ATAPUERCA -- SPANISH EARLY HUMAN FOSSIL SITE -- HOMO ANTECESSOR -- DATED AS OLDEST KNOWN HOMINID SPECIES IN EUROPE
One of the issues of the Atapuerca sites that generates the most scientific debate is the dating of the strata where the fossils are found. Therefore, researchers at the Spanish National Research Center for Human Evolution, among others, strive to settle the dates. A study published by the 'Journal of Archaeological Science' has clarified that the sediment of Gran Dolina, where the first remains of Homo antecessor were discovered in 1994, is 900,000 years old.
The findings at the Lower Palaeolithic cave site of Gran Dolina, in the Sierra de Atapuerca mountain range (Burgos), have led to major advancements in our knowledge of human evolution and occupation of Eurasia. In 1995, specifically, the discovery of the first hominid remains in a stratum of land named TD6, which dated from more than 780,000 years back, was made public in the journal 'Nature'. This was the Homo antecessor, the oldest known hominid species in Europe. As the dating of this and other archaeological sites is the subject of scientific debate – in 2012, a British newspaper questioned Juan Luis Arsuaga, co-director of the sites, and accused him of "distorting our picture of human evolution" -, the researchers are working to date them more precisely.
As Josep M. Parés, from the Spanish National Research Centre for Human Evolution, who is leading this study on the new dating of level TD6 of the Gran Dolina, tells SINC: "We are applying new methods and techniques, and we also have better field and laboratory knowledge. We have published a study that represents a small step towards a large project which will take us longer: reviewing all the dates in order to refine them. We want to include it all within a more solid geochronological framework."
They were previously given a minimum age of 780,000 years and now it is known that they are referring more accurately to around 900,000 years. "The change might sound very small or very large," the expert continues, "but the TD6 stratum is known precisely as having been the place of discovery of the Homo antecessor and this further defines its age." Since then, a further 90 human fossils and over 200 fragments of carved stone have also been discovered. The extent of the excavation grows ever larger and being able to date it is of great interest to the scientists.