A new fieldwork season in Eritrea, the Horn of Africa, provides new remains of giant mammals, plant trunks and artifacts older than one million years ago

These findings will help to understand the climate and ecology of the Early Pleistocene times in the Engel Ela-Ramud basin.

The field season, carried out from February 16th to March 11th, was co-directed by Bienvenido Martínez-Navarro, ICREA Research Professor at IPHES

This field work has been financed by the Palarq Foundation and the Spanish Ministry of Culture


From February 16th to March 11th, a team of paleontologists, archeologists and geologists, co-led by Bienvenido Martínez-Navarro, ICREA Research Professor (Catalan Institution of Research and Advanced Studies) attached to IPHES Catalan Institute of Human Paleoecology and Social Evolution), and Tsegai Medin, researcher at the Eritrean Commission of Culture and Sports (ECCS), carried out the eighth fieldwork season at the Engel Ela-Ramud basin, in the northernmost sector of the African Rift Valley, in the Afar triangle, near the place where the famous Lucy, the Australopithecus afarensis fossil female skeleton, was discovered. New remains of giant fauna, fossilized plant trunks and artifacts, older than a million years ago, were found, and will help to a better understanding of the climate and ecology of that period in Africa.

New remains of fossilized plant trunks, older than a million years ago, were found – Photo: Proyecto Engel Ela-Ramud

After the paleontological and archaeological surveys carried out in the Delahaitu, Gameré and Bolali areas, important Acheulian lithic artifacts and fossils of large mammals were found, some of them on the surface and many others in their original position, especially corresponding to buffalos, elephants and pigs. In addition, a new level with fossils in situ was found at the Erau sector in which two incomplete craniums of giant hippopotamus (Hippopotamus gorgops) appeared. These works have been done by Lorenzo Rook and Luca Pandolfi, from the University of Florence, Tsegai Medin and Dawit Araia from the ECCS, the restorer hired by the IPHES, Jesús Peinado, and Bienvenido Martínez-Navarro.

The same team has surveyed by first time the sector of Dibokole-Diaritana, where some bone remains and, especially, trunks of fossilized plants have been discovered.  These findings will allow to know the tree species present in the region during the Early Pleistocene.

The excavation at the site of Luba Gadhi II-Gallardo continued under the direction of Antoni Canals (IPHES-URV), with the collaboration of Abel Ghirmay, Isaias Tesfazghi and Samuel Tesfamariam (ECCS). A total of 14 m2 were dug and 44 records corresponding to Acheulian lithic artifacts and fauna were recovered, mostly corresponding to crocodile, hippopotamus and a giant pig called Metridichoerus compactus.

The fieldwork season in Eritrea provides artifacts too – Foto: Proyecto Engel Ela-Ramud

The geological works led by Prof. Oriol Oms of the UAB have also continued, collecting new cartographic data, but also sampling various stratigraphic series (Ado Qwawleh, Sasaktoli, Gameré, Luba Gadhi and Erau) for the study of isotopes through the records of ostracods and gastropods, by Alejandro Granados from the University of Málaga, which will help to a better understanding of the climate and ecology of the basin during the Early Pleistocene.

The last week of the season, already in the capital of Eritrea, Asmara, was devoted to the restoration and study of archaeological and paleontological materials in the Laboratory of the Commission for Culture and Sports, directed by Tsegai Medin.

This project, entitled “Archaeological and paleontological study of the Plio-Pleistocene from the Engel Ela-Ramud basin, Danakil depression (Eritrea)”, began in 2012 with the active participation of Professor Eudald Carbonell (IPHES, URV, Fundación Atapuerca), who was co-director until last year, and is funded by the Palarq Foundation and the Spanish Ministry of Culture.