The 700 new prehistoric remains found in Cova Eiros this summer will help to the better understanding of some aspects of the neanderthal life

Cave bear remains that used the rock shelter to hibernate are notable

Anthropic action is confirmed through the cutmarks on the animal bones consumed by the hominids

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This summer the work has been developed by an 11 members team which have excavated in the Cova Eiros (Lugo, Galicia, Spain), resulted in over 700 new prehistoric remains, including fauna and lithic tools that will help to better understand some aspects of the daily life of the neanderthal communities that inhabited that area between 84,000 and 118,000 years ago.

The excavation has been co-directed by Xosé-Pedro Rodriguez and Arturo de Lombera, member and collaborator of the IPHES (Institut Català de Paleoecologia Humana i Evolució Social) respectively, under the research project directed by Ramón Fábregas form the Grupo de Estudos para a Prehistoria do Noroeste (GEPN) of the Universidade de Santiago de Compostela (USC). The team was made up of people from both institutions, experts and students from the Erasmus Mundus Master in Quaternary Archaeology and Human Evolution imparted at the Universitat Rovira i Virgili of Tarragona, thanks to the top-level research projects developed by the IPHES.

Arturo de Lombera said that this year the findings in Cova Eiros “provide good information about some aspects of neanderthal communities, for example, their technology or the environmental context they knew, as we have very few evidence in the peninsular northwest for this period”.

One of the objectives for this year excavation has been to reach level 3 on the entire surface of Cova Eiros, dating 84,000 years ago, that corresponds to the latest occupation of the neanderthal populations identified in this cave. It has been also developed a 4 square meters intervention, in level 4, with an older chronology, about 118,000 years, also assigned to the Middle Paleolithic.

“At both levels we have found many faunal remains, especially cave bears who used the place to hibernate, animal fossils with cutmarks, which confirm anthropic action, specifically its consumption by neanderthals. There is great a remains diversity, highlighting deer and horses, which are strongly fragmented and with evident anthropic intervention marks (cutting, fracturing bones, etc.).

Moreover, the traceology studies indicate the presence of related hunting activities (projectile points), fleshing and furs work activities, as well as the animals processing and their products (furswork).

Pieces mainly made in quartz and quartzite

Respect to the lithic industry, “We found pieces mainly made in quartz and quartzite, of local origin within 3 km in radius, although some of these second mentioned might have a more distant origin, possibly from shores and channels located more than 10 kilometers away”, says Arturo de Lombera. These materials are made of a much higher quality, and moved to the site. Mostly produced with Levallois technology (a complex flaking procedure), which is preferably carried out on this material because of its higher quality, whereas in the local quartzites and quartz, expeditious exploitation methods were mainly applied. This differential management strategy of the raw materials based on the quality is typical of neanderthal communities and indicates the high degree of knowledge they had about the lithological offer in the environment, and the existence of planning strategies for their activities.

Funerary activity

Furthermore, a ceramic piece with printed decoration, waiting for the laboratory studies, is probably dated around 4,700 years ago, as it has been found at the same level where in 2011 a few remains from the same vessel were recovered, and that are probably related to the funerary activity identified in the cave, inferred from the human remains found in the cavity with that age; the ceramic could have been part of the grave goods of the burial that took place during the recent Prehistory. In addition, this style corresponds to the stylistic modes from that period (cardial impressed decoration).

In Cova Eiros the systematic excavation has been developed since 2008, under the project of the Middle Pleistoce/Holocene of the eastern regions of Galicia  (MINECO-HAR2010-21786). The work that has been carried out shows the importance of the Middle Paleolithic in Galicia, which is still an unknown period. There are just a few sites and this is the only cave, where the preservation of the organic remains it’s very important, the rest of the sites are mainly outdoor, with acid soils that makes the materials preservation more vulnerable and where most of the time are not preserved.

The Cova Eiros sequence is also very complete, since it has preserved both, tools and faunal remains (lion, deer, horses, chamois, etc.) both hunted by neandethals and sapiens. “This brings a lot of information where we can compare subsistence patterns and technology of both species, as well as to characterize the paleoenvironmental setting in the eastern of Sierras de Galicia”.

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