Archaeological Site of Atapuerca


Country: Spain

Date of Nomination: 28 July 1999

Reasons for Nomination:

III. To bear a unique or at least exceptional testimony to a cultural tradition or to a civilization which is living or which has disappeared.

V. To be an outstanding example of a traditional human settlement, land-use, or sea-use which is representative of a culture (or cultures), or human interaction with the environment especially when it has become vulnerable under the impact to irreversible change.

Number of Sites in Spain:  39 total sites (including 37 Cultural and 2 Mixed Heritage)

Basic Archaeological Site Information:

Time Period: 2.4 million to c 10,000 BP

Cultural Period: Pleistocene epoch of the Quaternary period

Cultural Group:  Homo antecessor and Homo heidelbergensis

Archaeological Summary:

This site was found in the 1890s by the Sierra Company, a British firm, who was trying to build a railroad through this particular region of Spain.  The Sierra Company removed sediment portion of the cave Gran Dolina.  Once this grouping of caves was discovered, researchers also found the cave Sima de los Huesos, which literally means the Pit of Bones.  Together, Gran Dolinaand Sima de los Huesos, make the site of Atapuerca a very important archaeological find because these caves led to a greater understanding of the earliest hominids in Western Europe.  At first, researchers only found animal bones, but in 1910 noted ancient cave paintings signifying human existence.

The people of the Gran Dolina, mostly consisting of Homo antecessor, date back to around 800,000 years ago.  These fossils differ from those in Africa, Asia and other parts of Europe.  Researchers found only ninety fossils, which have not provided them with much information.  Within these ninety fossils researchers have found six different hominids.  They have also found many stone tools, which left many cut marks on animal and human bones at the site.  This meant that these hominids were known to consume humans in addition to animals.  The people of the Sima de los Huesos, Homo heidelbergensis, dated back to around 350-500,000 years ago.  They were considered to be reasonably tall, males reaching about 5’7’’.  They were robustly built and thought to be directly related to the Neanderthals.  Researchers have found thirty fossils, believe they suffered from disease and injury, and think they probably used throwing spears and built fires because of the lack of evidence found at the site.

This site of Atapuerca is considered to be one of the most important archaeological regions in all of Europe due to its findings of a variation of hominids from a range of time periods.  Also, there were an abundance of fossils, features (art findings) and artifacts (stone tools) in these caves.  These fossils also were considered to be the first Western European settlers.


There are no known threats to this site at this time.


Caves of Atapuerca

Sima de los Huesos


World Heritage Site Link:

Works Cited

“Atapuerca (Spain) No 989.” World Heritage Center Report. World Heritage Center, n.d. Web. 25 Oct. 2010. <;. American Museum of Natural History, 13 Apr. 2003. Web. 24 Oct. 2010.             <;.


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