Excavations in Atapuerca in search of prehistoric ancestors

Excavations in Atapuerca in search of prehistoric ancestors

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With trowels and brushes, dozens of archaeologists patiently separate the reddish earth from the Atapuerca caves, looking for remnants of millions of years old.

At this site in northern Spain, archaeologists unearth ancient mouse bones and horse teeth, but what they want most are the remains of prehistoric humans who could write a new chapter in our evolution.

The site covers a long period of time, from the arrival of humans in Europe to the present day”Says José María Bermúdez de Castro, one of the excavation directors. According to him, all the sites found in the Sierra de Atapuerca together reach a period of one and a half million years.

Excavations at this site, near the city of Burgos, began in 1978. In 2000 It was named a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.

Bermúdez declares that most periods of history are found here, which is why it is such a spectacular location.

In 2007, researchers found in one of the caves the so-called Abyss Elephant, a human finger and jaw from 1.2 million years ago, considered the remains of the “oldest human in Europe”. Since then, skulls, bones and teeth have been found belonging to what archaeologists call Homo Ancestor, who inhabited Earth 850,000 to 950,000 years ago.

Following this, pieces of the Homo heidelbergensis, about a hundred thousand years ago, in the cave of the Abyss Bone. This site is the one that includes the most human pieces in the entire globe, says Juan Luis Arsuaga, another project director, before putting on his cap with a flashlight as he disappears into the depths of the narrow cave.

Our cannibal ancestor's table manners.

The team hopes to find human remains that are one and a half million years old. According to Bermúdez, the excavation has not yet unearthed evidence of prehistoric humans such as Neanderthal or Cro-Magnon.

This represents a gap of several hundred thousand years in which archaeologists have only found utensils, but no human remains, which is a small lagoon in the enormous period that the caves testify. However, Bermúdez affirms that these are brief periods of time in which no remains are obtained, and he is confident in finding them little by little.

Through their findings, his team has reconstructed in detail the lives of prehistoric humans. In times of Homo ancestorAtapuerca was populated by hunters. About 30 of them traveled approximately 20 kilometers, according to the director of the excavation. So they would go into the caves from time to time, but normally they lived in the open air in an area provided with water, vegetation, and animals, including lions, rhinos, and bison.

According to Bermúdez, they had a different psychology than ours and they could withstand the cold thanks to a layer of fat under their skin and the hair on their bodies. In addition, there were violent disputes over land that sometimes resulted in murder between tribes that devoured each other. They dispensed with cannibalistic ceremonies.

After the excavation season that ends in July, archaeologists will analyze thousands of fragments found. Findings selected for their quality will be exhibited at the Museum of Human Evolution, in Burgos.

A group has found relatively recent human remains that are 5,000 years old and belong to Homo sapiens, so they believe they have found a burial site. Higher up, where the capes approach our era, remains of the medieval period have been found.

José Miguel Carretero, academic from Burgos confesses that looks like a history book with many pages which tells stories about the first Europeans.

I am currently studying Journalism and Audiovisual Communication at the Rey Juan Carlos University, which has made me inclined towards the international section, including the study of languages. For this reason, I do not rule out dedicating myself to teaching. I also like to practice physical exercise and spend a pleasant time chatting with my acquaintances and with new people. Lastly, I enjoy traveling to know the authentic culture of each region of the world, although I admit that before I need to find out as much as possible about the place I'm going to visit, to fully enjoy the experience.

Video: Why are these 32 symbols found in caves all over Europe. Genevieve von Petzinger