Spanish dig seeks prehistoric ancestors of Europeans
Archaeologists in Spain are hoping to find signs of prehistoric humans that could lead to the writing of a new chapter in the story of man’s evolution.
ith trowels and paintbrushes, dozens of archaeologists in white hard-hats patiently sift the reddish-brown earth in the caves of Atapuerca, searching for remains a million years old. From under strata spanning hundreds of millenia at this site in northern Spain, they unearth ancient mouse bones and the teeth of horses – but what they most hope for is a sign of prehistoric humans that could write a new chapter in our evolution.
"The site covers a very long period of time, practically from when the first humans arrived in Europe, up to the present
Wday," says Jose Maria Bermudez de Castro, one of the directors of the dig.
"If we add up all the sites found in the Sierra de Atapuerca, it covers a period from one and a half million years ago."
The site, near the city of Burgos, has been under excavation since 1978. In 2000 it was classed by UNESCO as a piece of world heritage.
"Most periods are represented here. That's what makes it a spectacular and unique site," Bermudez says.
In 2007 researchers found in one of the caves, the so-called Elephant Chasm, a human finger and jawbone dating back 1.2 million years – considered the remains of the "oldest European" ever found.
Since then, they have found skulls, bones and teeth belonging to what archaeologists call Homo antecessor, who lived between 850,000 and 950,000 years ago.
This was followed by the discovery of bits of Homo heidelbergensis, from around four