Archaeologists and paleontologists have been studying the Atapuerca mountain range in northern Spain for decades. During excavations, the international team made a sensational find that could provide completely new answers.
According to their own statements, an international research team discovered the remains of the "first European" in northern Spain at the end of June. The fossil unearthed in the province of Burgos represents "the face of the first European," said the directors of the Fundación Atapuerca. According to the findings, early humans of the genus Homo, which also includes modern humans, Homo sapiens, lived up to 1.4 million years ago at the site on the Sierra de Atapuerca mountains, it said.
The discovery from level TE7 in K29 of Sima del Elefante is part of the cheekbone and upper jaw of an early human. They were wrapped in clay and lay about two meters below a mandible found in 2007. According to the researchers, it is very likely "that the new fossil from the Sima del Elefante is related to this pine and belongs to one of the first populations to colonize Europe".
The renowned early human researcher Jean-Jacques Hublin from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology also commented on the find. "Reportedly the oldest face (1.4 million years old?) found in Europe to date has been discovered at Atapuerca," Hublin wrote on Twitter. According to the research team, the find shows that the European continent was settled much earlier by upright early humans than had previously been assumed.
Until the early 1990s, it was believed that the first Europeans lived around 500,000 years ago. The excavation site in Atapuerca caused a stir when human remains were discovered there in 1994, which were assigned to the "Homo antecessor" - a human species that is said to have lived around 900,000 years ago. In subsequent years, even older remains were discovered in the Atapuerca Caves.
Atapuerca is considered a paradise for archaeologists and paleontologists. The relatively small mountain range, which is only around 15 kilometers east of the provincial capital of Burgos, was declared a nature reserve, a cultural asset worthy of protection and a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2000 because of the spectacular finds.
Systematic excavations began there as early as 1978. The Atapuerca research team today includes almost 300 experts from 22 countries and 30 scientific disciplines. During the summer digs they work at the archaeological sites of Atapuerca, the rest of the year they spend at the respective universities and research centers, where they collaborate with the foundation.