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Stone tools that may be a million years old discovered near Barcelona


A set of 50 flint tools has been discovered in Barranc de la Boella, near Tarragona, a city 80 kilometres south of Barcelona. The tools are estimated to be between 800,000 and a million years old, according to a report issued by the Catalan Institute of Human Paleo-Ecology and Social Evolution (IPHES), the organisation at the head of the excavation.

Stone tools that may be a million years old discovered near Barcelona
The excavation site 'Barranc de la Boella' where a set of 50 flint tools dated between 
800.000 and a million years old [Credit: ACN]
Co-director of the excavation and researcher at IPHES, Josep Vallverdú, stated that the site “contains the oldest files on human evolution in Catalonia and on the Iberian Peninsula”, of which the potential is still unknown. These tools were found in an area known as La Mina, and are supposedly very well preserved, along with animal skeletal remains and coprolites, most notably related to deer, horses, cattle, rhinoceros, and even hyenas. This area is set to be excavated over a larger surface area, and will require more personnel, which is why “spots have been opened to graduates and postgraduates, in order to include the site in the academic and European university field”, according to Vallverdú.

The excavation that has taken place in recent weeks in ‘Barranc de la Boella’ in the village of Canonja has uncovered a set of over 50 flint tools of exceptional value for its age. The age of the tools is estimated to be between 800,000 and one million years old, according to the reported issued by the Catalan Institute of Human Paleo-Ecology and Social Evolution (IPHES), the organisation at the head of the excavation. The artefacts were found in the area known as La Mina and are well-preserved. Also recovered were a large number of hyena coprolites, and among the skeletal remains of large animals also found were several large fragments of deer antlers and the femur of a rhinoceros, of the same age as the tools.

Co-director of the excavation and researcher at IPHES, Josep Vallverdú, stated that the site at La Mina “contains the oldest files on human evolution in Catalonia and on the Iberian Peninsula, and the most unique of all is that which we do not know of yet because as of today, its potential is still not well known”.

Archaeologists also state that the conservation of animal remains is exceptional. For now, up to four layers of paleontological and archaeological material have been identified. As for the remains unearthed in this campaign, the presence of a wide range of taxa (deer, horses, cattle and rhinoceros) stands out, according to IPHES, providing an interpretation based on the paleo-ecological river ecosystems and the Francolí delta basin. “These types of knowledge are unknown in our region, and are a unique content through which to explain human evolution and ecosystems in the recent history of the Earth”, added Vallverdú.

This year, after ten campaigns of work under the direction of IPHES, a marquee has been installed in La Mina which will be permanent, and will contribute to the protection of the site. This infrastructure has been promoted by IPHES with the help of the City of La Canonja, the Province of Tarragona and the Government of Catalonia.

A greatly extended intervention

“In those early years, we focused a lot on different surveys, made to hone in on the age and the number and characteristics of the fossil strata; in the survey of La Mina, we don’t yet know to what depth in geologic time there are archaeological and paleontological remains”, explained Josep Vallverdú.

“One of the next challenges is to finish this survey, while we begin to excavate a large surface extension” added the archaeologist. “In this way we can begin to make deeper studies on our knowledge of the ecosystems of the Francolí basin, thanks to a higher number of fossils”, he noted.

For this reason, the next campaign will require an increase in the number of participants on the worksites, in order to prepare for intervention on a large scale. This will also remove a significant amount of sediment. However, as has happened in the bay, it is likely that the more recent strata contain archaeological and paleontological remains, and therefore the IPHES will have to document them in the best way possible.

Due to this, the campaign has opened participation lists to graduates and postgraduates, in order “to include the site of Barranco de la Boella in the academic and European university field, and become a school site in the coming years” Vallverdú asserts.

A research project with universal vocation

The ten or so archaeological excavations of the Barranc de la Boella site have helped significantly to acquire basic knowledge about their heritage, scientific and academic value. The research group formed in part by the staff of IPHES and that of the Museum of Natural Sciences-CSIC Madrid highlights the uniqueness of the site in explaining the origin of human settlement in Eurasia.

This is considered a unique file on the paleo-ecological composition of the Francolí Basin, going back more than a million years. “For this reason we have expressed on the local, regional and national level the opportunity to build a research project with universal vocation in order to know the natural history of humanity that lived in Canonja during this time that was so remote”, concludes Vallverdú.

Source: Catalan News Agency [June 14, 2016]
TANN

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