Petralona Cave in Greece. A site of ancient people

Petralona Cave is the site of ancient man. Greece

Man has already flown into space, managed to leave a footprint on the moon and even stuck his flag on its surface. But he still does not know what is happening under his nose, or rather under his feet. Where and, most importantly, why humanity appeared on such a beautiful planet. Scientists have been arguing about these issues for centuries, but the planet just takes and throws them a lot of other mysteries. The Petralon Cave is one such mystery. Traces of prehistoric man were found here and even evidence of the earliest use of fire was found.

The Cave of Petralona. Greece

Reconstruction of ancient man’s life

The Cave of Petralona is located in the middle of the foot of the west slope of Mount Katsika in the western part of Halkidiki and in 1 km from the town of Petralona, from which its name derives.

Petralona Cave on the map

  • Geographical coordinates 40.373192, 23.167623
  • The distance from Athens, the capital of Greece, is about 280 km as a straight line.
  • The nearest airport is Macedonia (not the country, just the name of the airport) 25 kilometers northwest of Thessaloniki, just south of Athens.

Petralona is a karst cave about 2 kilometers long, and is located 300 meters above sea level. It is noteworthy that the cave has a unique geological structure. It has a lot of stalactites and stalagmites, formed over hundreds of thousands of years. The area of the cave is about 10 400 m 2 , and the temperature inside is 17 ° C and constant throughout the year.

Petralona1

Petralona Cave

History of discovery

Petralona Cave was discovered very recently in a historical sense. In the 1950’s, a local shepherd, Philippos Chatzaridis, noticed among the limestone rocks of the local rocks an oval-shaped hole about 70 cm long. He noticed that in winter the snow melted earlier around the depression, and the air there was stale. In the summertime, the temperature here was lower than the average for the surrounding area. Occasionally a steady sound could be heard coming from the depression. Philippos surmised that there was an underground stream of water in the depths from which the sound came.

The water could have been beneficial to the village population, but for several years no one paid any attention to Philippos’ claims. In the spring of 1959, several residents of Petralona went to the site, dug the soil out of the sinkhole, and saw that it led to a narrow underground passage. Two young residents, Vassilis Giannakopoulos and Christos Sarigannidis, managed to go down to a depth of 7 to 10 meters. To their surprise, they did not find any underground water, but they saw the entrance to the cave.

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Petralona Cave in Greece

That same year, the villagers discovered that it was not a classic stone cave, but a conglomerate cave (i.e. a mixture of rocks cemented by moisture and time). A little later, a hole about 2 meters in diameter was dug, creating the first artificial entrance. Although this entrance greatly facilitated exploration of the cave, it still attracted the attention of treasure hunters and fossil collectors, damaging the internal environment of the cave, which had remained untouched for hundreds of thousands of years.

Despite the great scientific importance of the cave, it was not until 1968, with the intervention of Dr. Aris Poulihanos, that a door was put on the entrance for safety.

Archaeological research

Full-scale excavations of the cave began in 1965 under the leadership of Professor Aris Pullianos, founder of the Anthropological Association of Greece. Many archaeological activities were carried out, during which thousands of fossils, bones and even skulls of ancient people and animals were found. The man who lived in the area was named Petralona Archanthropus (Petralona Archanthropus – one of the varieties of ancient humans). The professor’s research proved that Petralona Archanthropus is about 700,000 years old. Which makes it the oldest human in Europe. Now 34 geological layers have already been investigated, and in each of them numerous traces of paleofauna have been found.

Among the fossil extinct species found are lions, hyenas, bears, panthers, horses, bison and even elephants and rhinoceroses. In addition, 25 species of birds, 16 species of rodents and 17 varieties of bats. It is interesting that such an abundance of remains was found in a relatively small area. This is another mystery to scientists.

Later, traces of a hearth and fire were found. This is the earliest evidence of human use of fire ever found on earth.

The most famous and major find in the cave was the skull of Petralon man. An almost completely preserved human skull was found in Petralona Cave on September 15, 1960 by a group of six men under the leadership of Christos Sarigannidis.

The skull in Petralona Cave

The skull of the Petralona man

The skull belonged to a man of Caucasian race, not African. The age of the find is another subject of debate. The age was originally thought to be about 700,000 years old. These figures were provided by Professor Pullianos based on his research. In 1981, another analysis was conducted to determine the age of the skull, according to which it is already estimated at 160,000 to 240,000 years. In 1987, after studies of cave deposits, scientists announced that the skull could not be older than 620,000 years.

What you see in the photos is a copy of the skull. The original skull is in the Aristotle Museum in Thessaloniki. By the way, this is about the position in which the famous skull was found. It seems to have grown into the stone at a height of about 30 cm from the floor of the cave.

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The skeleton of a Petralona man

The skull and skeleton of the Petralonian man

You can see many of the archaeological exhibits in the anthropological museum located at the entrance to the cave.

Petralona Cave today

Nowadays Petralona Cave is not only a valuable archaeological site, but also a popular place for tourists. The first hundred meters – this is an artificial passage, built back in 1974. Then there are natural grottos and caves.

Petralona Cave

Entrance to the Petralona Cave

You can visit the cave from 9 am. Entrance is closed an hour before sunset. Interestingly, cameras and cell phones are not allowed because Petralona Cave is still being explored, and camera flashes can cause serious damage to the stalactites and stalagmites. We honestly have no idea how a camera could harm the stalactites, but museum and cave workers know better.

The cost to visit the Petralona Cave and the Anthropological Museum is 7 euros. But, if you have a group of 25 people or more, the price will be 5 euros.

From Thessaloniki there is a bus to Petralona. The trip takes about an hour. All large hotels in Thessaloniki and Halkidiki organize daily excursions to the cave of Petralona during summer days.

Interesting Facts

  1. The mountain Katsika, at the foot of which the cave of Petralona was discovered, is translated from Greek as “goat”.
  2. Studies have found that some fossils are about 5 million years old
  3. The Anthropological Association of Greece announced new discoveries in a cave, such as the teeth of prehistoric humans some 800,000 years old. The apotheosis was the announcement of the discovery of the remains of a girl 11 million years old. But most scientists consider age measurement methods to be pseudoscientific and do not take such data seriously. Respected scientific publications such as Nature and Science refused to publish the materials of the Anthropological Association at all.
  4. On April 4, 2011, the Greek Archaeological Survey had a feud with the Anthropological Association of Greece. And you thought it would be quiet and benign in the scientific world. However so, researchers also like to “fight”. Well at least their battles usually pass without casualties. So the scientific fraternity of these organizations divided something (perhaps a method of study or determination of age of finds), and many exhibits from the museum withdrew. In spite of the disagreement between these organizations, the museum continued its work, although some important exhibits were lost. In particular, fossilized oak leaves, some 700,000 years old, are missing
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Petralona Cave photo

Petralona Cave

The Cave of Petralona. Greece

Stalactites of Petralona Cave

Petralona Cave

Ever since I was a child, whether through Bazhov’s tale of The Mistress of the Copper Mountain or through fantastic movies, the caves seemed to me a place of mystery, but incredibly beautiful, and therefore attractive. But to go down into the underground kingdom and see with my own eyes all these stalactites, stalagmites and other stone formations I happened to see only at the age of twenty.

The first cave in my life was the Petralonian Cave, located in Greece.

How to get to Petralona Cave

The Petralona Cave is located in the Greek region of Halkidiki, an hour’s drive from the major city of Thessaloniki and only 30 minutes from the resort town of Nea Moudania, located on the Kassandra Peninsula.

The easiest way to get to the cave is by rental car or by cab, which will cost about €30 from Nea Moudania and the nearest coastal towns. Many tourist boards offer half-day excursions to the Cave of Petralona and a small paleontology museum near it, but the prices are steep: you can get there from Nea Moudania for €60-80 per person and from Thessaloniki from €110.

You can get there by car according to the following GPS coordinates: 40°22′23″ N. 23 ° 10′ 04″ E.

Visiting prices and hours

After parking your car for free you can walk up the mountainside to the cave entrance on foot which will take you 15-20 minutes. Or take a ride on the tourist train that stops next to the parking lot:

  • An adult round-trip ticket will cost 2€,
  • For students, seniors and children it costs 1 €.

The train leaves every 15-20 minutes but please note that it only stops at the top for a couple of minutes: it drops off passengers, waits until those who are standing at the stop are seated, and leaves.

Tickets to the cave you buy at the ticket office upstairs:

  • Admission for adults costs 8€,
  • Children under 11 years, students and pensioners over 63 years pay only 4 €.

The cave opens every day from 9:00 to 18:00, but if a large number of visitors arrive before the closure of the cave, the administration reports the possibility of extending the opening hours until 21:00 in the summer months. In winter, the entrance to the cave is open from 9:00 to 16:00. Weekends – Monday and public holidays.

Visiting the cave

Climbing a small staircase we reached the observation deck, where we could sit in the shade of pine trees and drink coffee or refreshments and admire the view of the valley, the red roofs of coastal villages and a strip of blue sea in the distance.

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Surprisingly, even in clear weather, it is almost impossible to distinguish the line of the horizon: it seems that the blue water flows smoothly into the blue sky, and the border is almost indistinguishable.

Some tips

After taking a couple of panoramic photos, we bought tickets at the ticket office and went straight to the cave. As it turned out later we were lucky: the entrance is possible only with the guide, a new group goes down only after the previous one left, so you may have to wait for 20-30 minutes at the top and the cafe will come in handy.

Another advice: try to come here early in the morning, before 11-12 hours, or on the contrary closer to the evening, because at lunch time here are brought large tour groups, and to see all the beauty of the caves in the crowd will be more difficult.

At the entrance, we were warned that photography and videotaping inside is prohibited. This is because the bright light from the flashes can damage stone formations formed over a million years. However, all this is not so strictly controlled: some visitors in our group took pictures with their cell phones anyway, and the guide didn’t pay any attention to this.

Walking through the cave

The walk lasted about half an hour. First, we walked through a long tunnel that was created during the exploration of the cave in the 1960s. It itself was discovered by an inhabitant of a nearby village in 1959, and already in 1960 it became world famous in the scientific community, because the oldest human skull in Europe was found here, as well as traces of a fire and a settlement of ancient people.

Moving along the rails on which the trolleys traveled during the excavations, we looked at the fossils and bones and teeth of ancient animals lying in the showcases: there were both remains of animal species that exist today, such as wolves and bears, and older, extinct predators.

At the entrance to the cave itself there is a small installation: three cavemen are standing near the fire place. This is where they found traces of the ancient fire place, and very close was the original entrance inside: a round hole in the ceiling, through which animals got into the cave trap, not being able to get out. The entrance was blocked and the niche remained inaccessible until archaeologists and paleontologists began to examine it in 1959.

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After exploring these small exposures and peering into a deep crevice along which the wall displays numbers marking the levels of rock change- 42 in all-we set off on a stroll past intricately interwoven rock formations: stalagmata rising from below, stalactites and stalagmites coming down from above like sharp wedges.

Thanks to the illumination, one becomes more aware of the scale and magnitude of the interior space. “It takes 50 to 100 years to grow 1 centimeter of such a formation,” the guide informs us, and we understand even better all the greatness of what nature has created. Here and there our group makes small stops and admires the views. As we walk, it’s a good idea to watch your step: water drips down from some of the columns and formations, forming small puddles on the bridges.

These stone formations seem richer and more complex than our most daring and subtle architecture, all looking more perfect than anything created by human hands. “Humans didn’t invent anything by themselves, everything was created by nature before us,” was my thought as I walked the halls, trying to comprehend and remember the surrounding beauty.

At the end of the tour we were shown the place where the oldest human skull in Europe was found, and we were invited to visit a small paleontological museum. As we stepped out into the light, we immediately felt what a pleasant coolness it was in the cave: it was +17°C underground all year round.

Visiting the paleontological museum

The museum exposition occupies a fairly spacious hall, where the fossils and samples of different rocks of the Petralona Cave are preserved in the showcases. On the place of honor is a copy of the skull, the original is at the Paleontological Museum in Thessaloniki. At the center of the exhibition is a life-size model of one of the vaults of the cave, against which tourists take great selfies – it is not forbidden, and the lighting is much better.

To learn more about the museum and to take a virtual tour of the cave, visit the official website, which is available in Greek and English.

Finally, .

If you are looking to diversify your beach vacation, a trip to the Petralonian Cave is a great option, and if you, like myself, have never been down into a cave, this is a must on your program. The wonders of nature always amaze us much more than the monuments created by human hands. But here you will see not just a beautiful natural object, the vaults of the cave – a real work of art, on which the artist has been working for more than a million years, but it is still not finished!

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