Archaeological Site of Atapuerca
UNESCO World Heritage Site
Karst cave in Atapuerca
Official nameArchaeological Site of Atapuerca
LocationAtapuerca, Burgos
Part ofAtapuerca Mountains
Inscription2000 (24th Session)
Coordinates42°21′09″N 3°31′06″W / 42.35250°N 3.51833°W / 42.35250; -3.51833Coordinates: 42°21′09″N 3°31′06″W / 42.35250°N 3.51833°W / 42.35250; -3.51833
Archaeological site of Atapuerca is located in Castile and León
Archaeological site of Atapuerca
Location in Spain
Archaeological site of Atapuerca is located in Spain
Archaeological site of Atapuerca
Archaeological site of Atapuerca (Spain)

The archaeological site of Atapuerca is located in the province of Burgos in the north of Spain and is notable for its evidence of early human occupation.

It was designated a World Heritage Site in 2000.

Discovery of the site

The archaeological significance of this part of the province of Burgos became increasingly apparent in the 20th century as the result of the construction of a metre-gauge railway (now disused) through the Atapuerca Mountains. Deep cuttings were made through the karst geology exposing rocks and sediments of features known as Gran Dolina, Galería Elefante and Sima de los Huesos. The subsequent excavation of 1964 under the direction of Francisco Jordá Cerdá succeeded with the discovery of anthropogenic artifacts and human fossils from a broad time range (early humans, hunter-gatherer groups, Bronze Age occupants). Further excavations followed, and interdisciplinary work has been undertaken by several teams, led by Emiliano Aguirre from 1978 to 1990 and later jointly by Eudald Carbonell, José María Bermúdez de Castro and Juan Luis Arsuaga. These have confirmed the continuous human occupation of the site. In July 2020 two quartzite stones were discovered, dating to 600,000 years ago,[1] a find which filled in a gap in the evidence for human occupation of the site over a timeline of 1,200,000 years.[2]

Protection and access

The site was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site, under the name, Archaeological Site of Atapuerca.[3][4] The site is also protected at national level (as a Zona Arqueológica, a category of Bien de Interés Cultural on the heritage register) and at regional level (Castile and León has designated the Sierra de Atapuerca an Espacio cultural).

Location of the excavation sites in the railway cutting. Identifiable from the protective roofs are: (1) Entrance to the cutting; (2) Sima del Elefante; (3) Galería; (4) Gran Dolina
Location of the excavation sites in the railway cutting. Identifiable from the protective roofs are: (1) Entrance to the cutting; (2) Sima del Elefante; (3) Galería; (4) Gran Dolina

The regional designation of Espacio cultural is intended to allow sustainable tourism in the local villages.[5] There is a Site Access Centre (CAYAC) in Ibeas de Juarros.[6] There is also an Experimental Archaeology Centre (CAREX) in the village of Atapuerca. Finds are shown at the Museum of Human Evolution in the city of Burgos.

Excavation sites

Trinchera Zarpazos, part of the Galería system, in 2006
Trinchera Zarpazos, part of the Galería system, in 2006
Map of the archaeological site of Atapuerca.
Map of the archaeological site of Atapuerca.

Portalón (1910 to present)

The combined work of archaeologists Jesús Carballo (1910 to 1911), Geoffrey Clark (1971), José María Apellániz (1973 to 1983) and the current team of Juan Luis Arsuaga accounts for the documentation of the excavation sequence of ceramic objects from all relevant sediment layers since the Neolithic.

Galería de la Eduarda y el Kolora (1972)

The Galería de la Eduarda y el Kolora is a local cave that contains parietal rock paintings, only discovered in 1972 by a group of local speleologists.

Galería (1978 to present)

Among numerous faunal and floral fossils, a jaw fragment was found during the 1970s and a skull fragment in 1995, which both belong to Homo heidelbergensis. They date to between 600,000 and 400,000 years BP.

Trinchera Dolina (1981 to present)

The Gran Dolina (also Trinchera Dolina, English: Dolina trench) site is a huge cavern, which has been excavated since September 1981. Its sediments were divided into eleven stratae (TD-1 to TD-11)

Sima de los Huesos (1983 to present)

Sima de los Huesos (Pit of Bones) accounts for the greatest number of valuable scientific discoveries and knowledge acquired with far-reaching implications. This site is located at the bottom of a 13 m (43 ft) deep shaft, or "chimney", accessible via the narrow corridors of the Cueva Mayor.[7]

Since 1997, the excavators have located more than 5,500 human skeletal remains deposited during the Middle Pleistocene period, at least 350,000 years old, which represent 28 individuals of Homo heidelbergensis (also classified as early Neanderthals).[8][9][10][11] Associated finds include Ursus deningeri fossils and a hand axe called Excalibur. It has received a surprisingly high degree of attention, and a number of experts support the hypothesis that this particular Acheulean tool made of red quartzite seems to have served as a ritual offering, most likely for a funeral. The idea sparked a renewal of the disputed evolutionary progress and the stages of human cognitive, intellectual and conceptual development.[12] Ninety percent of the known Homo heidelbergensis fossil record have been obtained at the site. The fossil bone pit includes:

The Homo heidelbergensis Cranium 5, one of the most important discoveries; its nearly complete mandible was only found years later
The Homo heidelbergensis Cranium 5, one of the most important discoveries; its nearly complete mandible was only found years later

Some excavators have stated that the concentration of bones in the pit allows the suggestion of a traditional burial culture among the cave's inhabitants. A competing theory cites the lack of small bones in the assemblage and suggests that the fossils were washed into the pit by non-human agents.

Sima del Elefante (1996 to present)

According to José María Bermúdez de Castro, co-director of research at Atapuerca, the Sima del Elefante findings support "anatomical evidence of the hominids that fabricated tools more than one million years ago", which may have been the earliest among Western European hominids. The first discovery in June 2007 was a tooth,[17] followed by a fragment of a 1.2 million-year-old jawbone (mandible) and a proximal phalanx in 2008.[18][19] In July 2022, archaeologists announced the discovery of a 1.4 million-year-old jawbone (maxilla) included a tooth of a hominid. The paleoanthropoligist Eudald Carbonell, who serves as co-director of the excavations at the Archaeological Site of Atapuerca, hypothesizes that the aforementioned jawbone belongs to a specimen of Homo erectus.[20] Other researchers suggest it may have come from Homo antecessor, an early species of human. It located about 2 meters deeper in the soil than the fossils found in 2008.[21][22]

Cueva del Mirador (1999 to present)

This site provides information on the earliest local farmers and herders of the late Neolithic and Bronze Age.

Orchids Valley (2000 to 2001) and Hundidero (2004 to 2005)

Stone tools of the Upper Paleolithic have been extracted from this locality.

Cueva fantasma (2017 to present)

Homo neanderthalensis craneal fossil (no context) and lithic tools at located here.

Galería de las estatuas (2017 to present)

Mousterian tools and Homo neanderthalensis bones and DNA remains.

See also


  1. ^ Domínguez, Nuño (23 July 2020). "Hallada una nueva presencia humana en Atapuerca hace 600.000 años". El País (in Spanish). Prisa. Retrieved 23 July 2020.
  2. ^ G.G.U. (3 July 2020). "Atapuerca completa su secuencia evolutiva". Diario de Burgos (in Spanish). Retrieved 23 July 2020.
  3. ^ "Archaeological Site of Atapuerca – UNESCO World Heritage Centre". Retrieved January 26, 2017.
  4. ^ "Landforms And Geomorphological Processes In The Duero Basin. Pleistocene Geoarcheology Of Ambrona And Atapuerca Sites" (PDF). Retrieved January 27, 2017.
  5. ^ "MEMORIA del Espacio Cultural "Sierra de Atapuerca"" (PDF). Retrieved January 26, 2017.
  6. ^ "Visiting the Site Access Centre (CAYAC)". Atapuerca Foundation.
  7. ^ "Prehistoric skull with puncture wounds could be world's first murder mystery". Retrieved January 26, 2017.
  8. ^ Greenspan, Stanley (2006-02-07). How Symbols, Language, and Intelligence Evolved from Early Primates to Modern Human. ISBN 978-0-306-81449-5.
  9. ^ a b Meyer, Matthias; Arsuaga, Juan-Luis; de Filippo, Cesare; Nagel, Sarah; Aximu-Petri, Ayinuer; Nickel, Birgit; Martínez, Ignacio; Gracia, Ana; de Castro, José María Bermúdez; Carbonell, Eudald; Viola, Bence; Kelso, Janet; Prüfer, Kay; Pääbo, Svante (March 2016). "Nuclear DNA sequences from the Middle Pleistocene Sima de los Huesos hominins". Nature. 531 (7595): 504–507. Bibcode:2016Natur.531..504M. doi:10.1038/nature17405. PMID 26976447. S2CID 4467094.
  10. ^ Gómez-Robles, Aida (2019-05-03). "Dental evolutionary rates and its implications for the Neanderthal–modern human divergence". Science Advances. 5 (5): eaaw1268. Bibcode:2019SciA....5.1268G. doi:10.1126/sciadv.aaw1268. ISSN 2375-2548. PMC 6520022. PMID 31106274.
  11. ^ a b Callaway, Ewen (March 2016). "Oldest ancient-human DNA details dawn of Neanderthals". Nature. 531 (7594): 286. Bibcode:2016Natur.531..296C. doi:10.1038/531286a. PMID 26983523. S2CID 4459329.
  12. ^ "Excalibur, the rock that may mark a new dawn for man". The Guardian. January 9, 2003. Retrieved January 26, 2017.
  13. ^ Gracia, Ana; Arsuaga, Juan Luis; Martínez, Ignacio; Lorenzo, Carlos; Carretero, José Miguel; Bermúdez de Castro, José María; Carbonell, Eudald (21 April 2009). "Craniosynostosis in the Middle Pleistocene human Cranium 14 from the Sima de los Huesos, Atapuerca, Spain". Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. 106 (16): 6573–6578. doi:10.1073/pnas.0900965106. PMC 2672549. PMID 19332773.
  14. ^ Callaway, Ewen (December 2013). "Hominin DNA baffles experts". Nature. 504 (7478): 16–17. Bibcode:2013Natur.504...16C. doi:10.1038/504016a. PMID 24305130.
  15. ^ Gómez-Robles, Aida (May 2019). "Dental evolutionary rates and its implications for the Neanderthal–modern human divergence". Science Advances. 5 (5): eaaw1268. Bibcode:2019SciA....5.1268G. doi:10.1126/sciadv.aaw1268. PMC 6520022. PMID 31106274.
  16. ^ Modesto-Mata, Mario; Dean, M. Christopher; Lacruz, Rodrigo S.; Bromage, Timothy G.; García-Campos, Cecilia; Martínez de Pinillos, Marina; Martín-Francés, Laura; Martinón-Torres, María; Carbonell, Eudald; Arsuaga, Juan Luis; Bermúdez de Castro, José María (December 2020). "Short and long period growth markers of enamel formation distinguish European Pleistocene hominins". Scientific Reports. 10 (1): 4665. Bibcode:2020NatSR..10.4665M. doi:10.1038/s41598-020-61659-y. PMC 7069994. PMID 32170098.
  17. ^ "'First west Europe tooth' found". BBC News. 2007-06-30. Retrieved 2021-10-07.
  18. ^ Hopkin, Michael (26 March 2008). "Fossil find is oldest European yet". Nature: news.2008.691. doi:10.1038/news.2008.691.
  19. ^ López-Valverde, A; López-Cristiá, M; R, Gómez de Diego (2012). "Europe's oldest jaw: evidence of oral pathology". British Dental Journal. 212 (5): 243–245. doi:10.1038/sj.bdj.2012.176. PMID 22402544. S2CID 22346193.
  20. ^ "Atapuerca completa el puzle con el "Homo erectus": "Es seguro, no hay dudas"". (in Spanish). 2023-01-29. Retrieved 2023-03-06.
  21. ^ Jennifer Nalewicki (2022-07-17). "1.4 million-year-old jawbone may belong to oldest known human relative in Europe". Retrieved 2022-08-04.
  22. ^ Domínguez, Nuño (2022-07-08). "Hallada en Atapuerca la cara del humano más antiguo de Europa". El País (in Spanish). Retrieved 2022-08-04.