Galería de las Estatuas in Atapuerca could be one of Spain’s most ancient Neanderthal sites

The CENIEH researcher Davinia Moreno publishes a study with the Electron Spin Resonance and Uranium Series dates obtained for this Upper Pleistocene site, which confirm an age of between 70,000 and 115,000 years.
Dientes molares Galería de las Estatuas
Equus teeth at Galeria de las Estatuas site (Atapuerca, Burgos)/

Davinia Moreno, a geochronologist at the Centro Nacional de Investigación sobre la Evolución Humana (CENIEH), is the lead author of a paper which combines the Electron Spin Resonance (ESR) and Uranium Series (U-series) dating methods to better constrain the age of the Galería de las Estatuas (GE) site, and it thus shows that GE could be one of the Iberian Peninsula’s most ancient Neanderthal sites.

Galería de las Estatuas, within the Cueva Mayor-Cueva del Silo Complex in the Sierra de Atapuerca (Burgos, Spain), has been excavated without interruption since 2008 at two test pits, GE-I (9 m2) and GE-II (6 m2), that have revealed an Upper Pleistocene detrital stratigraphic sequence sealed by a speleothem. This paper, published in the journal Quaternary Geochronology, has provided new numerical ages from 92,000-104,000 years for GE-I, while 115,000 years was obtained for GE-II.

“In general, the ages found by dating fossil teeth with the combined method ESR/U-series agree with those obtained previously using Optically Stimulated Luminescence (OSL) and single-grain thermally transferred OSL (TT-OSL), and they confirm the Upper Pleistocene chronology of the site”, comments Moreno.

First Neanderthal fossil

Galería de las Estatuas yielded the first Neanderthal fossil (a foot phalanx) of the Sierra de Atapuerca karstic system, along with lithic artefacts of clear affinity to the Mousterian industry associated with the Neanderthals, as well as other paleontological remains. The sediments have also furnished Neanderthal mitochondrial and nuclear DNA.

“It follows that this site holds information about the Neanderthal occupations, subsistence strategies, and population dynamics in the interior of the Iberian Peninsula, and it fills the gap in the Upper Pleistocene chronologies of the Sierra de Atapuerca karstic system”, concludes Moreno.

Bibliographic information:
Moreno et al (2022). ESR/U-series chronology of the Neanderthal occupation layers at Galería de las Estatuas (Sierra de Atapuerca, Spain), Quaternary Geochronology 72, 101342.
Press release from the Centro Nacional de Investigación sobre la Evolución Humana – CENIEH on the new study published on Quaternary Geochronology about the Neanderthal occupation.

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