation, bone needles, clay spindle whorls, shell and stone beads, silver jewellery items, marble and clay figurines. Four copper daggers, unworked copper nuggets, and copper slag have been found on the upper layers suggesting that there may have been an emergence of local metallurgy industry at the advent of the Bronze Age. The quantity suggests that there were 100 or more families who lived in the cave. After testing, it is clear that of all the tested pottery sherds were made of the same local clay, indicating that pottery was made on site.
Outside the cave, there is evidence of huts. Within the cave, some of the niches contained vases, and some of the floors were paved with stones. Some of the niches, around the sides of the cave, were chosen for cremations and secondary burials. Pits have also been found, usually large and quite deep and lined with clay and encircled by stones. Another aspect of the cave that was lined with stones is the hearth; the hearth was large and possibly for communal use. There were three small ovens, also for communal use.
There is a formalized and persistent custom of burial in the cave as there is a allocation of certain area for reburials. Although there is variation in burials, the material culture is homogenous implying that the inhabitants of the cave were of the same culture.
Cave Uses: Spiritual, Burial (B.c.d) - As well as for habitation, the cave was used for mortuary practices. Tomkins suggests that the remains of the inhabitants of the cave may have been trapped in the cave by rock falls. Others assume (Papathanassopoulos 1996) that it was a typical domestic practice to intermingle living areas with mortuary spaces. Alepotrypa Cave shows a diverse amount of funerary customs, which is remarkable considering that it is a single site. Due to the specific sites of reburial, perhaps this cave is the start of formalisation and institutionalization of reburial as a cultural practice.
The cave was also used for craft activities, maritime trade economy and a place of worship. The metal that was found is probably symbolic because the raw material probably originates from the Balkan sources of manufacture, and would have travelled far down the coast.