Atapuerca Mountains

The Atapuerca Mountains (Spanish: Sierra de Atapuerca) is a karstic hill formation near the village of Atapuerca, in the Province of Burgos (autonomous community of Castile and Leon), northern Spain. In a still ongoing excavation campaign, rich fossil deposits and stone tool assemblages were discovered which are attributed to the earliest known hominin residents in Western Europe.[1] This "exceptional reserve of data" has been deposited during extensive Lower Paleolithic presence, as the Atapuerca Mountains served as the preferred occupation site of Homo erectus, Homo antecessor (or Homo erectus antecessor), Homo heidelbergensis and Homo neanderthalensis[2] communities. The earliest specimen so far unearthed and reliably dated confirm an age between 1.2 Million and 630,000 years. Some finds are exhibited in the nearby Museum of Human Evolution, in Burgos.

Atapuerca Mountains
Sierra de Atapuerca
Atapuerca Mountains panorama
Location in Spain
Atapuerca Mountains (Spain)
Locationnear Atapuerca, Ibeas de Juarros
RegionBurgos, Castile and León
Coordinates42°22′0″N 3°31′20″W
Associated withHomo antecessor, Homo heidelbergensis, Homo neanderthalensis
Site notes
Excavation datessince 1964
ArchaeologistsFrancisco Jordá Cerdá
Official nameArchaeological Site of Atapuerca
CriteriaCultural: (iii)(v)
Inscription2000 (24th Session)
Area284.119 ha (702.07 acres)

Regional geography

Encompassing 284,119 ha (702,070 acres) or over 1000 square miles, the Atapuerca Mountains are a mid-altitude karstic range of small foothills around 1,080 m (3,540 ft) above sea level. They are located at the north-east corner of the Douro basin, to the south of the Cantabrian Mountains that run across northern Spain,[3] and stretch alongside the Bureba corridor, a mountain pass that connects the Ebro river valley with the Mediterranean Sea and the Duero basin. This conjunction constitutes an ecotone, which is rich in species of both ecosystems. The mountain pass was part of a causeway built by the Romans, as well as part of the pilgrimage route of Saint James; it is now traversed by the N-I and AP-1 highways. The mountains are strategically located between two major drainage divides and near the mountain pass; this location is assumed to have been a factor in the area's successful and prolonged hominid habitation.[4][5]


In 2008 scholars identified a new genus and species of red-toothed shrew from the Pleistocene layers of the Gran Dolina cave. Until this discovery, researchers had believed that the fossils found in this area were of the Beremendia fissidens type, but recent research has been published to support an Asiatic type called Dolinasorex glyphodon that might be endemic and is the earliest known type of soricid in the Iberian peninsula.[6]

Archaeological site

The archaeological site was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site, under the name, Archaeological Site of Atapuerca.[7][8]

Recorded history

Piedrahita ("standing stone") in the Atapuerca valley is according to records site of the Battle of Atapuerca, which took place in 1054 between the forces of Ferdinand I of Castile and his brother García V of Navarre.

Economic and demographic development

Apart from the typical dryland farming of the region, the municipality has grown significantly in economic, demographic and social level with the impact generated by the presence of the archaeological site and its associated services. 15% of the active population owns a job related to tourism. This "tertiarization" of their economy has reversed depopulation by growing and rejuvenating it (with the average age at 42 years).[9]

panoramic view of the Atapuerca site

See also


  1. "Homo heidelbergensis: Evolutionary Tree information". Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History. Retrieved January 26, 2017.
  3. Arsuaga, Juan (2009). The Neanderthal's Necklace: In Search of the First Thinkers. Basic Books. ISBN 9780786740734.
  4. ". Geographic setting of the Sierra de Atapuerca and map of the... - Figure 1 of 14". Retrieved January 26, 2017.
  5. "No. 2516: Atapuerca". Retrieved January 26, 2017.
  6. ROFES, J. and CUENCA‐BESCÓS, G. (2009), A new genus of red‐toothed shrew (Mammalia, Soricidae) from the Early Pleistocene of Gran Dolina (Atapuerca, Burgos, Spain), and a phylogenetic approach to the Eurasiatic Soricinae. Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society, 155: 904-925. doi:10.1111/j.1096-3642.2008.00470.x
  7. "Archaeological Site of Atapuerca - UNESCO World Heritage Centre". Retrieved January 26, 2017.
  8. "Landforms And Geomorphological Processes In The Duero Basin. Pleistocene Geoarcheology Of Ambrona And Atapuerca Sites" (PDF). Retrieved January 27, 2017.
  9. "Creation of economic and demographic development [Social Impact]. ATAPUERCA project". SIOR. Social Impact Open Repository.
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