Crete is a place of immense cultural and historical significance not only geopolitically but geophysicaly as well. One fascinating thing about Crete is that many animals indigenous to the African or Asian continents were once actually native to Crete as well. The remains of Pygmy hippopotami and elephants, dwarf deer species, extremely large rodents and a variety of other creatures not found anywhere else in Greece have provided fuel for speculation and heated debate among scientists. Were the creatures “stranded” on the island when the physical geography of the Aegean and Eastern Mediterranean altered drastically after the last Ice Age? Were the brought to the island by human intervention? One interesting detail is that there is no evidence of any large predators.
The history of human communities on the island is also quite controversial. There are paleontologists and archeologists that maintain there is evidence of human dwellings dating back to the Mesolithic and Paleolithic periods. The authenticity of their findings however is disputed. Seeing the diversity of the landscape, the agriculture abundance that the fertile island still provides today as well as the riches of the sea it isn’t difficult to imagine the possibility of flourishing prehistoric populations that may have used wood or other biodegradable materials for shelter thus leaving nothing for future researchers to unearth.
The official cultural history of Crete reaches back to at least the 7th Millennium B.C., more than 4000 years before the famed Minoan Civilization. It has been determined that most of those first European palaces, Knossos, Malia, Zakros and Phaistos, were actually built upon the remains of much older settlements. The island was always a hub of commerce from earliest nautical history so it is no coincidence that among other developments one of the first forms of writing, Linear A, developed here. With their active merchant marine the Minoans maintained commercial/industrial settlements on many other islands as well until the explosion of Thera in the 15th century BC. The still active volcano on Santorini is not only responsible for that islands dramatic landscape, but also for the sudden and nearly total obliteration of one of history’s most important civilizations.
Crete never ceased to be a significant factor in Mediterranean life. In turn every other major cultural and political power: the Greeks, Romans, Francs, Venetians and the Ottoman Empire all had an influence on what is today “Modern Crete”. The last 50 years however have brought about the most drastic and astonishing changes, not only to the landscape and way of life, but the mentality of the local residents themselves.