MADRID – Archaeologists said Wednesday they have found a flint blade dating back 1.4 million years in the caves of Atapuerca in Spain, the earliest sign of a human presence at the site.
The 3-cm-long blade was found in the so-called Elephant Chasm cave, where researchers in 2007 found a human finger and jawbone dating back 1.2 million years — considered the remains of the “oldest European” ever found.
The discovery of the blade, which occurred this year and is considered to be “of great value,” came from a carving knife, said Eduald Carbonell, one of the directors of the dig, during a presentation of the discovery to reporters.
The site, near the northern city of Burgos, has been under excavation since 1978. In 2000 it was classed by UNESCO as a piece of world heritage.
The oldest parts of the site are 1½ million years old.
Stone tools discovered here confirm the continuity of human settlement in Europe, the researchers said.
The finding contradicts the theory of some researchers who believe Europe was populated in small waves without continuity by groups doomed to extinction because of their inability to adapt to new surroundings, they said in their statement.
“Even though they are very archaic tools, they reflect complex activities such as recovering animals that fell into the caves,” which functioned as traps, the statement said.
Researchers have also found the remains of a large bear that is an ancestor to the modern-day brown bear. Various remains of this species, as well as those of other animals, including rhinos, giant deer, bison and wild donkeys, were found at the site.
During the current digging season, which just wrapped up, archaeologists presented another rare item they had discovered: the fossilized shoulder blade of a child between the ages of 4 and 6 dating back 800,000 years.
It was discovered in 2005, but since it was trapped in a block of calcified clay, seven years of work was needed to extract it.