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Two quartzite stone tools found in the so-called Unit TD8 of theGran Dolina deposit allow for the first time documenting the human presence in the Sierra de Atapuerca (Burgos) does about600,000 years, a period in which no evidence was yet available in any of the cavities of this archaeo-palaeontological complex.
Furthermore, in this way, an uninterrupted human presence in theSierra de Atapuerca along the1.4 million years. These two pieces, to which must be added a fragment of a third of flint from the Neogene period (between 23 and 2.5 million years ago), have been discovered by members of theInstitut Català de Paleoecologia Humana i Evolució Social (IPHES) and of theRovira i Virgili University (URV) during the excavation campaign this month, very determined in time and number of participants due to the limitations imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to the researchers, with this finding it can be affirmed that it has been a key campaign for the understanding of the sequence of human occupation of the Gran Dolina site, since data has been provided on a relatively unknown phase throughout Western Europe, and with an undeniable scientific interest: the one located betweenintense occupations of 900,000 years of antiquity documented in another unit and those that correspond to the great impact registered in the Sierra de Atapuerca at timesAcheulean (from about 450,000 years ago).
In the unit where it has been investigated, abundant remains of macromammals have been identified, among which the bear, hyena or jaguar stand out, as well as herbivores such as rhinoceros, horse or cervids.
This has made it possible to expand the collection of carnivore remains, the most unknown group at this site.
Other advances of this campaign
On the other hand, in the Sima del Elefante and Cueva Fantasma, efforts have focused on conditioning the sites to be able to carry out scientific research with guarantees.
Thus, in theSima del ElefanteFor example, large blocks of the cave interior have been removed from part of the ceiling that fell over 1.4 million years ago. That collapse occurred when the clay sediments of the oldest known stratum so far in the Sierra de Atapuerca they were already deposited inside the cavity.
At this level (numbered 7) remains ofturtle, bear and beaver, which reinforce the hypothesis that the environmental conditions of the sierra 1.4 million years ago were more temperate and humid than they are now.
InGhost cave, the unevenness caused by an intrusion of the activity of the old quarry that operated in this environment has been regularized, and a profile that allows establishing stratigraphic correlations between different sectors of this deposit has been obtained.
In the upper sector this has hardly affected its surface, where the rich Ghost Room fossil level discovered in 2019.
At these levels theequid remains, with practically representation of all the elements of the skeleton, followed by remains ofbovids, cervids and suids (pigs and wild boars).
Among the carnivores, remains ofhyenas, bears, canids (wolf and fox), badger and lynx. This unit has provided several flakes of flint in the sector near Ghost Cave, which shows the use of this space by Neanderthals, following the pattern described in the Ghost Cave entrance sector.
At the bottom of the outline, another unit stands out (21) due to the abundance of fossil remains of hyena, and coprolites of this animal, which indicate the possible use of this space as a latrine.
At this level, remains ofequidae, bovids, cervids and rhinos. Remains of other large carnivores such as the lion, panther and bear have also been obtained.
Atapuerca includes the discovery of a fragment ofhuman skull from the Sima de los Huesos (450,000 years), where this year the works have been specific. In addition, work is being done on a new site, the entrance to the Gallery of Statues cavity, whose roof collapsed 50,000 years ago.
Various instruments made of quartzite, flint and sandstone show great similarities to the Mousterian complex, fromneanderthal manufactory, as are also the occupations that in recent years are being excavated in the same site but within the cavity, which is currently accessed by Portalón de Cueva Mayor.