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Archaeological Site of Atapuerca*
UNESCO World Heritage Site

A karst cave in Atapuerca.
State Party  Spain
Type Cultural
Criteria iii, v
Reference 989
Region** Europe and North America
Inscription history
Inscription 2000  (24th Session)
* Name as inscribed on World Heritage List.
** Region as classified by UNESCO.

The Atapuerca Mountains (Sierra de Atapuerca in Spanish) is an ancient karstic region of Spain, in the province of Burgos and near the town of the same name and Ibeas de Juarros. It contains several caves, where fossils and stone tools of the earliest known Hominians in West Europe have been found.


Geography of the Atapuerca Mountains

General View of these mountains.

The Bureba Pass joins the interior of the Iberian peninsula to France. It connects the Mediterranean Ebro valley and the Atlantic Duero valley. As such, it was part of the Roman causeway and the Way of Saint James and is now part of the N-I and AP-1 highways.

Archaeological Site of Atapuerca

Map of the Railway trench with various sites

The sites in this area were found during the construction of railway cuts through Gran Dolina, Galería and Elefante, and in the cave of Sima de los Huesos. The scientific excavation, started by Francisco Jordá Cerdá in 1964, has found human remains from a wide range of ages ranging from early humans to the Bronze Age and modern man. Sites in the area have also yielded stone artifacts. It was excavated by a team led by Emiliano Aguirre from 1978 until 1990 and then jointly by Eudald Carbonell, José María Bermúdez de Castro and Juan Luis Arsuaga. In 2000, the Archaeological Site of Atapuerca was added to the list of World Heritage Sites.


Portalón (1910-)

In the 20th century, several archaeologists including Jesús Carballo (1910-1911), Geoffrey Clark (1971), José María Apellániz (1973-1983) and the team led by Juan Luis Arsuaga (2000-) recovered ceramic remains from the late Neolithic, Age of Bronze and Lower Roman Empire.

Galería del Sílex (1972)

Discovered in 1972 by a local speleology group, there are intact rock paintings in this cave.

Galería (1978-)

Trinchera Zarpazos, part of the Galería system, in 2006

A fragment of jaw was recovered in the 1970s, and a fragment of skull in 1995, both belonging to Homo heidelbergensis. There are many remains of animals, including a lion, plants and instruments dating from about 400,000 years ago.

Trinchera Dolina (1981-)

Excavations at the site of Gran Dolina in 2008: Most of the people are excavating at the TD-10 archaeological level, where there is a Homo heidelbergensis camp.

The site of Gran Dolina is a huge cave with several levels (TD-11 to TD-1), whose excavation began in September 1981:

  • TD-11: Mousterian tools have been found.
  • Level TD-10 could be a camp of Homo heidelbergensis, with tools and bison remains.
  • Level TD-8, reached by first time in 1994, has provided magnificent carnivores.
  • In level TD-7, a leg of a bovid (like a mouflon) in anatomical position was recovered in 1994.
  • TD-6 (Aurora stratum): In 1994 and 1995, archaeologists found over 80 bone fragments from five or six hominids dating to between 850,000 to 780,000 years ago. About 25% of the human remains found here showed the first evidence of cannibalism. These finds are at least 250,000 years older than any other hominid yet discovered in western Europe. It is still debated as to which species these fossils belong to, either Homo erectus, Homo heidelbergensis, or a new species called Homo antecessor. Some paleoanthropologists who have studied the findings at Gran Dolina argue that Homo antecessor may give rise to Homo heidelbergensis, which eventually gives rise to Neandertals. The erectus-like fossils were also found with retouched flake and core stone tools.
  • Level TD-5 could be a den of carnivores.
  • In TD-4 (dated to 780,000 BCE), during the 1991 excavation, four lithic pieces were found. Also, it retains a dozen remnants of Ursus dolinensis, a new species of bear.
  • At the lower levels (TD-1 and TD-2), there are no fossils.

Sima de los Huesos (1983-)

"Homo heidelbergensis Cranium 5" is one of the most important discoveries in the Sima de los Huesos, Atapuerca (Spain). The mandible of this cranium appeared, nearly intact, some years after its find, close to the same location.

The most famous site in Atapuerca is the "Sima de los Huesos" (the pit of bones). This site is located at the bottom of a 13-metre (50-foot) deep chimney reached by scrambling through the cave system of the Cueva Mayor.

Lithic core in flint, section TD-11 of «Galería», Atapuerca

Beginning in 1997, the excavation team has located more than 5,500 human bones dated to an age of at least 350,000 years old, corresponding to the Middle Pleistocene and representing around 28 skeletons of the species Homo heidelbergensis [1] , together with remains of Ursus deningeri and a biface called Excalibur. It is hypothesized that this Acheulean axe made of red quartzite was some kind of ritual offering for a funeral. Ninety percent of the known Homo heidelbergensis remains have been obtained from this site. The fossil pit bones include:

Homo antecessor, incomplete skull found in "Gran Dolina", Atapuerca.
  • A complete cranium (Skull 5), nicknamed Miguelón, and fragments of other craniums, as Skull 4, nicknamed Agamenón and skull 6, nicknamed Rui (from El Cid, a local hero).
  • A complete pelvis (Pelvis 1), nicknamed Elvis, in remembrance of Elvis Presley.
  • Mandibles, teeth, a lot of postcranial bones (femurs, hand and foot bones, vertebrae, ribs, etc.)
  • A child with craniosynostosis was found dated to 530,000 BP and provides evidence for food sharing in early humans.[2]

The excavators suggest that the concentration of bones in the pit may represent the practice of burial by the inhabitants of the cave. A competing theory cites the lack of small bones in the assemblage and suggests that the remains were washed into the pit by natural agencies.

Sima del Elefante (1996-)

According to José María Bermúdez de Castro, co-director of research at an archeological site in Atapuerca, findings have uncovered "anatomical evidence of the hominids that fabricated tools more than one million years ago" which may be the earliest West European hominid: first, a tooth [3] in June 2007 and then, in 2008, a fragment of jawbone, [4] and a proximal phalange.

Cueva del Mirador (1999-)

This provides information on farmers and ranchers from the Neolithic and Age of Bronze.

Orchids Valley (2000-2001) and Hundidero (2004–2005)

Stone tools from the Upper Paleolithic have been obtained.

Model of a female Homo antecessor of Atapuerca mountains practicing cannibalism (Ibeas Museum, Burgos, Spain).

Hotel California (2006)

Open-air settlement.


Atapuerca is also the location of the battle of Atapuerca (1054) between the troops of Ferdinand I of Castile and his brother García V of Navarre.

See also


  1. ^ Greenspan, Stanley. How Symbols, Language, and Intelligence Evolved from Early Primates to Modern Human. ISBN 0306814498.,M1.  
  2. ^ Gracia A, Arsuaga JL, Martínez I, Lorenzo C, Carretero JM, Bermúdez de Castro JM, Carbonell E. (2009). Craniosynostosis in the Middle Pleistocene human Cranium 14 from the Sima de los Huesos, Atapuerca, Spain. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2106(16):6573-8. PMID 19332773
  3. ^ "'First west Europe tooth' found". BBC News. 2007-06-30.  
  4. ^ "'Fossil find is oldest European yet'". Nature News. 2008-03-26.  

External links

Coordinates: 42°21′9″N 3°31′6″W / 42.3525°N 3.51833°W / 42.3525; -3.51833


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