In the 2017 campaign, direct evidence of the presence of the ‘classic neandertal’ has finally emerged in Atapuerca. This finding completes an amazing 1.3 million-year sequence of continuous human presence in the Atapuerca complex. Join me in the following journey through time to summarise what that means…
1.1-1.3 Ma | Sima del Elefante (Homo sp)
This site is a pit filled with 10 m of sediments. In 2007, a fragmentary mandible with some teeth was recovered from TE9 level, dated to 1.1-1.3 Ma. For the moment, there is no assignment to this specimen to a hominin species.
TE9d has yielded several remains of bovid, cervid, bear and many bird species, together with clear evidences of human activity at 1.3 Ma, including a flint flake. In TE16 they also found a flake estimated at 0.8 Ma.
TE7 is the oldest level in Atapuerca. In 2017 most of its surface has been cleaned producing more fauna remains. However, it may represent a period prior to the human arrival to Atapuerca. The excavation of TE7 will take place in the next 5 years.
0.8-1 Ma | Gran Dolina (Homo antecessor)
Since 1994 different samples from level TD6 (0.8 Ma) have recovered at least 15 individuals with all skeletal parts represented of Homo antecessor, potential common ancestor of neandertals and modern humans. Many bones show tool marks indicating cannibalism.
It is expected to fully reach TD6 in the next decade, where possibly hundreds of new H. antecessor fossils are waiting.
In the meantime, the 2017 campaign has progressed at the TD4 level dated to 0.9-1 Ma. They have found four new lithic tools, herbivore bones (some of them with cut marks) and carnivores like Ursus dolinensis (a species of bear defined from this site) and the European jaguar (extinct in Europe 0.5 MYA).