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An open-air Neanderthal habitat more than 120,000 years old is discovered in Aspe (Alicante)


A team of researchers from the University of Valencia (UV), the University of Alicante (UA), the Montpellier Institute of Evolutionary Sciences (France) and the Bilbao Archaeological Museum have discovered an open-air Neanderthal habitat more than 120,000 years old at the Natural Park of Los Aljezares in Aspe (Alicante). Historically, the archaeological record of the European Palaeolithic - in particular of the Iberian Peninsula - comes from the information provided by sites located in caves. Most of the archaeological excavations in the last 150 years have been carried out in caves, that is why there is very little information to explain what was happening outside them, both from the point of view of human behaviour and settlement patterns.


An open-air Neanderthal habitat more than 120,000 years old is discovered in Aspe (Alicante)
General view of the excavation of Los Aljezares site (Aspe, Alicante) last July
[Credit: University of Alicante]

During the Middle Palaeolithic, the period in which the Neanderthals lived, these populations also settled in open-air camps. According to UV professor Aleix Eixea, this is the case of Los Aljezares site, one of the few examples of this type on the Iberian Peninsula and the only one in Valencia. Two archaeological levels have been documented in their original position, rich in lithic, faunal and archaeobotanical materials, and well dated in time.




Eixea also points out that the results obtained in this study show that this site served as a crossing point for Neanderthal populations between the coast and the interior of the Iberian Peninsula. This was possible thanks to a wide territorial network that the different groups would use to supply themselves with biotic and abiotic resources.  Mainly the configuration of their stone tools (scrapers, spear points, etc.) and the processing and consumption of the animals they hunted (deer and horses).


An open-air Neanderthal habitat more than 120,000 years old is discovered in Aspe (Alicante)
Lithic tools found at Los Aljezares site (Aspe, Alicante)
[Credit: University of Alicante]

The geological study of the deposits where Los Aljezares site is located has made it possible to define a landscape and climate different from the current one. This work, together with the dating of the site, has been carried out by Jaime Cuevas, lecturer in the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences at the University of Alicante, who reported that the site can be framed during the last glacial maximum. That was a period with a somewhat warmer and more humid climate than today, where the environment of the Vinalopo basin in this sector was characterised by flat areas with a system of lagoons instead of the complex network of ravines that we can observe today. This configuration may have favoured the occupation of Neanderthals in an accessible landscape, with stable water and biotic resources nearby.




From the analysis of the marks of use left on these stone supports, the use of tools made of wood, which have not been preserved, has also been attested. Thus, this work highlights the relevance of open-air sites during the Middle Palaeolithic and how they have gone unnoticed in research. In this sense, Los Aljezares provides important clues to better understand the ecology, adaptation and dynamics of the lifestyles of the Neanderthals who inhabited the Iberian Peninsula.


In the coming months, the field work will be resumed with the aim of expanding the information available with the help and collaboration of the Asociacion Cinco Ojos,  Heritage Observatory and the Aspe Town Council.


The discovery is published in the Journal of Quaternary Science.


Source: University of Alicante [April 13, 2022]



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1 comment :

  1. Thanks a lot for this, very interesting. It once more confirms that neandertals were waterside ("system of lagoons") and got a large part of their food from the water. We hypothesized that they seasonally followed the river to the sea, google "coastal dispersal Pleistocene Homo PPT" (+ refs).

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