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Archaeology & Anthropology Field Schools

Europe - Spain - Field School for Quaternary Palaeoanthropology and Prehistory of Murcia, S.E. Spain - 2014

Europe - Spain -  Field School for Quaternary Palaeoanthropology and Prehistory of Murcia, S.E. Spain - 2014

Archaeology Field School Location and Dates

Application Deadline
Start Date 2014-07-01
End Date 2014-08-12

Multiple Sessions 2
Multiple Session information

Session 1: 1-22 July 2014 Session 2: 22 July-12 August 2014

Archaeology Field School Location

Murcia (Spain): Session 1 at Cueva Negra del Estrecho del Río Quípar, Caravaca (Murcia, Spain); Session 2 at Sima de las Palomas del Cabezo Gordo, Torre Pacheco (Murcia, Spain)

Archaeology Field School Tuition and Credits

Sponsoring College/Institution

Murcian Association for the Study of Palaeoanthropology and the Quaternary MUPANTQUAT, and Murcia University Research Group "Quaternary Palaeoecology, Palaeoanthropology and Technology"

Academic Credit

No formal credit is available but we collaborate with universities and colleges around the world in order to help students gain credit at their home institutions for attendance at our Field School.

Archaeology Field School Tuition

Yes (Go to Long Description and consult BRIEFING YOU)

Archaeology Field School Room and Board

Yes (Go to Long Description and consult BRIEFING YOU)

Archaeology Field School Travel
own travel costs to Murcia Airport.
Additional Information on Tution/Room and Board/Travel Costs

50 euros per night for 1 full session (Go to Long Description and consult BRIEFING YOU)

Archaeology Field School Description

Please email us at or for the pdf of this BRIEFING YOU complete with photographs and tables that the Shovelbums on-line system cannot reproduce or has done so incorrectly (in the case o ftables).

about our Field School for Quaternary Palaeoanthropology and Prehistory of Murcia, S.E. Spain
25th Anniversary Season 2014

Michael J. Walker Department of Zoology and Physical Anthropology, Biology Faculty Murcia University, 30100, MURCIA (SPAIN)

Dates of our 2014 sessions:
SESSION 1 : July 1st (Tues.) – July 22nd (Tues.) 2014 at Cueva Negra del Estrecho del Río Quípar SESSION 2 : July 22nd (Tues.) –August 12th (Tues.) 2014 at Sima de las Palomas del Cabezo Gordo
ABSTRACT The main objective of the research project is to increase the finds of Pleistocene hominin fossils, along with stone tools and prehistoric animals, by excavation at two sites, Cueva Negra (Black Cave) del Estrecho del Río Quípar de La Encarnación and Sima de las Palomas (Dove Hole) del Cabezo Gordo de Dolores de Pacheco, in the Spanish province of Murcia.
A secondary objective is to compare and contrast how Neanderthal folk and their H. heidelbergensis forebears used natural resources near to the sites, which are in very different local environments.
The results will be of importance in developing research into fossil man of the ice age in Mediterranean Spain. Fieldwork since the early 1990’s has very significantly increased the numbers of Pleistocene hominin remains from both sites, as well as the Middle Palaeolithic stone tools and Middle-early Late Pleistocene faunal remains. The results are greatly helping to extend our knowledge about H. heidelbergensis and H. neanderthalensis, their origins and their lifeways.


FROM: Michael J. Walker Emeritus Professor of Physical Anthropology, Departamento de Zoología y Antropología Física, Facultad de Biología, Universidad de Murcia Campus Universitario de Espinardo (Edificio 20), 30100 Murcia, Spain email: Dear Enquirer,
I want to welcome you to take part in our Field School which celebrates its 25th Anniversary in 2014. I'm sure you'll have an interesting time, especially if you're interested in human evolution and our hominin ancestors. You may very well be as lucky as some recent participants who have helped to excavate hominin bones and teeth during the course of their stay with us.
The most recently found are Neanderthal bones, still in their original state of anatomical articulation of the chest, shoulder girdle and upper limb, and of the pelvic girdle, leg and foot, which belong to maybe three individuals, perhaps crushed by a rock-fall or perhaps intentionally arranged and covered with rocks, which we have been uncovering at Sima de las Palomas since 2005 and which date to between 55,000 and 40,000 years ago.
For some of our helpers it was the most exciting thing they had ever done. Several of them knew very little about human evolution or how we excavate at prehistoric sites when they arrived, and went away thrilled and having picked up a great deal of both knowledge, not to mention Neanderthal human remains!
There is also great excitement at Cueva Negra which lately has been recognized as a very much older site than we had thought it was. In its sedimentary fill we have recovered numerous teeth of fossil rodent species known from several sites in Spain after 1,000,000 years ago that became completely extinct long before 500,000 years ago. We have also excavated an Acheulian hand-axe associated with flakes struck by the so-called Levallois technique and stone tools with abrupt Mousterian-like retouch. Palaeomagnetic research undertaken by the Berkeley Geochronology Center shows that the sedimentary fill is older than 780,000 years ago. Palaeontological and palaeopalynological research suggest an age of 800-900,000 years ago. This early date means that Cueva Negra’s six early Neanderthal-size teeth are best seen as belonging to the Neanderthal precursor in Europe called Homo heidelbergensis.
In 2011 we began to find calcined animal bones and burnt chert 4.5 metres down in the sediment, which give us the oldest evidence for fire in Europe found to date (in Africa there is evidence from before 1,000,000 years ago). The 2012 and 2013 field seasons have found more evidence still of this astounding discovery.
If you go to our web-site, which is now working well after a few glitches in 2013, you will find, and should open, study, and save, a long document entitled BRIEFING YOU which tells you how the Project got started and where we're at right now. As you'll see, since the Project began in the early 1990’s we have found a large number of remains of hominin and animal bones, and the stone tools of Pleistocene hominins.
The Project is carrying out excavations at two sites in Murcia province, S.E. Spain which date from between 900,000 and 40,000 years ago, and are called: Cueva Negra (Black Cave) del Estrecho del Río Quípar de La Encarnación, and Sima de las Palomas (Dove Hole) del Cabezo Gordo de Dolores de Pacheco.
The dates when we shall be at each site are as follows:
SESSION 1: July 1st (Tues.) – July 22nd (Tues.) 2014 at Cueva Negra del Estrecho del Río Quípar SESSION 2: July 22nd (Tues.) – August 12th (Tues.) 2014 at Sima de las Palomas del Cabezo Gordo.
We start and finish on Tuesdays because from London there are both Ryanair flights (from Luton and Stansted) and Easyjet (from Gatwick) on weekdays – as well as many other low budget flights by other airlines (see FIELD LOGISTICS), and also connecting Iberia-Air Nostrum flights from Madrid and Barcelona on weekdays - but not at weekends - for intercontinental travellers arriving in Spain (e.g. from U.S.A.).
I think the best thing you can do now is to find and read BRIEFING YOU very carefully, and then make up your mind. If you have any queries, please don't hesitate to write to me. Very important! Please send me, as soon as you can, details about your route, place, date, and time of arrival so that we know you are definitely arriving so as to put you on our list of people to be picked up at Murcia-San Javier Airport (or at Calasparra railway station for Cueva Negra) – or else so that we know you are NOT to going to be picked up by us if you are coming under your own steam or on other days. This is very important for you and for me!
I look forward to seeing you in Spain in the Summer of 2014,
Yours truly Michael J. Walker

Michael J. Walker Emeritus Professor of Physical Anthropology Departamento de Zoología y Antropología Física, Facultad de Biología, Universidad de Murcia, Campus Universitario de Espinardo (Edificio 20), 30100 Murcia, SPAIN Dear Helpers, Friends, Colleagues and Supporters,
Together with my co-directors of excavation Mariano López and María Haber, and our young graduate staff Antonio López, Ignacio Martín, Jon Ortega, Azucena Avilés and Ángel Buitrago, I write thanking you for your past help, interest and support, and to inform any who have never been here about what we are doing. Our helpers contribute to our success. Our web-site is being brought up to date and with luck will be ready by the beginning of January if not before. Meanwhile, I attach our 2014 poster advertizement and our 2014 BRIEFING YOU to keep you up to date on our work and prospects for the 25th Anniversary of our excavations and Field School in 2014.
In June 2012, at the Murcia regional government official Registry, we registered officially the creation of the Murcian Association for the Study of Palaeoanthropology and the Quaternary or MUPANTQUAT (Asociación Murciana para el Estudio de la Paleoantropología y del Cuaternario) which will extend our work but it is also responsible for organizing our 2014 Field School and excavations (MUPANTQUAT email and web-site which is now working well, after we corrected one or two glitches that plagued it in 2013).
MUPANTQUAT is also finalizing the English and Spanish editions of a semi-popular book about our two decades of excavation at Sima de las Palomas del Cabezo Gordo and Cueva Negra del Estrecho del Río Quípar. The English verison is now with the U.K. publisher Oxbow that expressed an interest in it. We have proposed a self-explanatory title: “HOW THE EARLIEST CAVE-FOLK OF SOUTH-EAST SPAIN WERE DUG UP”. Our association itself will be the publisher of our Spanish edition here at Murcia. A Murcia regional government foundation has made an animated film about, and called simply, “CUEVA NEGRA”; our association and the foundation are taking it around our region for showings in different towns and cities, and after the showing there is a scientific colloquium in which we take part by giving brief talks and answering questions from the audience.
We appeared in the PBS-NOVA television documentary “Decoding Neandertals” that was shown in January 2013 in the USA.
A lot is happening! Excavations at Cueva Negra and Sima de las Palomas have given us evermore startling finds in the past few years. At Sima de las Palomas we have uncovered articulated skeletal remains in anatomical connexion of two Neanderthal adults with a child, covered by rocks in the cave 55-45,000 years ago (the last articulated adult Neanderthal to be excavated was way back in 1976, at St.Césaire in France). Researching for his PhD, Jon Ortega is doing brilliant work in our lab, cleaning and identifying the bones in the cemented breccia masses we have excavated.
In 2011 we acquired vibroscalpels (so-called “air-scribe” tools) powered by a small compressor to facilitate the cleaning. We now also use Murcia University Veterinary Hospital’s new scanner to visualize human bone remains in the breccia masses and to record the digitalized images for analysis and virtual reconstruction. We are grateful to Professor Christoph Zollikofer and Dr. Marcia Ponce de León who came over from Zürich University to show us how they carry out such research there and who also most kindly invited Jon and me to visit their Zürich laboratories in 2011. In Autumn 2012 Jon spent several weeks at Zurich “boning up”, so to speak, on their IT methodology.
In September 2012 I presented a poster on behalf of us all about this research on the Sima de las Palomas Neanderthals at the 2nd Annual Meeting at Bordeaux of the recently formed European Society for the Study of Human Evolution, which attracted great interest, and the poster was shown again in April 2013 accompanying a talk about the Sima de las Palomas Neanderthals that I was invited to give at the 55th Annual Meeting of the international Hugo Obermaier Society for Quaternary Research and Archaeology of the Stone Age, held at Vienna´s grand Natural History Museum.
To help us study the skeletons, in January 2011 the eminent Anthropology Professor Erik Trinkaus came over here from Washington University at St.Louis. Thanks to his invaluable collaboration we have now published a second paper on Sima de las Palomas Neanderthal remains in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA, two papers (with another in press) in the American Journal of Physical Anthropology, and a third in the Journal of Dental Research, and we also published a long paper in Quaternary International in 2012 about how we excavated the Neanderthal skeletons.
To house our spectacular Neanderthal skeletons a 5-storey museum has been built below Sima de las Palomas (in September 2010 the Chairman of our Regional Government in Murcia laid its foundation stone). I visited the finished building early in January 2013 with the architect, but it now needs fitting out as it is a concrete shell right now. Work on the interior is scheduled to begin early in 2014, I am informed.
Inside Cueva Negra, at a depth of 4.5 metres down in the sedimentary fill, we uncovered calcined bone and burnt chert during our 2011, 2012 and 2013 field seasons of excavation in sediment that appears to have been altered by heat. This is the oldest evidence for fire in Europe found to date at any Palaeolithic site (though in Africa there is evidence from before 1,000,000 years ago). The temperature reached 550ºC according to spectrometry analyses of the burnt bone and chert, which have been undertaken by Dr Anne Skinner at Boston’s Williams College using electron spin resonance methods, and Dr Francesco Berna at Simon Fraser University using Fourier-transform infra-red techniques with which he carried out postdoctoral research at Boston University under the guidance of the distinguished geoarchaeologist Professor Paul Goldberg who developed the method there. Dr Berna’s friend, geoarchaeologist Dr. Diego Angelucci of the Italian University of Trento, has studied the micromorphology of thin sections he took at Cueva Negra with his PhD student Daniela Anesin (see Quaternary Science Reviews, 80, pp.195-9, 2013).
The astonishing antiquity of Cueva Negra has greatly excited Anthropology Professor Tom Wynn of the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs. He is a world authority on what Acheulian and Levallois knapping techniques can tell us about the evolution of cognition in homininsn (two of his students helped in our 2011 excavation season). Until now nobody had ever imagined that the Levallois reduction technique in Europe could be as old as we are finding it to be at Cueva Negra, and to have both Acheulian and Levallois techniques at our site is intriguing. Tom is one of three editors of a 2009 Cambridge University Press book on the evolution of human cognition, Cognitive Archaeology And Human Evolution which has a chapter by me about the significance of the Cueva Negra lithic assemblage. Another editor is Tom’s colleague Professor Fred Coolidge, whom it was a pleasure to meet again at the Bordeaux meeting in September 2012.
We have now published more about the significance of the Cueva Negra Palaeolithic artifacts in Quaternary International (vol. 294, pp. 135-159, 2013). We are now beginning to deteremine the natural chert sources exploited by the Cueva Negra hominins, thanks to collaboration at Arizona University, where its recent anthropology graduate Winston Zack, who spent three field seasons here, submitted many samples he took, from both the site itself and chert outcrops in its vicinity, to Dr. Alex Andronikov at AU’s Lunar and Planetary Sciences Laboratory who has conducted spectroscopic analysis of rare-earth trace elements in the cherts (Zack et al., Quartär 60, pp. 7-28, 2013).
Alas, I cannot enter into correspondence with everyone individually, even when you write to me with specific enquiries about the progress of our research. Hundreds of people have attended our Field School over the past two decades, and because I have no secretary I cannot answer scores of letters separately. So that is why I am sending you this round-robin letter. One size will just have to fit all, I am sorry to have to say. The snippets offered below will have to suffice, together with what will be put up on the website (especially in “Briefing You”), even if they only serve to whet your appetite for more!
You will appreciate, I feel sure, that it is one thing for me to correspond about ongoing unpublished research with the handful of established scientists who collaborate with our project, but it would be an unethical and improper thing for me (or them) to do if we were to enter into correspondence about unpublished new business people who are not directly involved in the scientific development and elaboration of those particular research matters. Their eventual publication must be awaited with your patience - even though it may have to last for a few years.
All the same, I do try to go out of my way to answer enquiries from those graduate helpers who are now doctoral candidates at universities around the world, when from time to time they write to me enquiring about highly specific scientific matters concerning their own research which have occurred to them in relation to knowledge they acquired when working at our sites.
Also, when undergraduate students want to come as helpers, and enquire about how to use their experience to gain credit from their own colleges or universities, because we ourselves have no structure for giving them such credit,
I do want you to know that if your own college professors are willing to give you college credit for a paper or report you present to them on your return, then I will collaborate with your college professors who write directly to me to ask about appropriate topics for papers or reports you might present to them, and I will offer you advice during your stay here (but not afterwards); you may use photographs you have taken and, indeed, we always encourage you to take photographs provided that you let us have copies for our use. You should inform your faculty that each one of our Field School’s three-week sessions involves 180 hours of training, divided into about ninety of supervised excavation and retrieval of finds both by your own manual excavation and by wet-sieving (wet-screening) of excavated Pleistocene sediment, about seventy hours of supervised preliminary sorting of finds in our field-lab, about ten of talks and seminars and another ten for a visit to places of archaeological relevance and historical interest.
For those universities who require certificates of attendance as requisites for completion of undergrad degrees (especially in Archaeology, in the UK and Commonwealth countries, and a few others), I will sign their forms provided you bring them with you (I won’t guarantee to do so if you forget to bring them and try to send them to me afterwards) and I always issue our own Field School certificates of attendance to every helper – whereas some universities only accept their own completed forms (e.g. London), others find ours to be an acceptable substitute should you forget to bring their own forms (e.g. Oxford).
I’m often asked to write in support of helpers who apply for graduate study. It is time-consuming and because I am extremely busy with other paperwork every December and January, I will write such support only provided that I have received the forms I have to fill in for you before October thirty-first, thereby giving me November to fill them in and send them off; usually graduate-study applications have to be in by the following February. Moreover, I will only fill in paper forms which can be returned by airmail (whether to you or the institution you are applying to, depending on its requirements) – whether for graduate-study or any other applications or requests on your behalf. I can fill paper forms in by hand after my university office hours while watching television at home in the evening.
Alas, I do not guarantee to help where an institution gives me no other option than to fill out an “on-line” form. I avoid like the plague having to go “on-line” to institutions and fill in forms “on-line”by computer, for several reasons. First, it can be very slow and take up far too much time in my office hours at the university. Secondly, “on-line” forms are constraining and often do not let me say all those things I might want to say but which I can easily add or annex to a paper form. Thirdly, institutional administrative or secretarial assistants (I have none) ought to be capable of transcribing documents into “IT” documentary formats (though some nowadays seem almost unable to read or write, let alone spell or punctuate with accuracy), but hey are not trained either to do anthropological research or to give university lectures to students – both of which comprise what I am paid to do according to my employment contract, whereas I am not contracted to do secretarial work (for which in any case I have never been trained) and I refuse to do it “on-line” so that at the expense of my working time and labour some institutions can cut costs by employing fewer administrative or secretarial assistants to work for them than they might otherwise do; there is a fundamental matter involved here involving principles of natural justice, employees’ rights and duties, and fair-play by employers in the work-place.
We rarely get financial help from the public authorities here, alas. We did receive some in 2007 and 2009, but there was none in 2008, 2010, 2011, 2012, or 2013 and there will be none in 2014 owing to economy measures brought in because of Spain’s dire financial crisis. Anyway, much of the money we did receive was earmarked for costly infrastructure (e.g. our 4x4 field vehicle, our “Topcon” total GPS station for surveying; heavy safes to guard our finds; etc.) or for dating and other analyses at international centres.
We rely on our field helpers to keep the fieldwork going. For attendance at one full 21-day session your contribution is rated at 50 euros a day for bed, light breakfast, mid-morning sandwich, cooked lunch, cooked supper, laundry, instruction, transport between base camp and site, excursions, transport between Murcia Airport to our base on official pick-up and set-down dates, 2014 membership of MUPANTQUAT (attendance at both sessions entitles you to a reduction to 45 euros a day; first-time attendance for less than a full 21-day session is rated at 60 euros a day).
In order to guarantee your reservation of a place a non-returnable deposit is required and because of that you might want to take out holiday insurance in case of last-minute inability to come. Deposits have to be non-returnable, alas, because we are in a holiday-resort area with flights that are heavily booked well in advance of the July-August high summer season. So even if we have someone on a waiting-list when you drop out, that person might not be able to book a flight only a very few weeks before the session begins.This means we might well have to use deposited moneys in order to try to tempt one of our local undergrads to take your place instead of taking a well-paid vacation job in a bar or restaurant beside the packed beaches or at a golf resort, because, in order to have adequate help on site at all times so that we can carry out our excavations efficiently we need always to have on site a basic minimum number of people, below which we cannot work smoothly. I and my staff are looking forward to seeing many of you again this year,
Yours truly
Michael Walker

SOME RECENT PUBLICATIONS YOU MIGHT FIND INTERESTING (pdfs of several of these are available on request to us):
2013 M.J.Walker, M.V.López-Martínez, J.S.Carrión-García, T.Rodríguez-Estrella, M.San-Nicolás-del-Toro, J-L.Schwenninger, A.López-Jiménez, J.Ortega-Rodrigáñez, M.Haber-Uriarte, J-L.Polo-Camacho, J.García-Torres, M.Campillo-Boj, A.Avilés-Fernández, W. Zack: “Cueva Negra del Estrecho del Río Quípar (Murcia, Spain): A late Early Pleistocene hominin site with an “Acheulo-Levalloiso-Mousteroid” Palaeolithic assemblage” Quaternary International 294; 135-159 (ISSN 1040-6182).
2013 W.Zack, A.Andronikov, T.Rodríguez-Estrella, M.López-Martínez, M.Haber-Uriarte, V.Holliday, D.Lauretta, M.J.Walker: “Stone procurement and transport at the late Early Pleistocene site of Cueva Negra del Estrecho del Río Quípar (Murcia, SE Spain)” Quartär, Internationales Jahrbuch zur Eiszeitalter- und Steinzeitforschung, International Yearbook for Ice Age and Stone Age Research 60: 7-28 (ISSN: 0375-7471)
2013 D.Angelucci, D.Anesin, M.López-Martínez, M.Haber-Uriarte, T.Rodríguez-Estrella, M.J.Walker: “Rethinking stratigraphy and site formation of the Pleistocene deposit at Cueva Negra del Estrecho del Río Quípar (Caravaca de la Cruz, Spain)” Quaternary Science Reviews 80: 195-199 (ISSN: 0277-3791)
2013 D.C.Salazar-García, R.C.Power, A.Sanchis, V.Villaverde, M.J.Walker, A.G.Henry: “Neanderthal diets in central and southeastern Mediterranean Iberia” Quaternary International 318: 3-18 (ISSN 1040-6182).
2012 M.J.Walker, M.V.López-Martínez, J.Ortega-Rodrigáñez, M.Haber-Uriarte, A.López-Jiménez, A.Avilés-Fernández, J.L-Polo Camacho, M.Campillo-Boj, J.García-Torres, J.S,Carrión-García, M.San Nicolas-del Toro, T.Rodríguez-Estrella: “The excavation of the buried articulated Neanderthal skeletons at Sima de las Palomas (Murcia, SE Spain)” Quaternary International 259: 7-21 (ISSN: 1040-6182).
2012 M.Walker, M.López Martínez, M.Haber Uriarte, A.López Jiménez, A.Avilés Fernández, M.Campillo Boj, J.Ortega Rodrigáñez: “Nuevos esqueletos neandertales y restos preneandertalenses de Murcia: La Sima de las Palomas del Cabezo Gordo (Torre Pacheco) y la Cueva Negra del Estrecho del Río Quípar (Caravaca de la Cruz)” Pp. 47-67 in D.Turbón, L.Fañanás, C.Rissech, A.Rosa (eds), Biodiversidad Humana y Evolución (Actas del XVII Congreso de la Sociedad Española de Antropología Física, Universidad de Barcelona, 2 a 4 de junio de 2011). Barcelona, Universitat de Barcelona and Sociedad Española de Antropología Física (ISBN 9788469563229, 9788469563236).
2011 M.J.Walker, M.López Martínez, M.Haber Uriarte, J.Ortega Rodrigáñez: “La Sima de las Palomas del Cabezo Gordo en Torre Pacheco: Excavación e Investigación en 2011” Verdolay. Revista del Museo Arqueológico de Murcia 13: 31-41 (ISSN 1130-9776). Número especial: Actas de los Encuentros sobre Arqueología y Paleontología, Museo Arqueológico de Murcia 21 a 25 de noviembre de 2011.
2011 M.J.Walker, M.López Martínez, M.Haber Uriarte, J.Ortega Rodrigáñez: : “La Cueva Negra del Estrecho del Río Quípar en La Encarnación de Caravaca de la Cruz, Murcia, España: Excavación e Investigación en 2011” Verdolay. Revista del Museo Arqueológico de Murcia 13: 43-55 (ISSN 1130-9776). Número especial: Actas de los Encuentros sobre Arqueología y Paleontología, Museo Arqueológico de Murcia 21 a 25 de noviembre de 2011.
2011 M.J.Walker, J.Ortega, K.Parmová, M.V.López, E.Trinkaus: “Morphology, body proportions, and postcranial hypertrophy of a female Neandertal from the Sima de las Palomas, southeastern Spain” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA 108 (25) 10087-10091 (ISSN 1091-6490).
2011 M.J.Walker, J.Ortega Rodrigáñez, M. V. López Martínez, K. Parmová, E. Trinkaus: “Neandertal postcranial remains from the Sima de las Palomas del Cabezo Gordo, Murcia, southeastern Spain” American J. Physical Anthropology 144: 505-515 (ISSN 0002-9483).
2011 M.J.Walker, J.Zapata, A.V.Lombardi, E.Trinkaus, “New evidence of dental pathology in 40,000 year old Neandertals” Journal of Dental Research 90: 428-432 (ISSN 0022-0345). 2011 M.Walker, M.López Martínez, M.Haber Uriarte, A.López Jiménez, J.Ortega Rodrigáñez, A.Avilés Fernández, M.Campillo Boj: “Dos yacimientos del Hombre fósil en Murcia: La Cueva Negra del Río Quípar en Caravaca de la Cruz y la Sima de las Palomas del Cabezo Gordo en Torre Pacheco. Segunda Parte. La Sima de las Palomas” Acta Científica y Tecnológica 19: 15-23 (ISSN 1575-7951).
2011 M.Walker, M.López Martínez, M.Haber Uriarte, A.López Jiménez, J.Ortega Rodrigáñez, A.Avilés Fernández, M.Campillo Boj: “Dos yacimientos del Hombre fósil en Murcia: La Cueva Negra del Río Quípar en Caravaca de la Cruz y la Sima de las Palomas del Cabezo Gordo en Torre Pacheco. Primera Parte. La Cueva Negra” Acta Científica y Tecnológica 18: 22-28 (ISSN 1575-7951). You can access the two ACyT articles in one on-line edition at the Asociación Española de Científicos web-site: (click on Artículos de Interés Científico) (or you can go go directly to
2010 M.J.Walker, A.V.Lombardi, J.Zapata, E.Trinkaus: “Neandertal mandibles from the Sima de las Palomas del Cabezo Gordo, Murcia, southeastern Spain”, American Journal of Physical Anthropology 142: 261-272 (ISSN 0002-9483).
2009 M.J.Walker: “Chapter 7. Long–term memory and Middle Pleistocene `Mysterians´” Pp. 75-84 in Beaune, F.L.Coolidge. T.Wynn (eds), Cognitive Archaeology And Human Evolution. New York, Cambridge University Press (ISBN 0521746116).
2009 M.J.Walker: “La Sima de las Palomas del Cabezo Gordo en Torre Pacheco y la Cueva Negra del Estrecho del Río Quípar en Caravaca de la Cruz: dos ventanas sobre la vida y la muerte del hombre fósil en Murcia” Pp. 71-96 in T.Ferrández Verdú, F.Almarcha Martínez (coordinators) Darwin y la Evolución Humana. 1 Jornadas sobre Evolución Humana, 24 y 25 de abril de 2009, CEMACAM Torre Guil, Murcia, (Murcia, Caja Mediterreáneo) (Depósito legal MU-2660-2009).
2009 G.R.Scott, L.Gibert: “The oldest hand-axes in Europe” Nature 461: 82-85 (ISSN 0028-0836) 2008 M.J. Walker, J Gibert, M.V. López, A.V. Lombardi, A. Pérez-Pérez, J. Zapata, J. Ortega, T. Higham, A. Pike, J-L. Schwenninger, J. Zilhão, E.Trinkaus, “Late Neandertals in Southeastern Iberia: Sima de las Palomas del Cabezo Gordo, Murcia, Spain” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA 105 (52): 20631-20636 (ISSN 1091-6490).


If you are coming, save this Briefing, via smart phone, tablet, print-out, on PC, or whatever, so that if you have problems or emergencies, e.g. if you arrive in Madrid and you miss a flight connexion to Murcia, you immediately can find our phone numbers or email addresses to let us know you have been delayed, or whatever has happened.

The Project aims at achieving careful recovery, by scientific excavation, of skeletal remains of Neanderthal folk and their Palaeolithic stone tools and extinct animal remains, from between about 900,000 and 40,000 years ago, at the 2 southeastern Spanish sites in the province of Murcia of CUEVA NEGRA ("Black Cave") in the River Quípar gorge at La Encarnación near Caravaca de la Cruz (0.9-0.8 m.yr), and SIMA DE LAS PALOMAS ("Hole of the Doves") on Cabezo Gordo hill at Dolores de Pacheco near Torre Pacheco (60-40 k.yr.).

The Project is allowing full recovery of these materials to be used to draw comparisons and contrasts between findings at the site near the coast of Sima de las Palomas and those at the site in the inland hill-country of Cueva Negra.

This throws much-needed light on the exploitation of natural resources by Neanderthal folk (H. neanderthalensis) and their even more archaic fore-runners (H. heidelbergensis) in two very different local environments 100 kilometres apart.

Sima de las Palomas overlooks the coastal plain behind a large coastal lagoon known as the Mar Menor ("Lesser Sea") from about 125 metres above sea level. It is therefore in a mild environment, where people could have lived throughout the year during the ice age.

By contrast, Cueva Negra is at 740 metres above sea-level where the River Quípar emerges from a rocky gorge (“Estrecho del Río Quípar”) overlooked by mountains rising to 1,500 metres above sea-level; it is only 30 kilometres from peaks which tower to over 2,000 metres. In ice-age times its environment was uninhabitable by man for much of the year.

Our field research has led to development of regional public policy with the following outcome.

This imposing, new, purpose-built 5-storey museum has been erected by the Murcian Regional Government and Torre Pacheco township, below Sima de las Palomas, at the foot of Cabezo Gordo, but it still has to be fitted out. We accompanied our regional Minister for Culture together with its famous architect, Federico Soriano, who showed us around in January 2013. It has exhibition floors as well as workshops and laboratories, and even residential accomodation and a restaurant, as well as an auditorium. Our Sima de las Palomas Neanderthals will be the highlight of the display, naturally. The museum has been built thanks to our Sima de las Palomas finds which it will house, and we have been behind its establishment from the beginning. It has taken several years to come to fruition. The museum is very near the coastal resorts of the Mar Menor and therefore will be an important focus for cultural tourism. Because we are in a tourist area with hundreds of thousands of European summer visitors every year, our findings will reach a very wide international public indeed. Many local businesses have been involved in the construction and will be involved in its furbishment and maintenance.

Michael Walker writes: I was keen to extend knowledge about Neanderthal presence in southeastern Spain following my appointment there as Professor of Physical Anthropology at Murcia University in 1988. I had came to Murcia from Sydney University in Australia, from where I had already carried out research into both the southeastern Spanish Quaternary (e.g. Cuenca & Walker 1986 and refs.; Cuenca, Pomery & Walker, 1986, and refs.) and Neanderthal origins (Habgood & Walker 1986), and supervised Phil Habgood's exhaustive PhD thesis A Morphometric Investigation into the Origin(s) of Anatomically Modern Humans (published in the British Archaeological Reports International Series, BAR S-1176, 2003). (For other references, see Reading Suggestions.)

I therefore lost no time in accepting an offer to visit Cueva Negra made by my friend Miguel San Nicolás, a Spanish prehistorian, who had dug a 2 metre-deep test pit there in 1981 and found possible “Mousterian” stone tools, and extinct animals such as rhinoceros (Martínez et al., 1989). Apart from that test pit, no further work had been done there.

No sooner did I see the test pit, than I at once recognized something that the young archaeologist had not, but which my previous research in southeastern Spain had taught me to recognize easily - namely, that it was dug through a sediment laid down by the nearby river when it reached the cave from time to time, sediment which also included minerals derived from the rock of the cave walls and roof, and even a small amount of very fine wind-blown soil (known as loess) which must have been blown onto long-vanished swamps in front of the cave, on the River Quípar flood-plain, by fierce winds which whipped up enormous amounts of dust from the barren landscapes of the Sierra Nevada 200 kilometres to the south (where small glaciers still linger), and which probably extended northwards at altitudes of over 1,000 metres above sea level near to the cave.

The sedimentary fill of Cueva Negra (5 metres deep at the back of the cave, perhaps 8 at the front) was deposited when the River Quípar (a tributary of the River Segura which reaches the Mediterranean Sea 110 kilometres East of our site) and swamps and lakes watered by it, sporadically reached the cave at a time when the Quípar flood-plain stood close to the level of the cave.

Earlier research, backed up by radiocarbon dating, had shown that the 3 river terraces of the Segura river basin may have been formed somewhat more recently than was once thought to be the case. The lowest terrace began accumulating only 30,000 years ago when the third major cold stage of the last ice-age began, and after the middle terrace had stopped accumulating by some 40,000 years ago at the end of the middle stage of the last ice-age. The early and middle cold stages of the last ice age were when Neanderthal folk and "Mousterian" stone tools were especially widespread in Europe.

My new excavations at Cueva Negra held out great promise of confirming the typology of its stone tools. As we shall see, things have now turned out to be very different indeed, and far more surprising –amazing!- than I had ever imagined, and certainly very exciting for our understanding of early Palaeolithic archaeology in Eurasia.

We know now that the sediments in the cave were laid down long, long before the last ice age, and that its Palaeolithic “Levalloisian” chert flakes some of which have edges modified by “Mousterian” retouch are among the oldest of this kind not only in Europe but even in Africa, and are accompanied by an “Acheulian” hand-axe on a limestone cobble. In short, the sediment had been laid down in the cave long, long before nearby river terraces came into existence, and was protected for posterity by tectonic uplift of the hillside in which Cueva Negra lies. More of all that later on!

But let us start now at the beginning. My project got under way when I started to excavate Cueva Negra in 1990. Since then I and my team have excavated there during three weeks every year.

This field research has provided six adult teeth of Neanderthal-like (Homo sapiens neanderthalensis or H. neanderthalensis) or early (or pre-) Neanderthal folk (Homo heidelbergensis). The large Neanderthal-like teeth show severe attrition (wear); indeed, the crowns of both a canine and an incisor tooth were so worn down that the pulp cavity ("nerve") became exposed: such extreme wear is a well-known characteristic of Neanderthal adult teeth.

The prehistoric fauna at Cueva Negra includes remains of elephant (mammoth), rhinoceros, hyaena, bear, monkey (macaque), wild cattle, bison, wild horse, ibex, extinct giant deer, red deer, fallow deer, lynx, fox, rabbit, pika, tortoise, and over 60 different bird species. Several of these animals are, of course, no longer found in Western Europe nowadays. Of exceptional importance is presence of extinct Rodents (some of which were well and truly extinct by 600,000 years ago) which are being studied by Murcia University biologist Antonio López Jiménez for his PhD whom you will probably see a lot during the 2014 field season: especially, the fossil voles Allophaiomys chalinei, Mimomys savini, Arvicola cf. deucalion, Pliomys episcopalis, Microtus brecciensis brecciensis and Terricola (Pitymys) huescarensis huescarensis, and other extinct rodents include a fossil, Allocricetus bursae, and a wood mouse, Apodemus flavicollis, cf. A. aff. mystacinus (rock mouse), whilst lagomorphs include an early form of rabbit and also the pika, Prolagus calpensis, which also became extinct in Spain during the Middle Pleistocene.

Pollen analysis conducted by Professor José Carrión of Murcia University points to benign damp temeprate conditions.

The fossil rodents imply that the sediment in the cave was laid down by the start of the Middle Pleistocene, mostly towards the close of the Early Pleistocene 900,000-800,000 years ago.

This implies that Cueva Negra’s Neanderthal-like human remains are of the Neanderthals’ direct forebears, H. heidelbergensis, perhaps similar to those from Sima de los Huesos (Bone Shaft) inside Atapuerca Cave in northern Spain - both there and at Cueva Negra the occurrence of "Acheulian" hand-axes sits easily with such an age.

At Oxford University Dr Jean-Luc Schwenninger heads the Optical Sediment Luminescence Laboratory at the renowned Research Laboratory for Archaeology and the History of Art (RLAHA). He has visited Cueva Negra several times to take sediment samples and measure background radiation with a portable gamma-ray spectrometer, in order to estimate the age of the sedimentarty deposit using the method known as optically stimulated sediment luminescence dating. It indicates an antiquity of greater than half-a-million years ago.

Sediment samples also were taken at Cueva Negra for palaeomagnetic research by Drs Gary Scott and Lluis Gibert from the Berkeley Geochronology Center. Their research on the magnetostratigraphy demonstrates that the entire 5-m depth of Pleistocene sediment belongs to the Matuyama magnetochron of reverse magnetic polarity, and therefore must predate the palaeomagnetic change 780,000 years ago to normal polarity that characterizes the Brunhes magnetochron. Although the Matuyama magnetochron commenced over 2,500,000 years ago, it was interrupted by short reversals characterized by normal polarity, one of which (the Jaramillo reversal) lasted between 1,100,000 and 990,000 years ago. The fossil Rodent biochronology suggests an antiquity no greater than one million years ago. It is therefore probable that the entire depth of sedimentary fill is no older than 990,000 years ago and no younger than 780,000.

Both pollen and fauna testify to benign damp environmental conditions, probably corresponding to one of the three interglacial periods that are known to have occurred between 780,000 and 990,000 years ago (numbered as Marine Isotope Stages MIS-21, MIS- 23, and MIS-25).

Among the large mammalian fauna, an Early Pleistocene horse is represented by a characteristic tooth that the Dutch palaeontologist Dr Jan van der Made, who works at Madrid’s Natural Science Museum, considers to belong to Equus altidens, as had been suggsted by the Barcelona palaeontologist, the late Dr Josep Gibert. An almost complete rhino skull and mandible belonging to a young rhinoceros (Stephanorhinus etruscus) were excavated in 1994, a larger rhino mandible in 1997, as well as a large fragment at a very great depth in our test-pit (square C2a) of a third in 2000, and a magnificent set of extinct giant deer (Megaloceros sp.) antlers was excavated in 1995; Dr van der Made considers it likely that it represents a new species from which two Middle Pleistocene lineages evolved in Europe. A bison horn-core and part of a macaque (cf. Macaca sylvanus) upper jaw, as well as a bear tooth and part of a hyaena mandible, are among the large faunal remains. An elephantid mandible fragment, excavated in 1993 at Cueva Negra, can hardly belong to any other species than Mammuthus meridionalis, which was the only fossil species that lived in Spain and southern Europe 800,000 yars ago. Altogether, from 1999-2013, Cueva Negra has provided us with over 16,000 items that represent skeletal fragments of mammals, around over 4,000 of birds, and over 2,000 of reptiles, especially tortoise (which is mainly the extinct Eurotestudo hermanni, according to palaeontologist Dr Xaber Murélaga of the University of the Basque Country who has studied our collection). There is a very large number of splinters and fragments, several of which may turn out to be classifiable on further study by specialists in particular areas of comparative vertebrate anatomy and palaeontology; these splinters and fragments amount to 18,000 items.

Murcia University’s Professor of Plant Evolution, Dr José Carrión, has identified pollen in soil at our site of species which include both evergreen and deciduous oaks (such as Quercus faginea) and some other broad-leaved trees, pointing to greater availability of surface water and benign temperate conditions: see J.S.Carrión et al., 2003, Global Ecology and Biogeography 12: 119-129 - when the manuscript was sent to the journal we had conjectured, in the absence of clear chronological evidence to the contrary, that the Cueva Negra sedimentary fill belonged to a time no older than 50,000-150,000 years ago, which is reflected in the published article though the palaeoenvironmental results are certainly compatible with the much greater antiquity that has been demonstrated since then.

British avian palaeontologist Anne Eastham has identified over 60 bird species at Cueva Negra, including diving ducks, waders, and other waterfowl which point to former lakes in what today are rather dry river valleys in which rivers are little more than small streams. Other birds, such as jays and woodpigeons, eat acorns, and they hinted at presence of oaks even before their pollen was identified by José Carrión. Yet other birds such as larks and plovers show that there were also wide areas of open country near the site.

In short, the site was located conveniently for exploiting resources present in different local environments quite close to hand, from wetlands with stands of broad-leaved trees, to parkland where open spaces were interspersed with stands of woodland, and open rough steppe with stands of pines and other conifers, and finally steep hillsides with crags and mountainsides.

The Palaeolithic assemblage is represented at Cueva Negra by over 1,000 classifiable pieces (of which more than half are struck flakes without retouch) and several thousand fragments and spalls, found by us over the period 1990-2013. Most of it is made from poor quality chert, quartzite, limestone and marble; cobbles of these were taken to the cave by H. heidelbergensis. Since 2004 we have excavated some fine examples of the Levalloisian core-reduction technique of preparing flint flakes, in deep layers close to where we had excavated the Acheulian bifacially-flaked hand-axe, in 2003. These layers also have small stone tools with steep abrupt Mousterian retouch. It is very exciting that an Acheulo-Levalloiso-Mousterian industry was present ca. 800,000 years ago because it shows conclusively that all three kinds of Palaeolithic stone-tool preparation formed part of a single tradition from the end of the Early Pleistocene in Europe.

One very important source of raw materials for making stone artifacts was an outcrop of conglomerate 800 metres (half a mile) away from Cueva Negra. The outcrop represents a fossil shingle beach of the shore of the Miocene Tethys Sea, which, millions of years ago, in the Tertiary geological era, stretched from the Atlantic Ocean across what is now the Mediterranean Sea and eastwards to what is now the Persian Gulf. The pebbles and cobbles at the outcrop include flint, chert, Jurassic limestone and quartzite. None of these occur in the rock walls or roof of Cueva Negra, which are somewhat later Miocene biocalcarenite rock.

Our identification of the nearby local rock source was greatly enhanced in 2011 thanks to collaboration at Arizona University, where recent anthropology graduate Winston Zack, who spent three field seasons here, submitted many samples he took, from both the site itself and chert outcrops in its vicinity, to Dr Alex Andronikov at AU’s Lunar and Planetary Sciences Laboratory who has conducted spectroscopic analysis of rare-earth trace elements in the cherts (see Zack et al., Quartär 60: 7-28, 2013).

At the conglomerate outcrop, we have picked up a typical waste end-product (a small “Levallois disc-core") which is what was left over after early humans had removed from a pebble here several flint flakes for use as everyday cutting, scraping, or piercing tools. We have also picked up small retouched Palaeolithic implements including a small scraper similar to others excavated at Cueva Negra. Another small disc core, this time of limestone, was also found on the hillside near the cave itself. Upto now, small Levalloisian disc cores (even those with minimal peripheral prepared facetting) had not been found that date from before 300,000-400,000 years ago in Europe and the Near East.

At Cueva Negra our excavations show that Levalloisian flakes are present in deep layers that are very much older and the two disc cores are likely to be no less ancient. Of special interest at Cueva Negra is are finds of 3 so-called “soft” hammers, or soft knapping billets which were used for knapping stone delicately and made from the butts and pedicles of the antlers of deer.

Since 2004 we have excavated some splendid flakes produced by the Levalloisian core-reduction technique, in layers close to where in 2003 we had excavated a bifacial core-tool which is an Acheulian hand-axe. It is extremely gratifying to be able to show presence of very different knapping techniques at such great depth. Our 2003 campaign at Cueva Negra had concentrated on an area adjoining that in which our 2001 excavation of a 3 x 1 metre area explored a consistent palaeolithic living surface with fragments of stone knapping, broken bone fragments, and other débris. It was at a position of intermediate depth with regard to the levels defined at the site, but was probably not encountered during earlier campaigns that went deeper because where those excavations took place there had been a massive slab of rock which fell from the roof during the Pleistocene and occupied most of the area behind where we identified this living surface in 2001.

In 2003 we had begun to excavate a 3 x 1 metre area next to it. At the end of the campaign we were a few centimetres above where we expect to find it, which we did, when in the 2003 campaign. This very exciting phase of our work at the site culminated in the marvellous surprise that was the excavation here of an Acheulian hand-axe and confirmed the extent of an important activity area.

The hand-axe had lost its tip in antiquity, no doubt through (mis)use. A remarkable aspect of the artifact is that it was made by bifacial working of a flat cobble of local limestone, not chert, probably got from a nearby outcrop of conglomerate mentioned earlier.

The spectacular find brought into perspective two matters that had concerned us previously: first, the widespread evidence for knapping of limestone at Cueva Negra (spalls and chips, flakes, retouched pieces, and perhaps the disc core mentioned earlier), and, secondly, a hitherto puzzling singular find of a flat limestone cobble with bifacial retouch in the shape of a chopping-tool of "pick"-like form, that may have been an unfinished hand-axe, excavated in the same level of an adjoining square in 2001.

The significance of the coexistence of Acheulian, Levalloisian and Mousterian techniques of stone artefact preparation is that it gives support to Southampton University’s Professor Clive Gamble who has stressed the importance of the coexistence in Europe, from half-a-million years ago, both of assemblages comprising large numbers of bifacially-flaked core-tools, and assemblages of retouched flake tools, and has posed a crucial matter for archaeologists to consider from the viewpoint of alternative core-reduction sequences (the French call them chaînes operatoires) of Palaeolithic knappers: "With the chaîne operatoire we now have the methodological tools and a conceptual model for moving the debate onto the productive pastures of hominin involvement with their taskscapes. For example, were these taskscape skills merely those of tool assisted hominins ... or are we dealing with more sophisticated capabilities comparable in many respects to modern humans ...?” (Gamble, C.S., 1999, The Palaeolithic Societies of Europe, Cambridge University Press, p. 138).

Put another way, did, in Europe, those Pleistocene Pre-Neanderthal (H. heidelbergensis) forerunners of Neanderthals behave in so very similar a fashion to Pleistocene H. heidelbergensis forerunners in Africa of anatomically-modern H. sapiens, such that (a) Neanderthals ought to be best regarded as H. sapiens neanderthalensis, and (b) both they and anatomically-modern H. sapiens ought to be regarded as evolutionary descendants of a common Afro-European H. heidelbergensis which was wholly comparable and commensurable throughout as regards not only skeletal anatomy, but also behaviour - in so far as this is demonstrated by the ease with which they were able to follow alternative reduction sequences in knapping stone obtained locally at Cueva Negra, namely, a bifacial reduction-sequence of cores into bifacially-flaked core tools such as Acheulian hand-axes, and preparation of small disc cores on which repetitive flaking reduced these further still, in order to remove flakes, of predetermined size and shape, for subsequent Mousterian edge-retouch into flake-tools such as scrapers or points?

I have attempted to get to grips with this aspect of cognitive evolution 900,000 years ago at Cueva Negra in my recent contribution published in 2009, “Chapter 7. Long–term memory and Middle Pleistocene `Mysterians´,” pp. 75-84 in Beaune, F.L.Coolidge & T.Wynn (eds), Cognitive Archaeology and Human Evolution (Cambridge and New York, Cambridge University Press, ISBN 0521746116). The book includes papers presented at a colloquium on cognitive evolution during the XV Congress of the International of Prehistoric and Protohistoric Sciences at Lisbon in 2006. Tom Wynn is Professor of Anthropology at the University of Colorado at Colorad Springs where Fred Coolidge is Professor of Psychology, and they have written many articles about Palaeolithic technology and cognitive evolution as well as the book The Rise of Homo Sapiens published in 2009 by Wiley-Blackwell, and Sophie de Beaune is a prehistorian at the University of Lyons who also has published in the same area.

I have dealt with the matter also in a recent scientific article: M.J.Walker, M.V.López-Martínez, J.S.Carrión-García, T.Rodríguez-Estrella, M.San-Nicolás-del-Toro, J-L.Schwenninger, A.López-Jiménez, J.Ortega-Rodrigáñez, M.Haber-Uriarte, J-L.Polo-Camacho, J.García-Torres, M.Campillo-Boj, A.Avilés-Fernández, W. Zack: “Cueva Negra del Estrecho del Río Quípar (Murcia, Spain): A late Early Pleistocene hominin site with an “Acheulo-Levalloiso-Mousteroid” Palaeolithic assemblage” Quaternary International 294, pp. 135-159, 2013 (ISSN 1040-6182).

Neither the complexity nor the antiquity of our Cueva Negra tool-kit need come as a complete surprise. In Africa, the Levalloisian core-reduction technique goes back to 1,400,000 years ago (I. de La Torre, R.Mora, M.Domínguez-Rodrigo, L. de Luque & L. Alcalá, 2003: “The Oldowan industry of Peninj and its bearing on the reconstruction of the technological skills of Lower Pleistocene hominids”, Journal of Human Evolution, 44 (2), 2003, pp. 203-224). In Africa, reduction of stone to fashion hand-axes goes back as far as 1,700,000 years ago. Both types of reduction imply cognition of imaginary secant planes that divide volumes, symmetrically in the case of bifacial hand-axe fashioning, but asymmetrically in the case of Levalloisian disc cores such that the major volume could be knapped in a way that in the end “released”, so to speak, the flake of intended shape to be removed from within it (Tom Wynn has written that this is the most demanding and complex of all reduction-sequences ever developed). It tells us much about the evolutionary significance of early human cognitive awareness that probably lay behind the dispersal of Homo out of Africa and throughout Eurasia before 1,500,000 years ago.

Our 2011 season’s astounding discovery of traces of ancient fire lying deeply within the cave sediments confirms the ability of humans to survive in higher latitudes than those of equatorial Africa where their ancestors originally had evolved between 4 and 2 million years ago. The 2012 and 2013 field seasons extended our findings.Fire allowed our ancestors to keep warm at night and wild animals at bay, but especially to cook food and thereby enhance rapid absorption of nutrients so necessary for physiological metabolic processes in the body and especially the brain. Ours is the oldest firm evidence for fire at a Palaeolithic site outside Africa (where it is found at sites going back to before 1,000,000 years ago). We have found many fragments of charred and even calcined bone. Some calcined long-bone fragments had undergone length-wise splintering which occurs when heat has volatilized the organic components of bone which then shrinks and cracks open.

We also have excavated several spalls of burnt chert and a spectacular lump that had exploded owing to thermal shock which was uncovered with the resulting razor-sharp splinters still in place like the petals of a rose.

The temperature had reached 550ºC, according to spectrometry analyses of the burnt bone and chert, which have been undertaken by Dr Anne Skinner at Boston’s Williams College using electron spin resonance methods, and Dr Francesco Berna at Simon Fraser University using Fourier-transform infra-red techniques with which he carried out postdoctoral research at Boston University under the guidance of the distinguished geoarchaeologist Professor Paul Goldberg who developed the method there. Dr Berna’s friend, geoarchaeologist Dr Diego Angelucci of the Italian University of Trento, has studied the micromorphology of thin sections he took at Cueva Negra with his PhD student Daniela Anesin (see Quaternary Science Reviews vol. 80, pp. 195-199, 2013).

People sometimes ask for my views on hominin evolution in the Pleistocene. Were Neanderthals an evolutionary side-track with a dead end, or were they part of a seamless web of evolving humans? Well, to see what I think, try reading two of my articles "The quest for our human ancestors" in The Review of Archaeology vol. 24 (1): 20-38 (2003) and “Hominin Tar Babies, Palaeolithic Chewing Gum, Middle Pleistocene Gloop, and Dissipative Systems” in The Review of Archaeology vol. 26 (1):1-25 (2005).

Over 100 years ago, miners on the hill of Cabezo Gordo (which simply means Big Hill) were attracted by a vein of the iron ore magnetite which made a dark stain in the pale-grey marble rock of the hillside. The iron had welled up in molten form through the limestone when volcanic activity was fierce here during the early Mesozoic. The miners dug an artificial shaft down hoping to follow the vein which, however, petered out, and they found themselves digging hard breccia out of a natural cavern which went not only downwards, but also back up to the surface again in what we now call the Sima de las Palomas which is a vertical shaft 18 metres deep the mouth of which is at 125 metres above sea-level on the barren hill-side; the miners took out more than three-quarters of its natural fill. To speed up removal of this unwanted material, they blasted a horizontal tunnel through the hillside to the bottom of the main shaft. Disgusted, no doubt, by finding no iron after so much work, they did not bother to remove that part of the breccia which today still forms an intact column, rich in fossils and stone tools, from top to bottom against the rear wall of the natural shaft, and which we have been excavating scientifically since 1994.

Chance discovery by a spelaeologist called Juan Carlos Blanco Gago in 1991 of a very important fossil, consisting of parts of the upper and lower jaws of a human face, which he noticed in the side of the natural shaft of Sima de las Palomas about three metres below the surface, drew our attention to the great research potential of the sediments in the shaft (Gibert, Walker, et al., 1994). The spelaeologist belonged to a local environmental conservation group, and he was descending the shaft on an abseil rope to find out what kinds of birds nested in the cave. He saw the fossil in the upper part of sediments banked against the rear wall of the shaft and pulled it out, without realizing what it was. Being a careful person, he saved it and showed it to us. On cleaning, it turned out to belong to the lower part of the face of a Neanderthal - parts of the upper and lower jaws, in fact. Neanderthals lived in Europe between 150,000-35,000 years ago, and are assigned to an extinct human subspecies, Homo sapiens neanderthalensis (or H. neanderthalensis for short).

Preliminary field-work by us at this site began in 1992 and continued in 1993, when, together with my palaeontologist friend, the late Dr Josep Gibert of the “Dr M.Crusafont” Palaeontological Institute and Museum at Sabadell (a satellite city of Barcelona), and our helpers, we sifted through rubble which iron-miners who entered the natural cave 100 years ago had piled up inside or thrown out onto the hillside. The miners had also driven a horizontal tunnel through the rock of the hillside to meet the bottom of the shaft. The tunnel became partly filled up with rubble which had fallen down the shaft, and has been removed and sieved to give us many important finds. The important task of sieving the mine rubble on the hillside and in the tunnel gave us 25 finds of Neanderthal bones or teeth. In 1997 a Neanderthal maxilla (upper jaw) bone was found this way. Other finds include parts of jawbones (mandibles) belonging to three adults and two children, various loose teeth, part of a child's maxillary bone of the face, parts of 2 adult cheekbones (zygomatic bones) and two fragments of the massive Neanderthal bony brow ridges over the eye socket, as well as several large fragments of bones of the skull vault - frontal, parietal, temporal and occipital bones. We have also found several vertebrae and fragments of arm bones (humerus, ulna), leg bones (femur, fibula), finger and toe bones, and part of a hip-bone. Some of the bones show traces of burning. B

Archaeology Field School Additional Information

Archaeology Field School Type


Time Period

Cueva Negra: 780,000-990,000 years ago Sima de las Palomas: ca. 50,000 years ago

Field School Setting/Conditions

Go to Long Description and consult BRIEFING YOU

How is the project area accessed each day

You will be met on pick-up/set-down dates at Murcia Airport and driven to our bases. We drive every day to our sites which are a short walk up hill from where we leave the vehicles.

What is the daily schedule for the field school

You will find this in Long Description; consult BERIEFING YOU

Number of years this Archaeology Field School has been in operation
Is there a professional certification for this field school

Spain has no certification system for archaeological field schools

Directors and Instructors

Professor Michael J. Walker, and Dr. María Haber-Uriarte and D. Mariano López-Martínez are the codirectors. All belong to the Murcia University Research Group that sponsors the field school and to MUPANTQUAT, and our staff instructors are drawn from those bodies (for more information, go to Long Description andf consult BRIEFING YOU)

Specialized skills you will have the opportunity to learn

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On rain days will there be lab work?


Will there be additional organized activities?

Yes: Go to Long Description and consult BRIEFING YOU

Will there be additional organized activities?

Yes: Go to Long Description and consult BRIEFING YOU

Is travel restriced during free time?

No, but the field school is very intensive and there is not much time to travel very far from our bases.

Other resources students will find useful

Go to Long Description and consult BRIEFING YOU

Archaeology Field School Contact Information and Website

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Field School Contact Information

Professor Michael Walker Dept of Zoology & Physical Anthropology Biology Faculty Murcia University Campus Universitario de Espinardo Edificio 20 30100 Murcia Spain

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