The uses of marine faunas in Drakaina Cave

The uses of marine faunas in Drakaina Cave

Τhe study of aquatic remains from Drakaina Cave revealed a limited yet significant exploitation of marine environments. Shells have been found in all strata of use of the cave, crustaceans and fish are scarce.


The exploitation of marine environments

The identified invertebrates must have been collected on the upper levels of rocky shores with the help of simple methods. The few fish found in the cave could have been fished in the same coastal waters (Figure 1). Other invertebrate species were collected in a lagoon environment with muddy-sandy substrates, possibly created by a calm stream, which would have also been exploited by the users of the cave.

Figure 1

The consumption of shellfish and fish

The material is dominated by a group of edible molluscs, which were more intensively consumed in Late Neolithic. Their numbers are reduced from late LN onwards. Main species are: limpets (Patella caerulea and P. Ulyssiponensis), topshells (Phorcus mutabilis) and mussels (Mytilus galloprovincialis) (Figure 2). Namely limpets and topshells account for 2/3 of the consumed molluscs. Fragmentation patterns as well as surface marks provide information on methods of preparation and consumption. Mussels were most probably heated in hot water or in the steam to let the valves open. Topshells were eaten raw or cooked, after breaking the shell with a heavy instrument. Limpets required a minimum effort to detach the flesh from the open conical shell, and were eaten raw or cooked.

Figure 2

The presence of a small number of fishbones from the late LN/early CH levels provides evidence of a punctual exploitation of fish. The fishbone material primarily consists of fish vertebrae; a single cranial bone was retrieved. Identified species include: little tunny (Eythunnus alletteratus), dusky grouper (Epinephelus guaza) and saddled seabream (Oblada melanoura). The selective presence of fish parts combined to the absence of cranial bones might be indicative of a preparation method, possibly the removal of fish heads prior to transport in order to prolong their conservation, or the transport of fish fillets. The presence of fish in the cave could be related to either consumption or food offerings.

Uses of the shell of molluscs

At the same time, the shell of molluscs has been used as raw material for ornaments or containers (Fig. 3 & 4). Although the numbers of this type of shells remain constant through time, their relative importance seems to be more pronounced from late LN on, as it coincides with a more limited use of molluscs for consumption. This is an interesting pattern, possibly related to differential uses of molluscs by earlier and later users of the cave.

Figure 3

Figure 4

Of interest is the presence of Dentalium (tuskshell) beads. Although this fragile mollusc inhabits deeper waters and is more difficult to fish (if not found shored out by the waves), its elongated tusk shape, white color and natural hole offer a fine raw material ready to use. The presence of these ornaments in the cave might be linked to specific decorative habits, to exchange practices, or to special symbolic meanings related to the use of the cave. Other shells have also been used as ornaments, namely small holed gastropods (pendants) and Spondylus gaederopus bracelets, usual finds in neolithic sites all over the Balkans. Finally, the LN layers yielded two Charonia tritonis (triton) tests. Their presence in the Drakaina cave might imply a special use: triton shells are known to be used as whelks or musical instruments. The position of the cave at the entrance of the gorge would have probably raised the need to communicate with coastal and inland communities on both sides of the gorge.

The presence of marine world in the Drakaina cave, although discrete, seems to bear a special meaning. Marine organisns, fish and molluscs, were carefully selected and consumed, namely during the first phases of occupation. From the end of Late Neolithic onwards the interest turns to the shell of molluscs as raw material for ornaments and objects. Their presence in the cave may reflect more than a simple ornamental or utilitarian use.

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June 2009
Tatiana Theodoropoulou
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