The Peña Miel cave in Nieva de Cameros (La Rioja, Spain) is once again the focus of archaeological research thanks to a new project by the Institute of Research in Heritage and Humanities and the Institute of Environmental Sciences Research at the University of Zaragoza.

A team led by professors Carlos Mazo and Rafael Domingo conducted excavations in October 2023, locating a new prehistoric habitat area inside the cave. Its good state of preservation will shed light on the transition from the Middle to Upper Paleolithic in the Iberian Range, a crucial moment in human evolution.

The objectives of this campaign were to assess the archaeological potential of the cave, refine previous datings, and confirm the possible presence of modern humans in the later phases. The discovery of this new inhabited space, which will be excavated in future campaigns, is very promising for achieving these goals.

The Peña Miel cave has a unique historical value as it was the first Paleolithic cavity excavated in Spain. French researcher Édouard Lartet conducted work in 1865, recovering materials attributed to the “Reno Age”. His findings contributed to the inclusion of the site in fundamental works on Iberian Prehistory.

However, over the years, it fell into oblivion until a team from the University of Zaragoza, led by Pilar Utrilla, reopened the excavation in the early ’80s with modern methodology. These works confirmed that the cave had been occupied by Neanderthal groups who used it as a refuge in the final stages of the Middle Paleolithic.

The stratigraphy analyzed in the ’80s documents three levels attributed to the Mousterian culture, the material culture of the Neanderthals, in the first hall of Peña Miel. They present lithic industries characteristic of this period, with a notable collection of bone tools.

The extreme fragmentation of the found faunal remains indicates prolonged use of the space as a base camp. The most recent level, C, shows in its upper part materials with an Aurignacian appearance, which could already correspond to the first anatomically modern humans who arrived in the Iberian Peninsula (the Aurignacian culture replaced the Mousterian culture around 38,000 years ago, approximately, at the beginning of the Upper Paleolithic).

Researchers are confident that the newly located habitat space will provide valuable data to better understand this transitional moment between two cultures: the last Neanderthals and the first populations of Homo sapiens that expanded across Europe.


Sources

University of Zaragoza


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