The Orce site was the 'Silicon Valley' of Prehistory

The Orce site was the 'Silicon Valley' of Prehistory

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The complexity of behavior and avant-garde and innovative character of the human groups that inhabited Orce (Granada) and its environment is confirmed with a new study of the ProjectORCE research, directed by Professor Juan M. Jiménez Arenas from the University of Granada (UGR).

At Barranco León deposit One of the oldest human remains on the European continent had already been found (Orce's boy), an individual who belonged to a much more innovative human population than previously thought.

This new work, published this week by the PLoSOne magazine, reveals that the inhabitants of this region used innovative techniques 1.4 million years ago when making their tools in stone that were not used again until 400 thousand years later.

In other words, "This region can be considered the 'Silicon Valley' of Prehistory, because it was an engine of technological progress in which a visionary technology was developed, far ahead of its time ”, according to the authors. The research has been led by Stefania Titton, from the Catalan Institute of Human Paleocology and Social Evolution (IPHES) and funded by the Ministry of Culture of the Junta de Andalucía.

Archaeological site of Orce, a box of surprises continues

It has always been considered that in those ancient times, the most remote of European prehistory (which began 1.4 million years ago), the known material culture (carved lithic technology) was reduced to stone flakes with sharp edges. They were used for the processing of the corpses of animals on which humans fed.

For their part, stronger stones (hammer-like percussionists) were used to carve other rocks and fracture bones of herbivores to access the bone marrow, rich in fats and other nutritional substances that influenced the development of the brain. Together, these 'toolboxes' are associated with the call Olduvayense industry.

It was considered that only in more recent moments did certain tools in cut stone flourish that present a more careful and standardized manufacture.

This is the case of the so-called spheroids of the Evolved Olduvayense (one million years old) and the bifaces, or hand axes, typical of the Acheulean (which emerged in Europe 800 thousand years ago).

The Orce deposit shows that they have arisen before.

Spheroids, the futuristic stones of Orce

The publication focuses on spheroids, a special type of tool that, in our continent, is found in some lithic assemblages of the Olduvayense Evolved and, above all, of Acheulean.

In Barranco León, in the dawn of European Olduvayense, seven of these spherical artifacts have appeared, which implies the emergence of complex operational schemes resulting from an intentional configuration.

“In this way, we can consider Orce's spheroids like Leonardo da Vinci's famous machines, designs that emerged from a visionary and privileged intellect centuries before they could be manufactured. But unlike those, Orce's ‘futuristic stones’ materialized and have survived to this day ”, highlights Jiménez Arenas.

From stone to mind

The spheroids denote that Orce's humans possessed the ability to make complex mind maps. They carefully chose the raw material based on the type of tool they were looking for, and more importantly, they developed relatively standardized carving routines.

This indicates, from a cognitive abilities point of view, a preconceived idea of ​​the final product; and from that of motor skills, a hierarchization of gestures of stature.

They are not useful where chance plays a relevant role. The blows for its achievement are precise. Like Michelangelo in the Renaissance, Orce's humans removed what was left of the rough boulders.

One of the techniques used to characterize these singular tools is to locate the precise place where it has been impacted, the direction of the surveys and the relationship between them.

This technique is known as'diacritical drawing'. Another is the three-dimensional virtual reconstruction of the spheroids to carry out high precision measurements, taking into account that each stroke was executed following a strict pattern.

“The Orce sites are consolidated as a key archaeological zone to understand the behavior of the oldest humans on the European continent. Let's hope the Canadian novelist, archaeologist and anthropologist Steve Erikson agrees., who said that the future [of Orce] only promises one thing: surprises ”. Like Silicon Valley, but in Prehistory ”, emphasizes Jiménez Arenas.


Titton S, Barsky D, Bargalló A, Serrano-Ramos A, Vergès JM, Toro-Moyano I, Sala-Ramos R, García-Solano JA, Jiménez-Arenas JM (2020) Subspheroids in the lithic assemblage of Barranco León (Spain) : Recognizing the late Oldowan in Europe. PLoS ONE 15 (1): e0228290.

This study has been possible thanks to the collaboration of archaeologists from the IPHES of Tarragona (Stefania Titton, Deborah Barsky, Josep MariaVergès and Robert Sala-Ramos), the University of Granada (Alexia Serrano-Ramos, José Antonio García-Solano -currently professor at the University of Seville- and Juan Manuel Jiménez-Arenas), the University College of London (Amèlia Bargalló) and the Provincial Archaeological and Ethnographic Museum of Granada (Isidro Toro-Moyano).

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