West from the national road Trikala-Ioannina, 3km before Meteora, above the village Theopetra a rocky limestone volume, in the north-eastern side the homonym cavern is situated. It is in the westerner prehistoric place of the Thessalian plain, is found in the foothills of the mountainous range Chasia, which constitutes also the natural limit between Thessaly and Epirus.In front of the cave flows the river Litheos, a tributary of Pinios.
This cavern is the first that was excavated in Thessaly and the only one, until now, in Greece with continuous anthropogenic embankments that begin from the Medium Paleolithic Period up to the end of Neolithic (3000 B.C). The scientific importance of the cavern is considered very important for the prehistory of all the Hellenic space since it is one of the few caverns in Greece with such a wide range of embankments that cover the development of a person in just one period very decisive for his development, a passage from the Neanderthals to Homo sapiens. The importance of this chronological continuity lies in the fact that for the first time we can see in the Hellenic space the passage from the Paleolithic to the Neolithic way of life.
The data of the excavations classify Theopetra as one of the most old- dated places in Greece. The excavations “came to confirm the continuity of the Neolithic Culture in Thessaly and they prove with relative discoveries that the establishment of culture and the ceramic technology were the result of efforts of many millenniums , that altered the wild to cultivated and the clay to ceramic.
The cavern was inhabited until the Neolithic Period and the scientists conclude that during all of these millenniums, it is very likely that the human type that lived in the region changed, since from other places of Europe it is known that the person Homo Sapiens Neanderthalensis is extinct after 40.000 years and the current modern person the Homo Sapiens” appears.
Among other things in the cavern, tools of the Paleolithic-Mesolithic and Neolithic Period were discovered, as well as ceramic Neolithic discoveries, bony tools, jewels from sea-shells, a unique for the Hellenic space golden jewel from the Paleolithic Period. Moreover, the eminent human imprints of Theopetra were found that were dated 130.000 years ago and constitute a rare discovery, not only for the Hellenic but also the European area.
In 1990-91 the relics of two human skeletons were found. The first is a feminine skeleton of the Mesolithic Period (7.500-8.500 years) and is considered particularly important for the scientists. Even if it is known that the Hellenic area was inhabited, the discoveries of skeletons are scarce. One more skeleton of this period has been found in Fragthi of Argolida. The second one is a male upper-Paleolithic (14.500 years), from which unfortunately only his skull was rescued. Furthermore, the three layers of hard sediments present an exceptional interest that, according to the archaeologists, represent probably periods of glaciers in Thessaly. The archeologists believe that the caverns functioned as shelters for certain “social” groups that, had the same culture with the people that lived out of the caverns, in the open plains. Science still cannot clarify if the caverns functioned as permanent or casual residence.
The human imprints constitute perhaps one of the most impressive discoveries of excavations in the cavern, because it is evidence of inhabitance in periods so distant that stimulate the imagination. Two imprints were discovered that as the scientific measurements and analysis revealed belong to two children. Interesting is also the following element: the imprints have been made by left feet.
However, if they belonged to the modern person this would mean that the last one “reached the Hellenic space earlier than in the remainder Europe, as in the Middle East, 100.000 B.C”. Particularly important information derives from the carbonated study. With the process of the water sieve, in the Paleolithic layers burned fruits, such as wild almond, blackberry, raki, pea etc., legumes and cereal, were discovered as result of the harvest collection to consumption.
The systematic excavation research recorded on one side geological embankments of Pleistocene and Holocene, on the other side anthropogenic embankments, total thickness of roughly 6 meters. They certify the continuous use of the cavern during the Middle and Superior Paleolithic, Mesolithic and Neolithic period. Samples(e.g. coal, human bones) emanating from the embankments, that were dated with methods of natural science, certify the residence of the cavern from 50,000 up to 4.000 B.C. Its use continued periodically during the period of Copper and the historical years, until 1955.
The cavern of Theopetra constitutes the one and only, at least until now, cavern in Greece, that the passage from Superior Paleolithic in Mesolithic and the passage from Mesolithic in Neolithic era can be studied and dated. In this stratigraphic sequence of Theopetra three cold periods were distinguished: during Medium Paleolithic, during Superior Paleolithic and the final Superior Paleolithic, that is at the end of Pleistocene.