After the scarce evidence available for the Palaeolithic and Mesolithic, known from sporadic findings made in northern Greece, in Boeotia and in the Peloponnese, a notable increase in the archaeological documentation allows us to distinguish in the Neolithic, later than the Middle Eastern but more ancient of the Balkan, two aspects: that of Crete and that, more recently, of Greece continental.
Already in the most ancient phase, the so-called pre-ceramic or aceramic Neolithic (7th millennium BC), the people settled on the Greek territory seem to have reached sedentary conditions and practiced agriculture and breeding. These achievements were consolidated during the early Neolithic (6th millennium BC), when the fine and impasto ceramics, monochromatic, and the characteristic clay figurines, mostly female and steatopygies, made their first appearance, and significant progress was recorded. in the lithic industry. Even the inhabited areas, especially those of Thessaly, appear more structured and document the transition from the simple hut with a rectangular or elliptical plan to the house with several rooms, in stone and raw bricks. The Middle Neolithic (5th millennium BC) marks a phase of further development, in which the cultural differentiation of the various areas appears more evident. In Thessaly, Sèsklo reaches its maximum expansion and spreads its own pottery, especially the one painted with geometric decoration, throughout the region; in the central-eastern Greece the center of Chaeronea is distinguished, with fine ceramic painted in dark on white, while in the central Greece and in the Peloponnese the so-called Neolithic Urfirnis is affirmed, ceramic with a characteristic glossy surface. The beginning of the late Neolithic coincides with the destruction of Sèsklo (about 4400 BC). In Thessaly, the main center is now that of Dimini, where the acropolis is surrounded by three walls and the domestic building testifies to the type of mègaron ; the local production of painted ceramics is characterized by spiral and meandering motifs. In the same region, the settlements of Lárissa and Rachmani are also important. In the rest of the Greece dark or opaque varnished ceramics spread and the use of caves as a dwelling is attested.
The spread of new technologies (metallurgy) and the introduction of new agricultural crops (vines, olive trees), with a consequent greater complexity and articulation of the socio-economic organization, mark the transition to the Bronze Age, for which the name is adopted of Elladico, reserving those of Cycladic and Minoan to Greece insulare. During the ancient Helladic period (3000 / 2800-1900 BC) the contacts with eastern and Aegean-island areas are documented by the discovery of Cycladic marble idols, by the use of seals, by certain types of burials. In the vase production, glossy dark-varnished ceramics take over from the smooth monochrome ones. Among the settlements, the most important is that of Lerna, in Argolis. In the final phase of the period there are immigration phenomena from the nearby coasts of Asia Minor and then (early 2nd millennium) the arrival from the north of Indo-European people who played a decisive role in the local ethnogenesis process. According to tradition, the first people who entered the peninsula were the Ionians, who occupied Attica; followed by the Aeolians, who conquered a large part of central Greece and the Peloponnese. This settling phase, which determines a stagnation in relations with Crete and the Cyclades, is prolonged throughout the Middle Helladic period (1900-1600 BC) and only towards the end of this period are there any signs of recovery.
The late Helladic or Mycenaean (1600 / 1580-1100 BC) is a period of profound transformation in which new territorial arrangements and new forms of social, economic and political organization are reached, which correspond to the flowering of the palaces of Mycenae, Tiryns, Pilo etc. Around 1450 BC the Mycenaeans occupied the main centers of Crete; at the same time a phenomenon of commercial expansion began (Mycenaean ‘pre-colonization’), while Greek presences (Achaean) are reported in Egyptian and Hittite documents of the time.
Starting from the end of the 13th century. BC, signs of a decline in Mycenaean society culminated in the destruction of the great palaces. In this scenario the Dorians break in. The Doric migration, which in the myth is configured as ‘the return of the Heraclids’ (➔ Dorians), is placed, according to the Hellenistic chronographical tradition, in 1104 BC and constitutes the last of the great invasions of the protohistoric period. A new phase of expansion follows: Greek colonies are deduced at the end of the 2nd millennium in Crete, in the smaller Aegean islands, along the coasts of Asia Minor colonized in the north by the Aeolians, in the center by the Ionians, in the south by the Dori.