Klithi Paleolithic Rockshelter


December 11/2022 -International Mountain Day
“Conquering the mountains”
Klithi rockshelter/Late Upper Palaeolithic/Voidomatis Valley, Ioannina Prefecture

High altitude and dissected landscapes are exceptionally demanding for all organisms. Hence, also for humans, in their c. 2 million long and uncertain journey across the planet, the systematic management of mountains is inscribed within the most recent “accomplishments”. One such enlightening example of intensive use by palaeolithic hunter-gatherers is documented in the Voidomatis river valley, at the heart of the Tymphi massif (Western Pindus, Zagori).

Using Klithi, a spacious rockshelter, as basecamp, hunters of the last ice age equipped with bows and well acquainted with the seasonal asymmetry and availability of resources, started to explore the novel potential of the particular terrain, right with the onset of local glaciers’ retreat, some of the southernmost ones in Europe, around 18,000 years ago.

In short, this was the beginning of dramatic geo-ecological transformations on a wider scale. As a result of ice thawing, sea levels, which stood until then some 120m below the present, gradually took an upturn. Consequently, vast land expanses were inundated, ultimately forming (around 8,000 years ago) the channel between the Epirus littoral and the Northern Ionian Islands (e.g., Corfu, Paxi). In parallel, the amelioration of climate, not devoid of setbacks, triggered the spread of pioneer woodland, the decrease of erosion and so forth.

In particular at mountainscapes, like Tymphi, biodiversity was amplified. At such locales, agile herbivore ungulates, namely alpine ibex and chamois, found an ideal habitat. This new “food reserve”, undoubtedly acted as a prime attraction for mobile, yet thoughtful, foragers. Notably, for some 3 millennia (16,000-13,500 years ago), the Klithi users returned time and again, in late spring and/or summer. Judging from the fragmented animal bones scattered in thousands at the rockshelter’s infill, it is demonstrated that hunting groups dispersed on slopes and across mountain passes targeting almost exclusively the horn-bearing ruminants. Only occasionally they trapped hares or fished along the river banks or searched for beavers and lynxes, valued for their furs. Every bit of the prey was intensively exploited: meat, fat, marrow, sinew, bone, hide.

Around a large hearth positioned against the shelter’s backwall, human groups manufactured and abandoned also their hunting gear (e.g., arrows for bows) and toolkits (e.g., knives, scrapers, burins). The highly skilled knappers used flint (chert), a rock suitable for percussion, employing long-lived traditions but also innovative techniques. No doubt, the local abundance of flint was an added incentive and a safety back-up for those risky pioneers of the mountains.

Material culture remains from Klithi are exhibited at the Archaeological Museum of Ioannina as part of the thematic section on the palaeolithic communities of Epirus.

Dr Eleni Kotjabopoulou, archaeologist


Bailey, G., ed. 1997. Klithi: Palaeolithic settlement and Quaternary landscapes in northwest Greece. Vol. 1 & 2. Cambridge: McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research.

Gamble, C. 1997. “The Animal Bones from Klithi”. In Klithi: Palaeolithic settlement and Quaternary landscapes in northwest Greece, Vol. 1, edited by G. Bailey, 207-244. Cambridge: McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research.

Photo: Costas Zissis