Rockshelters Kleidi and Boila, West Zagori

Sites & Monuments Rockshelters Kleidi and Boila, West Zagori

In the valley of the Voidomatis river, below the steep slopes of Tymphi (altitude 2,497m), systematic excavations in two natural shelters have documented aspects of the life and the exploitation of the high-altitude ecological niche by hunter-gatherers during the Late Upper Palaeolithic and Early Mesolithic periods (about 17,500 – 9,500 years ago).

The seasonally moving groups expanded their activity in this rough terrain immediately after the first signs of the retreat of the last local Pleistocene glaciations, and the gradual improvement of the climate and the expansion of the availability in natural resources (e.g. mountain mammals, forest vegetation).

Kleidi, located deep in the valley, was excavated in the 1980s (Cambridge University, under the auspices of the British School of Athens). The spacious cavern has been a spring/summer encampment for groups of mixed social composition (families). In a remarkably systematic way for 3 thousand years (16,500-13,500 years ago), the occupants, sitting around a large open hearth, skinned, chopped, roasted, and shared the preys -almost exclusively goats with horns like scimitar and wild goats- and made tools and arms. At the same time, they prepared themselves for the succeeding winter by sewing clothes made of animal skins and fur (e.g. beaver, lynx).

Boila, lying right where the local river flows into the plain of Konitsa, was excavated in the 1990s (Ephorate of Paleoanthropology – Speleology of the Ministry of Culture). Situated at a strategic point of the crossings to and from Tymfi, this rockshelter functioned (14,500-9,500 years ago) as a base station of small groups of hunters. Probably originated from different starting points, they were hunting goats, wild goats, deer and wild boars, fishing in the river, consuming the prey instantly in rough fireplaces, and repairing their bows and arrows, before continuing their wanderings to other places.

The Paleolithic inhabitants also collected a valuable, extremely small in size (1-2cm) raw material from the river: shells with a characteristic zig-zag pattern. With those they carved beads that, together with other beads made of deer teeth and seashells, belonged to compositions-codes (e.g. jewelry) of social identity and recognition within and outside the group.

Along the path on the north bank of Voidomatis river – between the modern bridge of Papigo and Aristi and the 19th century bridge of Kledonia – since 2014, the interpretive cultural route “The Ice Age hunters in Voidomatis. A journey in the depths of prehistory” has been unfolding. At the 14 stop-information points, the hikers-visitors are informed about the Paleolithic landscape and the inextricable connection between human activity and the ever-changing natural environment (Archaeological Institute of Epirotic Studies of the Ministry of Culture and Sports and Epirus Development S.A.)

Eleni Kotzambopoulou

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