ATAPUERCA, Spain – The recent finds of Neanderthal remains at a rich archaeological site in northern Spain complete the sequence of human evolution, with every European hominid species present in the area, the project’s co-directors said Monday.
Eudald Carbonell and Jose Maria Bermudez made the announcement during a press conference at the Atapuerca Mountains, a UNESCO World Heritage Site since the year 2000 located in the province of Burgos.
Bermudez said that a skull fragment found last year in the so-called “Phantom Cave” belonged to a “classic Neanderthal,” a species that was spread throughout Europe between 100,000-40,000 years ago, until the arrival of Homo sapiens.
During this summer’s excavation campaign, scientists discovered an abundance of stone utensils, including a two-faced hand ax workshop, which Bermudez said was a strong indicator that there could be many more workshops in the area.
The summer campaign saw the collaboration of 280 researchers from 22 countries, who worked tirelessly for a month-and-a-half to painstakingly extricate the delicate remains from the bedrock.
The efforts yielded the finding of a jawbone fragment, which, according to the research head at Atapuerca, Juan Luis Arsuaga, could belong to the 500,000-year-old “skull 15.”
Skull 15 is one of the most intact skulls ever found of Homo heidelbergensis, a human ancestor that first appeared in Africa 700,000 years ago.
“Completing the skull with this jaw fragment would be great news,” Arsuaga said.
Atapuerca’s “Sima de los Huesos” (“Pit of Bones”) cave is the world’s largest location of Homo heidelbergensis fossils, containing some 7,000 remains from at least 28 distinct individuals that have been found since excavations started in 1984.
But not all treasures at Atapuerca are that old: this summer, scientists also found a gold pin dating back “only” 3,000 years.
Arsuaga said this was the third piece of aureate jewelry found in the region, as previous campaigns have yielded a golden wristband, as well as a golden coin from Spain’s Islamic period.
The caves of the Sierra de Atapuerca contain a rich fossil record of the earliest human beings in Europe, from nearly one million years ago and extending up to the Common Era, according to the United Nations’ UNESCO World Heritage Center.