Europe

The Sierra de Atapuerca and the discovery of the oldest fossil remains

The Sierra de Atapuerca is a wonderful mountain range north of Ibeas de Juarros, in the Province of Burgos, belonging to the community of Castilla y León, Spain.

It has a unique value for humanity, since there are exceptional deposits dating from Prehistory to the present day. These are fossil remains of the first humans who settled in Europe.

Let’s take a trip through time and discover everything that the Sierra de Atapuerca hides. If you are a lover of deposits and the history of humanity, these data will fascinate you!

Why are these deposits so important?

The deposits are located about 15 kilometers east of Burgos. They began to have importance in the field of science —and also at a social level— from the discovery of the remains of the Sima de los Huesos in 1992. Later, in 1994, surprising discoveries of human remains of more than 900,000 years were found.

In 1999, the Atapuerca Foundation was established thanks to Juan Luis Arsuaga, José María Bermúdez de Castro and Eudald Carbonell, co-directors of said project and responsible for supporting and disseminating it.

Its importance became international

It is worth mentioning that, In 1991, the Sierra de Atapuerca was declared an Asset of Cultural Interest. Years later, in 2007, it was declared a Cultural Space, and in 2009 the Junta de Castilla y León established the ‘Atapuerca System, Culture of Evolution’ and the Museum of Human Evolution, located in the center of Burgos.

It was in the year 2000 that it was given its most important title or mention as a World Heritage Site. declared by UNESCO, under cultural criteria No. III and V. The rationale was that the deposits contain numerous fossil remains of the first human beings who inhabited European lands from just over a million years ago to our era.

Let’s know your wonderful finds

The archaeological and paleontological material dating back to Prehistory is fascinating. The fossil remains found in Atapuerca reveal the appearance and way of life of European ancestors older than those on record. Not only human remains were found, but animals as well.

In addition, cave art has been found in panels painted and engraved with geometric motifs, hunting scenes, anthropomorphic figures and also zooforms. The lithic remains —no less important— that were found there are mainly flint and quartzite, which were used to make tools and weapons in the well-known Stone Age.

human species found

In the Sierra de Atapuerca all the human species that inhabited Europe were found, from the youngest to the oldest.

  1. Homo sp.: still to be determined, approximately 1,300,000 years old.
  2. Homo ancestor: 850,000 years.
  3. Preneanderthal: 500,000 years.
  4. Homo neanderthalesis: 50,000 years.
  5. Homo sapiens: also known as humans.

What to visit in the Sierra de Atapuerca

Just thinking about the landscape made up of rivers and lakes, abundant vegetation and a multitude of animals —such as horses, rhinoceroses and birds— makes us want to be there.

The ancient inhabitants decided to spend hundreds, even thousands of years there, and today we can be part of that, in a sense. Clearly, there have been changes over time, but the scenery is still phenomenal.

Tourism is very important and valuable, mainly because it has brought economic benefits and jobs. Its humanistic importance is transcendental.

Until now, there are three spaces that can be visited along with the sites, and that make up the already mentioned Atapuerca System, Culture of Evolution (SACE). Remember that, before visiting this site, you must make a reservation in advance.

  • The deposits: The visit goes through the Trench of the Railway, which has the most important deposits. You can visit: the Sima del Elefante, Galeria and the Gran Dorina. During the excavation season, in the months of June and July, the visit takes place along the path of the viewpoints parallel to the Trench of the Railway.
  • Experimental Archeology Center (CAREX): This space is dedicated to the dissemination of experimentation in Archaeology. There you will be able to learn about the processes of elaboration and use of tools, among other techniques and art forms that were part of the European ancestors. You can take a tour of the interior and exterior area.
  • Museum of Human Evolution (MEH): As we have already mentioned, it is located in the center of Burgos, 15 kilometers from the Sierra de Atapuerca. There you can take a tour of human evolution —biological and cultural—. You can also see an exhibition of more than 200 original specimens found in the Atapuerca deposits.

For more information on other tours, reservations, schedules, fares and how to get there, you can visit atapuerca.org, the official site of the Sierra de Atapuerca. On this website, you will be able to know everything related to research and tours.

Get ready for the adventure in the Sierra de Atapuerca!

What did you think of everything we told you? Are you ready to visit the Sierra de Atapuerca and discover the oldest fossil remains? Travel through time and feel like an archaeologist or paleontologist. ¡You will not regret this phenomenal journey full of history!

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