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.

Outlook - - CUL­TURE - By Sylvie Groult

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

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