A team of researchers has identified Neanderthal remains from 50,000 years ago at the site Cova Simanya (Sant Llorenç Savall), located in the Natural Park of Sant Llorenç del Munt i de l’Obac (Barcelona). Is about 54 remain This corresponds to at least three people, an adult, a teenager and a child, who were presented this Tuesday at an event at the Museu d’Arqueologia de Catalunya in Barcelona.
The results, led by researchers Juan Ignacio Moralesfrom the Catalan Institute of Human Paleoecology and Social Evolution (IPHES), Artur Cebriafrom the University of Barcelona, co-director of the excavation, and from the paleoanthropologist Antonio Rosasfrom the National Museum of Natural Sciences (MNCN-CSIC), are published in the journal Frontiers in Earth Science.
The remains correspond to three people: an adult, probably a woman, a young man about 11 or 12 years old, and a child about 7 to 8 years old.
“Of particular note is the adult individual in which remains of both arms were identified; including an entire humerus and a practically complete hand, as well as the feet and various vertebrae and ribs,” comments Rosas, director of the Paleoanthropology Group of the MNCN-CSIC.
Up to 10 teeth and a jaw fragment were also identified. Two of these teeth belong to the young person and the remaining eight could be compatible with the adult, although “the possibility that they correspond to more individuals cannot be ruled out,” he adds.
The complex has clear anatomical features that allow it to be attributed to Neanderthals. These details not only help distinguish these individuals from other species in the genus homobut also allow us to better understand the phylogeography of the Neanderthals who populated Europe before the arrival of our species homo sapiens.
“The first dating carried out indicates that the presence of Neanderthals in Simanya Cave predates the carbon-14 limit; that is, 50,000 years ago,” Morales points out. Alternative dating techniques are currently being carried out to allow a more precise determination of the age of the remains.
In addition to the cave’s use by Neanderthals, field work has shown that the site also served as a wintering refuge for the brown bear and the cave bear; a use that lasted until at least 42,000 years ago.
“Much later, the cave was used sporadically from the Neolithic to more recent times,” says Morales.
An important cave to learn more about Neanderthals
The Cova Simanya It is more than 300 meters long and is one of the most famous and visited caves in Catalonia due to its accessibility.
The study of a series of materials deposited in the facilities of the Museu d’Arqueologia de Catalunya from interventions in 1978-79 alerted researchers to the presence of Neanderthal remains in Cova Simanya.
A research project started in 2020 with the aim of researching human fossil remains and their archaeo-paleontological context.
Recent excavation work has made it possible to reconstruct the origin and history of Neanderthal remains and to recover new ones. Likewise, recovered stone tools, animal bones processed by Neanderthals, and documented bonfires indicate that Cova Simanya was a significant enclave for Middle Paleolithic populations.
Central Catalonia, Neanderthal area
The proximity of the Simanya Cave to other Middle Paleolithic archaeological sites such as the Coves del Toll (Moià), the Abric Romaní (Capellades) or the Cova Gran de Collbató clearly shows that central Catalonia was a key area for activity and settlement Neanderthals in the late Pleistocene.
In the next excavation campaigns, the research team plans to continue work in the Simanya karst complex, including the Cova del Triangle and the Cova de la Canal, just 50 meters away, with the aim of gaining a deeper understanding of the prehistoric settlement in this key area.
Other researchers from IPHES-CERCA, SERP, the Autonomous University of Madrid, the University of Santiago de Compostela, the University of Alicante and the Institute of Evolutionary Biology of the University of Pompeu Fabra (CSIC) also took part in the study, as well as the Institute of Paleontology of the University of Bologna, of the museum of Natural Sciences in Barcelona and the National Museum of Natural Sciences in Madrid.
Institutional support and funding
From an institutional point of view, these results are the result of the synergies and coordinated work between the Cultural Department of the Catalan Generalitat, through the Servei d’Arqueologia and the Museu d’Arqueologia de Catalunya, and the Provincial Council of Barcelona. through the Natural Park of Sant Llorenç del Munt i de l’Obac.
The archaeological research in the Simanya Cave is part of the four-year project ARQ001SOL-172-2022 “Cultural transitions during the Plistocè i l’Holocè al littoral-prelitoral de Catalunya”, linked to the Seminari d’Estudis i Investigacions Prehistòriques of the UB and from Ministry of Culture of the Catalan Generalitat approved; from the MNCN-CSIC project PID2021-122356NB-I00; and the Palarq Foundation. The excavations are supported and financed by the Natural Park of Sant Llorenç del Munt i de l’Obac and the Provincial Government of Barcelona, which have taken care of the protection of the site and organized tours.