Archaeological cruise in the northern Sporades

A few days ago, we visited the islands of the northern Sporades complex in Central Greece on our quest for modern limpet specimens.

Our goal was to collect live specimens of limpets from the shores of the island of Youra, where the Mesolithic Cyclop’s cave is located, as well as from the island of Kyra-Panagia, where the Neolithic site of Agios Petros lies. The logic behind our modern species sampling has been explained in our previous post on the collection of limpets from the Argolid.

The islands

The islands of the northern Sporades are part of the National Marine Park of Alonnisos Northern Sporades, the largest protected marine area in Europe (approx. 2,220 km2). The islands of Alonnisos, 6 smaller uninhabited islands (Peristera, Kyra-Panagia, Psathoura, Piperi, Skantzoura and Youra) as well as 22 other rocky islets all belong to the marine park and are under a protected status. The area is home to a large variety of marine and terrestrial fauna and flora species. The most famous among these is the monk seal (Monachus monachus), a sea mammal under protection, whose population slowly but steadily rised in the last years, thanks to the protection of its natural environment and rising environmental awareness. Other than the seals, an important pole of touristic attraction of Alonnisos, the northern Sporades also have a rich history from prehistoric, classical, byzantine to modern times. For example, the well-known 5th century BC shipwreck of Peristera is now part of the first underwater museum of Greece.

The smaller desert islands of the area, once a home to pirates or hermit monks, now lie largely uninhabited and untouched by people. Their modern name of Erimónisa, meaning desert islands, is a witness to that fact. These islands were occupied by pirates until the 17th century, who regularly raided the larger populated islands of the Sporades. Their infamy continued to the 18th century, when the European travelers used to call them “the devil’s islands” or “îles du diable”.

Youra

So, after studying maps and getting multiple directions and permits, we were ready for our venture. We had the luck to collaborate with the Managing Agency of the National Marine Park of Alonnisos Northern Sporades responsible for the protection and surveillance of the park area, who accompanied us with their boat. Youra is an hour away north of Alonnisos. Our captain, Mr. Dimitris, showed us the path to the cave, we jumped on the western dock and the boat left. That was it, we were alone in the wilderness!

After getting our first samples straight away from the western shore, we headed uphill for the cave.

Near the cave, collecting limpets…
…off the rocks

The steep shore of western Youra

As we climbed up, the landscape grew more and more impressive: the silence of the land, the dead calm, a few wild goats rushing away and trees deformed by the wind.

Heading south

The northern slopes of Youra

The path quickly led us to a plateau with ruins of an old monastery and the remains of modern buildings encircled by stone enclosures and fences. Some of the buildings used to be used by hunters during certain periods and the guard(s) of the forestry service that used to live on the island until the early 1990s.

Leaving the plateau behind, we headed north following the path along the slope and we finally reached Cyclop’s cave. The entrance of the cave is relatively small and low and is closed by a fence. Unfortunately the cave is closed for visitors.

The cave entrance

We could however enjoy the view of the western part of the island as the sun was rising.

View from the cave towards the south

After some rest, we headed down and south to find again our boat at the southern dock.

From the southern side, the small islands of Gramiza, Koubi, Evangelistria, as well as the island of Kyra-Panagia are visible.


Islets of Koubi, Evangelistria and Kyra-Panagia on the background as seen from Youra

Kyra-Panagia and Agios Petros

After collecting some more limpets, we left for the island Kyra-Panagia. Our next stop was the islet of Agios Petros, where a Neolithic settlement has been discovered and excavated. On Kyra-Panagia there is an active 16th century monastery. The island has two large bays, Planitis in the north and Agios Petros in the south, two natural harbours offering safe anchorage for ships. This time our visit was shorter as Agios Petros is fairly small. Its trenches are not visible because of the vegetation, but the modern limpets were there by the rocky shore!

After finishing our work, we finally jumped into the water.

The islet of Agios Petros

At the end of the day, we did not meet any monk seals, cyclopes, or pirates, but we did gather some limpets!

We look forward to analysing them and we hope to go back again soon.

We would like to warmly thank the people of the Managing Agency of the National Marine Park of Alonnisos Northern Sporades for their help and support, and specifically Stefanos Paraskevopoulos, Spyros Iossifidis, the members of the crew of the boat Dimitris and Kostas, as well as Stella Katsarou from the Ephorate of Palaeoanthropology and Speleology.

Lastly, the trip would not have been the same without the great help of Angeliki Kita who accompanied me to this marine adventure!

Danai Theodoraki
Danai Theodoraki
Doctoral Student