Remains of the face of possibly the first European found in Spain

by Lorraine Williamson
remains of a face

BURGOS – One of the most important finds of recent years was made on Friday at the Atapuerca site in Burgos, Spain. Researchers found the remains “of a partial face of a human.” 

The remains are estimated to be about 1.4 million years old. Because of its age, the new human fossil found in the Sima del Elefante reveals what “the face of the first European man” must have looked like. 

The origin of the face

The Minister of Culture of the Junta de Castilla y León, Gonzalo Santonja, attended the presentation of the remains. Several project leaders and other persons important to the site were also in attendance. Scientists have been debating the most coherent evolutionary model to explain the origin of the modern human face for several decades, thanks to discoveries in the Gran Doina cave. The oldest modern face recorded to date is of Homo antecessor and is estimated to be 850,000 years old. However, thanks to this new find at Atapuerca, progress can be made in finding the origin of our face. 

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One of the current excavation aims was to continue work on the upper part of the Sima del Elefante. This was started in 2021. More remains have been found here over the years than in the rest of the mountain. 

It was one of the members of the investigation team, Edgar Téllez, who found several bones remaining in clay on June 30 in sector K29 of the Sima del Elefante. Subsequently, several specialists on the team cleaned and analysed those remains. It was then they were able to confirm they were a human upper jaw. 

See also: 4,000-year-old megalithic necropolis found near Spanish beach 

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The human fossil of the Sima del Elefante was found about two metres below the lower jaw found in 2007. This was assigned to Homo sp, an indeterminate species due to a lack of conclusive data. 

Therefore, the researchers explain that it is very likely that the new fossil is related to that jaw and that it belongs to one of the first populations to colonise Europe. 

Human species of Sima del Elephante 

“If so, we will finally be able to determine the identity of the human species of the Sima del Elefante. In addition, we will be able to make a detailed comparison between the new face found in the Sima del Elefante with that of Homo antecessor.” Named 25 years ago,” the archaeologists confirm. 

Geological samples are currently being collected at the National Centre for Research on Human Evolution (CENIEH) in Burgos to estimate the age of this fossil. 

Sima del Elephante 

The Sima del Elefante, or Elefante Trench (TE) is an ancient creek formed in Cretaceous sandstone by an underground river in the Sierra de Atapuerca (Burgos). Two human fossils have been discovered in this gorge. This is one of the oldest in Europe, dating back to more than 1.22 million years ago. 

The Sima del Elefante belongs to the karst system of the Cueva Mayor de Atapuerca. As part of the Sierra de Atapuerca complex, it is a World Heritage Site. 

Excavations began in 1992. In addition to human remains, processed bones of herbivores have been discovered, as well as about a hundred stone tools. The human fossils of the Sima del Elefante allow us to confirm the presence of humans in Europe during Calabria. 

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