Evidence of cannibalism found in Spanish archaeological dig

Posted Jul 23, 2013 by Anne Sewell
Near the northern Spanish city of Burgos, in the Sierra de Atapuerca, can be found the remains of the "oldest Europeans," who lived a million years ago. New discoveries are being made all the time.
Archaeological site in the Sierra of Atapuerca  near Burgos in northern Spain.
Archaeological site in the Sierra of Atapuerca, near Burgos in northern Spain.
Mario modesto
Exploring the strata in the area, archaeologists are finding more and more evidence of the past, including ancient mouse bones and the teeth of horses.
However, what they are really looking for is a sign of prehistoric humans that could write a new chapter in our evolution.
The area has been under excavation since 1978, and in 2000 the site in the Sierra de Atapuerca (or Atapuerca mountains) was classified by UNESCO as a world heritage site.
José María Bermúdez de Castro, one of the three directors of the dig, says:
"The site covers a very long period of time, practically from when the first humans arrived in Europe, up to the present day."
"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."
"Most periods are represented here. That's what makes it a spectacular and unique site."
Back in 2007, archaeologists working in the so-called "Elephant Chasm" uncovered a human finger and jawbone dating back 1.2 million years, which are considered the remains of the "oldest European" ever found.
Following on from that discovery, the researchers have found bones, skulls and teeth belonging to "Homo antecessor" who apparently lived in the area between 850,000 and 950,000 years ago.
Homo antecessor  incomplete skull from  Gran Dolina   in Atapuerca  Spain (replica).
Homo antecessor, incomplete skull from "Gran Dolina", in Atapuerca, Spain (replica).
José-Manuel Benito
Later they discovered bits of "Homo heidelbergensis," dated from around four hundred millennium ago, in a cave known as the "Bone Chasm."
Another of the directors of the project, Juan Luis Arsuaga said: "It is the site that has yielded the most human remains in the world."
Researchers are now hoping to find more human remains in the oldest areas of the site, dating from one and a half million years ago.
While excavations have still not unearthed evidence of the more recent prehistoric humans such as Neanderthal and Cro-Magnon man, the team is confident that more will be revealed soon.
Those missing links leave a gap of around hundred thousand years for which archaeologists have found tools, but no human remains as yet.
"There are just some short periods for which there are no remains," says Bermudez. "I think bit by bit we are finding them."
With what has been found so far by the archaeologists, they have been able to piece together an idea of the lives of the prehistoric humans.
According to researchers, in "Homo antecessor's" time, the Sierra de Atapuerca was peopled by hunters. They calculate that roughly 30 of them spread over around 19 kilometers of land.
While they occupied the caves occasionally, they mostly lived in the open air. Reportedly the area was well supplied with water, animals and vegetation. From the remains found, the animals included bison, hippos, lions and rhinos.
Of the hunters, Bermudez says:
"Their physiology was probably different from ours."
"They could better stand the cold and probably had a good layer of fat under their skin and more hair."
According to Bermudez, any territorial disputes ended violently, sometimes with one tribe killing and eating the members of another.
"They would eat them without any kind of ceremony," Bermudez says.
The current archaeological season ends in July this year and the researchers will then spend the rest of the year analyzing the thousands of fragments they have found so far.
After this, the choicest finds will be exhibited in the Museum of Human Evolution in the nearby city of Burgos.
According to José Miguel Carretero, an academic from Burgos:
"It is like a kind of history book of many pages."
"It tells you stories about the first Europeans."
Cranium 5 is one of the most important discoveries in the Sima de los Huesos  Atapuerca (Spain). The...
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.
José-Manuel Benito Álvarez