The Petralona cave (Greek: Σπήλαιο Πετραλώνων) is located in Chalkidiki (Greece), 1 km away to the east of the eponymous village, about 35 km S-E of Thessaloniki and on the west side of Mount Katsika. Often designated as the "Petralona skull", Archanthropus europaeus petraloniensis, oldest European hominid, was found there. The Anthropological Museum of Petralona on the site displays some of the finds from the cave.
The cave was accidentally discovered in 1959 by Fillipos Chatzaridis, a local shepherd looking for a spring. Early estimates at the time placed the age of the hominid remains to around 70,000 years old. A skull now known as the Petralona skull was estimated to be about 700,000 years old by Aris Poulianos a date backed by geological analysis
During the 1980s, the age of the Petralona hominid estimated by Poulianos was challenged by an article in Nature. The scientists involved used electron spin resonance measurements and dated the age of the skull to between 160,000 and 240,000 years old. However, Poulianos states that his excavations in the cave since 1968 provide evidence of human occupation from the Pleistocene era. The Petralona hominid, specifically, was located in a stratigraphic layer containing the most amount of tools and traces of habitation. Poulianos states that the age of the overall layer is approximately 670,000 years old, based on electron spin resonance measurements. Further excavations at Petralona revealed two human skeletons that were dated to be 800,000 years old.
Today, most academics who have analyzed the Petralona remains classify the hominid as Homo erectus. However, the Archanthropus of Petralona has also been classified as a Neanderthal (Homo sapiens neanderthalensis) and as an early generic class of Homo sapiens. Some authors, on the other hand, believe that the Petralona cranium is derived from a unique class of hominids different from Homo erectus. Runnels and van Andel summarise the situation as such : "The only known hominid fossil in Greece that may be relevant is the Petralona hominid, found by chance in 1960 in a deep cavern in the Chalkidiki.
Controversy surrounds the interpretation of this cranium, and it has been variously classified as Homo erectus, as a classic Neanderthal (Homo sapiens neanderthalensis), and as an early representative of Homo sapiens in a generalized sense (Day 1986: 91-95). The consensus among paleoanthropologists today is that the cranium belongs to an archaic hominid distinguished from Homo erectus, and from both the classic Neanderthals and anatomically modern humans (Day 1986: 95; Stringer, Howell, and Melenitis 1979). Whatever the final classification may be, the cranium has been provisionally dated to ca. 200-400 kyr (Day 1986: 94 Hennig et al. 1981, 1982; Wintle and Jacobs 1982), and it is thus possible that the Petralona hominid represents the lineage responsible for the Thessalian Lower Paleolithic sites."