Ocean scientists have just announced the discovery of a huge prehistoric monolith off the coast of Sicily. The monument is on it’s side now, but would have been around 12 m tall. It’s located about 60 km south of Sicily under 40 meters of water. But that’s not what’s interesting about it. What’s most interesting is the sheer age of the thing, with most indicators pointing to it being ~10,000 years old. This predates farming, writing and civilisation as we know it.
At this time that area of the sea would have been….well, not sea. Which explains how people got their prehistoric monolith there. The prehistoric monolith appears to have been cut out of nearby rock as one piece and dragged to its current location. And how do we know it was dragged and not simply a natural formation? The discoverers point to the regularity of its shape, along with regular holes carved into the thing at regular intervals. Regularity is the hallmark of humans. We like things to be neat.
But how do we know this prehistoric monolith really is 10,000 years old? Unfortunately no artefacts were found with the rock that could be dated. Instead the discoverers had to rely on estimating when sea levels would have submerged the site. It had to be at least that old. Or it could be much older. Or our data on sea levels might be imperfect (which it kind of is). As such, you should probably take the date with a pinch of salt.
Yet even if we assumed it really was that old, why is this significant? Well, it’s because a fairly hefty population would likely be needed to move such a piece of rock. Large populations are rather hard to sustain on a hunter-gatherer lifestyle for extended periods. With farming and cities and all that it’s no issue, but if you’re trying to live off the land it can be a bit tricky.
So the fact they were able to have all these people living together for however long was needed might suggest they were already shifting towards our modern way of life. And it’s not the only case of hunter-gatherers making this shift. Göbekli Tepe is another prehistoric, pre-civilisation monument that was created by people in this “transitional” period (complete with its own prehistoric monolith).
Except Göbekli Tepe is located in the Middle East, where farming and all that stuff eventually developed. So it makes sense that proto-farmers might be living in the region at that point. As far as we know nobody invented farming in Sicily. In fact, as far as we can tell when farming did arrive in continental Europe, it did so because it was imported from the people living near Göbekli Tepe.
So what’s actually interesting about this find is the implication that many different groups were en-route to developing our modern way of life. What was it that was driving so many people, so far apart in the same direction?
I don’t have an answer for that last question, but I’m ruddy curious. Feel free to leave a comment if you have a clue.
Lodolo, E., & Ben-Avraham, Z. (2015). A submerged prehistoric monolith in the Sicilian Channel (central Mediterranean Sea): Evidence for Mesolithic human activity.Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports, 3, 398-407.