Aetokremnos: hippos & early humans


Please note that Aetokremnos is inside RAF Akrotiri airbase, and is not accessible to the general public.

Ancient animals of Aetokremnos, compared in size with more familiar species and with humans who also frequented the site: a family of hunter-gatherers.  In the foreground is an adult Cyprus pygmy hippo (Hippopotamus minor) and pygmy elephant (Palaeoloxodon cypriotes) with, in the background, an African hippo (Hippopotamus amphibius) and bush elephant (Loxodonta africana) to the same scale.

Aetokremnos (‘Cliff of the eagles’), is one of the most important archaeological sites in Cyprus, because it produced the earliest known evidence for humans on the island. Here, in what had once been a natural rock shelter on what is now the steep rocky southern shoreline of the Akrotiri peninsula, masses of bones of pygmy hippopotamus, pygmy elephant and other animals were found in association with human-made stone tools. These were of types people were making around 12,000 years ago.

At that time, around the end of the last Ice Age, sea level was much lower than today, and the Aetokremnos site was a steep hillside perhaps a couple of kilometres from the shore. The elephants and hippos buried there were dwarf species which had evolved on the island, and which went extinct around the time of the Aetokremnos deposit. Human presence at the site was attested not only by around 1,000 stone tools, but by the fact that about 30 % of the animal bones had been burned, evidently deliberately. The people who did this were genetically like us, and lived as hunter-gatherers exploiting local resources, also including birds and fish.

Whether the humans were responsible for mass-killing the pygmy hippos and elephants is still an active debate. However, no evidence of hunting injuries or butchery has been identified on the bones. Recent analysis of the scientific dating of the remains suggests the animals may have died several centuries before their bones were discovered, and many used as fuel, by the hunter-gatherers. The animals may have been killed when the rock overhang beneath which they were sheltering from the sun collapsed, perhaps during an earthquake.

Whatever the true explanation for these ancient finds, Aetokremnos attests the beginning of the human story in Cyprus.

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The location of Aetokremnos (photo (c) Simon James).



Archaeology of the Akrotiri Peninsula, Cyprus