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Echoes of Ancient Iberia: Tracing Human Evolution Through Millennia

Explore 150 years of Iberian Stone Age research, tracing human evolution from Homo antecessor to Homo sapiens, and uncovering fascinating insights into ancient life and culture.

In “The Stone Age Prehistory of Iberia”, Dr. Lawerence Guy Straus (UNM, Universidad de Cantabria) shares insights from his research into the lives and evolution of our ancient ancestors.

There are currently 150 years of Iberian Stone Age Research. It began in the 1860s at Portuguese cave sites through federally funded systematic archaeological research. Research came to a screeching halt when the Spanish Civil War began.

Homo antecessor colonized Gaudix Basin, Atapuerca (Europe) and the Gran Dolina sites 1.4 million to 800 thousand years ago. Iberia was only occupied during warm interglacials.

Homo heidelbergensis pops up in the middle Pleistocene at Cima de los Huesos, possibly the first site with the intentional disposal of human remains.

Mousterian sites appear 250 to 30/40 thousand years ago – Homo neanderthalensis began making stone tools. (The first Neanderthal was discovered in 1848 but the discovery was ignored until another was found in the 1950s.) Important sites include: Gibraltar, Malaga Bay, Morin, Castillo, Sidron, Romani, and Arbreda.

  • Remains from Sidron show that Neanderthals had the FOXP2 language gene, light skin, and were eating plant foods and medicinals (like chamomile). Three closely related males with spouses were living there, they were starving, and there were cannibalized remains.
  • At Romani, archaeologists found settlements and evidence shows Neanderthals had sense of spatial organization.

Homo sapiens show up on the landscape about 40,000 years ago with the Aurignacian stone tool tradition followed by the Gravettian burial tradition, rock art in El Castillo, and a buried modern juvenile (with longer Neanderthal-like limbs) at Lagar Velho in red ochre.

21,000 years ago, the Last Glacial Maximum and Solutrean Refugium in Iberia occurred. Atalatls, arrowheads, and eyed needles appear concentrated in northern caves and the temperate south.

The Magdalenian tradition began with a global warming. People began moving up mountains and mesas to hunt and trade; they took their art with them. The landscape was decorated with rock art: petroglyphs and pictographs.

The Holocene began (7,000 years ago) and traditional rock art disappeared (their worldview was probably destroyed) as the Neolithic rose with plant domestication, agriculture, maritime travel, ceramics, and collection of livestock.

Homo erectus, heildelbergensis, neanderthalensis, and sapiens lived on the Iberian peninsula (at different times) throughout the Paleolithic. There are an abundance of archaeological sites that can tell us about settlements and cultural traditions as well as various types of stone tool technology.

Neandertals were migratory since temperatures in the north would cool and southern temperatures would rise. Until the Magdalenian, they were forced to move south quite often.

Humans settled in the south and then expanded across Europe taking their hunting, artistic and portable art, body ornamentation, and goods for trade (shells) with them.

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