Juan Luis Arsuaga

Universidad Complutense de Madrid


Election Year: 2002
Primary Section: 51, Anthropology
Secondary Section: 15, Geology
Membership Type: Foreign Associate

Research Interests

As a palaeoanthropologist I am mainly concerned with the fossil evidence for human evolution. My research has focused on the Atapuerca sites, a series of caves located in a hill in northern Spain with a fossil record that spans from more than a million years ago up to the Bronze Age. In the Lower Pleistocene levels at the Gran Dolina site some 80 hominid fossils have been discovered. Dating to around 800,000 years ago, they represent some of the oldest human fossils in Europe. Our analysis of these remains has led us to define a new species of hominid, Homo antecessor, which represents the last common ancestor of the Neanderthal and modern human lineages. The human remains from this site also represent the earliest evidence of cannibalistic practices in the fossil record. The Middle Pleistocene site of the Sima de los Huesos has yielded more than 3,000 hominid remains dated to between 350,000-400,000 years ago and representing at least 28 individuals. These hominids represent an early ancestor of the Neanderthals. Together with the human fossils a single hand axe has been recovered, leading us to believe that the site represents the earliest evidence of both funerary practice and symbolic behavior.

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