Finds at an archaeological site in Cyprus suggest humans lived on the Mediterranean island about 1,000 years earlier than previously believed, scientists say.
Canadian, U.S. and Cypriot archaeologists say the artifacts -- including the earliest complete human figurine found on the island -- fill an important gap in Cypriot history.
The site at Ayia Varvara-Asprokremnos has been carbon-dated to between 8800-8600 B.C., near the beginning of the Neolithic Period, when the transition from hunting to farming economies was occurring throughout the Middle East, the researchers said.
"This tells us that Cyprus was very much a part of the Neolithic revolution that saw significant growth in agriculture and the domestication of animals," University of Toronto researcher Sally Stewart said. "With farming came a surplus of wealth, in both food and time. People now had the time to specialize in other roles such as manufacturing, and they had the time to spend making figurative art."
The figurine -- a complete female statuette -- was found in a collection of stone objects that also included two flat stone tools, the researchers said.
Cyprus was always thought to have been permanently settled much later than the mainland areas surrounding the Mediterranean Sea, they said, but with less than 65 miles separating Cyprus from the mainland settlers could easily have crossed the water from what are now northern Syria, Turkey and Lebanon.
"With these discoveries we really are getting a clearer picture of how much was going on Cyprus," Stewart said in a University of Toronto release. "We can no longer think of it as being on the fringe of what was happening across the region at the time."