7th CENIEH Excavation Campaign at the Paleolithic sites of Ambrona and Torralba

Manuel Santonja, who directed the excavations until 2016, recently received the donation of documentation by the archaeologist Dolores Echaide for these sites in Soria, which is of great historiographical and scientific interest

From today and over the following three weeks, the 7th Excavation Campaign by the Centro Nacional de Investigación sobre la Evolución Humana (CENIEH) will be undertaken at the Paleolithic sites of Ambrona and Torralba, located in the province of Soria, led by Susana Rubio-Jara and Joaquín Panera, and with the participation of other researchers from the Center, such as Manuel Santonja, Andoni Tarriño, Abel Moclán, Patricia Bello, Joseba Rios and Theodoros Karampaglidis.

Torralba has a later chronology than Ambrona, between 300,000 and 200,000 years old, but the stone tools were made using Acheulean technology, like at the lower levels of Ambrona, while the tools from the upper levels at Ambrona correspond to the Middle Paleolithic.

“Thus, these sites have allowed hypotheses to be proposed about the coexistence of human groups with different technologies, belonging to different human species”, says Panera.

The work carried out in Torralba between 1990 and 2000 was much more limited than that performed in Ambrona, for which reason this year's campaign, with financing from the Junta de Castilla y León and the Ministerio de Ciencia, Innovación y Universidades, is going to focus fundamentally on the former one.

Dolores Echaide donation

As part of the CENIEH research project, Santonja has just published a paper in the journal Munibe focused on the contribution by the recently deceased archaeologist Dolores Echaide, from San Sebastián, to the excavations conducted at the sites of Ambrona and Torralba by Professors F. C. Howell and L. G. Freeman, both from the United States, in the 1960s and 1980s.

The text published in Munibe is based on the documentation furnished in 2016 by Ana Echaide, sister of the late archaeologist, to Santonja, at that time co-director, jointly with Alfredo Pérez González, of the work at these sites in Soria.

Echaide's notes contain important references to the researchers who collaborated, the methodology and the areas excavated in the campaigns directed by the American professors. Of special interest are the originals in Spanish of two monographs, both practically complete, one on the results obtained at Torralba between 1961 and 1963, and another on the Ambrona campaigns of 1980 and 1981.

This is information of great historiographical and scientific interest, complementary to that facilitated by Prof. White to the Ambrona and Torralba research team, from the archive of Prof. Howell held at the University of California, and in response to a request made in 2013 by Pérez González. In July, during the celebration of the Tench Anniversary of the Center at the Human Evolution Complex, Prof. White announced the donation to the CENIEH of the entirety of the original documentation held in this archive.

Ambrona 1963


Over 100 years of excavations

Torralba was discovered in 1888 and was excavated for the first time between 1909 and 1911 by the Marquis of Cerralbo (1845-1922), who also intervened at Ambrona between 1914 and 1916, situated 2.5 kilometers away. His activities were among the very first carried out at open-air Paleolithic sites anywhere in the world, and the results were of great transcendence, as they demonstrated the contemporary existence of man with extinct fauna, at a time when the nature and antiquity of the early stages of humanity were still being discussed.

Between 1961 and 1963, Professor F.C. Howell, from the United States, continued with the investigations at both sites, developing an innovative interdisciplinary project for the first time in Europe, made up of prehistorians, geologists and paleontologists, among whom were K. W. Butzer, E. Aguirre, P. Biberson (1909-1992) and L. G. Freeman (1935-2012).

On the basis of this work, Torralba and Ambrona were considered twin sites in relation to their geological formation and chronology, and they came to form part of the world iconography for those schools of thought arguing for human hunting capacity from the earliest stages.

In 1990, Santonja and Pérez-González resumed the investigations, concluding that the two sites were not contemporaneous, with different chronology and with much more limited human intervention than that originally supposed.