Comments and interpretations

Panaima in Greek means ‘all bloody place’ or ‘bloodbath’. This is clearly due to the colour of the ground after a battle. There are other grounds where the red colour has been used in folklore to mean blood and some type of sacrifice. Most of the bones at Samos are beige, and the sediments beige-white. There is however a notable exception. There is a small area, which contains many beige-coloured bones, where the sediment is notably reddish. Figure 1 shows the red sediment near a fossil locality (Limitzis District). The red sediment sharply contrasts with the surrounding prevalent beige-white sediments. We suggest that Panaima was a true geographic landmark there in ancient times (Solounias and Mayor 2004). A 17th century map of Samos (copper engraving), popularly sold on Samos to tourists, also shows the word “Guerrari” at the place of the bone beds. In Latin this means ‘the place where the battles have taken place’. Various crusaders and Venetians were stopping in most of the Greek islands. It may be possible that Panaima was transformed to Guerrari (perhaps a renaming in Latin of Panaima); a renaming emphasizing the battle aspect which would result in a bloodbath. The answer is the Amazons, fleeing from Dionysus, fell [or were trapped] on Samos [fleeing] from the land of the people of Ephesos. Dionysus constructed ships that passed [from the Turkish mainland to Samos] and fought the Amazons, killing most of them, in various locations [on Samos]. That the text says in various locations is interpreted to mean various locations of bones. There are at least 15 bone beds on Samos and this early citation is in agreement with this fact. Such a vast amount of blood spilled that people who noticed the red-stained earth called the place by the name Panaima. Some say that they fractured Phloios because of their bellowing. The bellowing of the Amazons or the elephants fractured the thick crust.

Amazons: Ancient commentators interpreted that the fossils at Panaima or Phloios as those of fallen [warrior] Amazons. Interestingly, Amazons were mythical horse-riding warriors. It is possible that the ancients recognized the fossil Hippotherium-Hipparion skulls (most abundant fossil on Samos) as a horse and related this observation to the Amazons who were horse-riding warriors. In antiquity, as in modern Greece, people would have been familiar with the appearance of the basic skeletons of dead, domesticated animals. Horses have characteristic teeth and ancients would most certainly recognize such teeth from observation. We suggest that the identification of Amazons could be related to the recognition of fossil hipparions as horses ridden by the Amazons in battle (Solounias and Mayor 2004).

Phloios, presented hints as to its geographic location: some of the elephants died near a place called Phloios – near indicates that the bones were not on or at Phloios, but close to that place. We identify Phloios as the big block of faulted limestone next to Brown’s quarry Q1 (Figs. 2 and 4). The limestone is a local landmark and is the only prominent feature near a fossil bone deposit at Q1. The limestone block forms a prominent high cliff and its face is the fault surface (Fig. 5). Phloios is about 30 m high, measuring from the Adrianos ravine and the bone bed to the topographic top. The width of that rock face is about 80 m. The current local name of the Phloios region is Tsarouhis. This is a modern Greek word meaning ‘thick sole’. Tsarcuchia are characteristic Greek farmer shoes in the 18th and 19th century, with very thick leather soles studded with horseshoe nails. It is possible that the massive limestone block Phloios was renamed Tsarouhis in more recent times. There is a chain of additional limestone blocks in the area and two of the prominent ones have names. The prominent limestones of the region are part of the Kokkarion Formation and make up the footwalls of several faults. The next visible rock south of Phloios is Megalos Vrahos (‘Big Rock’ in Greek). Brown’s quarry Q3 was located below Megalos Vrahos. One block of limestone further southeast is called Stefana (‘wreath’ in Greek). The limestone cap of the hill resembles a wreath. Forsyth Major excavated below Stefana Hill and the fossils are stored in the University of Lausanne, Switzerland. Since Tsarouhis, Megalos Vrahos, and Stefana are named today, it makes sense that the ancients named prominent rock outcrops.

Figure 4. Outcrop of red sediments

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Outcrop of red sediments near quarry Q1 at Panaima near Limitzis; Panaima means ‘bloodbath’; the ancient Greeks interpreted the red sediment surrounding the fossil sites as stained by blood from battles.


Figure 5. Photographs of outcrop at fossil site.

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Outcrop photographs at Q1 fossil site near Tsarouhs; massive limestone has been interpreted by Plutarch as thick crust covering fossil site; note slickensided fault scarps in limestone.


Earthquakes: Some say that they fractured Phloios because of their prodigious bellowing. Here again we have the recognition that a fracture formed in Phloios during an earthquake and the noise associated with earthquakes is interpreted as bellowing. It is possible that such a major earthquake took place on that fault forming the high limestone block and ancient locals witnessed it and related it to the fossil bones nearby. We see the fracture as an earthquake caused by the Amazons or elephants. There is a major normal fault next to Phloios and to quarry Q1.

Adrianos: A geographic name with significance in Roman history. Adrianos is one of the few named gullies and ravines in Greece. It is especially rare that a specific proper foreign name was used and for a very small stream (1 km long and 1 m wide having water only part of the year). Consequently, the use of such a foreign name becomes even more interesting. Adrianos is a rather specific proper Latin name; so it is interesting that the ravine with the fossils has this name in a remote and poorly inhabited region. The name of the Roman Emperor Hadrian (Hadrianus in Latin) is Adrianos in Greek instead of Hadrianos. Hadrian was in Athens and visited several places in Greece. The well known Arc of Hadrian located in Athens is known as Pili of Adrianos (same spelling as the Samos ravine). Hadrian was interested in natural history and he visited Athens and Troy among other places. Hadrian (76-138 AD) sailed across the Aegean to reach Troy, which is 200 kilometers north of Samos on the Turkish mainland. The trip probably utilized the frequently fished and sailed eastern Aegean corridor of the coastline (Lydia and Ionia) and the islands of Lesbos, Chios, Samos, Ikaria and Kos. In Troy, he visited a fossil bed with huge bones, which he interpreted as bones of the Greek warrior Ajax from the Trojan War. He established a shrine for these bones. There is also literary evidence that Hadrian went to Egypt to see fossils, probably at Wadi Natrum S of Alexandria, and that he kept natural curios in his archives. Although there is no direct proof that Hadrian visited Samos, it is very likely that he would have paid a visit to the island, a well-known stop for Roman travelers on their way to Asia Minor – where big cities such as Miletos and Ephesos were located a few kilometers from Samos City. He may have collected bones near Phloios. As Emperor, he may have named the area after himself, a typical indication of power and Roman renaming. In support of the proposed visit, we know that other emperors visited Samos. For example, Marc Anthony (83-30 BC) and Tiberius (42 BC-37 AD) visited Samos probably because of the large and celebrated Temple of Hera near Ireon. In it fossil bones were probably displayed, such as the femur of a giraffid (Samotherium), which was discovered near the ceremonial altar of the Temple of Heraion. Augustus (63 BC-14 AD), Tiberius, and Hadrian all had a strong interest in unusual natural objects and phenomena; Augustus displayed so-called giants’ bones in Capri and Rome, and Tiberius received a giant tooth from the Black Sea area after an earthquake. It is possible that these emperors went to Samos to collect fossil bones (Solounias and Mayor 2004).

In summary: The ancient Greeks interpreted these fossils as the remains of Neades, strange exotic beasts, or of the Amazons who perished in battle. Some of the fossils have been found in the ruins of the Temple of Heraion where they had been gathered for display. The red soil in which the fossils were found was explained as from blood spilled during a bloodbath. Furthermore, the Greeks had correlated geologic faults to earthquakes. The myths clearly state that they also had a sense of deep time (the great antiquity of the fossils). They named two bone beds because of the fossils: Panaima and Phloios. These are proper names given in upper case letters in the myths. In Greek, Panaima means bloodbath and Phloios means thick and hard crust. Phloios is located in a ravine named Adrianos, which is a non-Greek name. Small ravines rarely have names in Greece and we explain the name as the renaming of Phloios by the Roman emperor Hadrian. Hadrian is known to have collected fossils near Troy and may have visited Samos.