Vera becomes the first Neanderthal child of Ojo Guareña

The discovery of a Neanderthal milk tooth completes a successful campaign codirected by the CENIEH at Prado Vargas, in which a fireplace 25 cm in diameter, evincing control over fire by the Neanderthals who occupied this cave in Burgos over 45,000 years ago, also appeared

Today saw the conclusion of the fourth excavation campaign at the Prado Vargas cave, situated in the karstic complex of Ojo Guareña (Burgos), which started on August 1st with a team of fifteen researchers from the Centro Nacional de Investigación sobre Evolución Humana (CENIEH), the Universidad de Burgos (UBU) and the Museo de la Evolución Humana (MEH), with 2,000 remains from the Upper Pleistocene having been recovered.

The big surprise of the campaign took place on August 7th with the discovery of a human milk tooth belonging to the species Homo neandertalensis. The tooth, given the name Vera in honor of the granddaughter of Beni, the owner of the meadow where the site lies, is a lower deciduous molar shed by a boy or girl about 8 years old. This tooth is the first remains of this species encountered in Ojo Guareña, and confirms the occupation of this territory since at least 45,000 years ago.

Among the bones and teeth recovered from level 4th of this site, remains of red deer (Cervus elaphus), chamois (Rupicapra rupicapra), roe deer (Capreolus capreolus) wild horse (Equus ferus), badger (Meles meles), rabbit (Oryctolagus sp.), cave bear (Ursus spelaeus), bison (Bos bison) and red fox (Vulpes vulpes), among others, have been identified.

The bones are highly fragmented, with significant presence of radii, humeri, metatarsals and tibiae, because the Neanderthal groups carried the limbs of the animals they had hunted into the cavity, to use the meat and fracture the shafts of long bones to get at and consume the marrow. Of the rest of the skeleton, several vertebrae, a pair of cranium fragments and ribs have been discovered, as well as the palm of an antler and a goat's horn.

In relation to stone tools, around five hundred pieces have been found, the highlights being several points, racloirs, denticulate tools and notches, made of both flint and quartzite collected in the vicinity of the cavity. One of the features of this site is the significant presence of bone retouchers. These instruments are fragments of bone from animal extremities, around 10 cm long on average, which were used to strike and modify the edges of stone flakes, either for resharpening or when making tools.

Control over fire

The Neanderthals were the species that generalized the use of fire for cooking, warmth, processing materials like wood, and to extend daylight. At Prado Vargas, an important part of the material appears burned, and this must be seen in combination with the discovery on this campaign of the remains of the first combustion structure. This is a fireplace 25 cm in diameter which evinces control over fire by the Neanderthals who occupied this cave over 45,000 years ago.

Cueva de Prado Vargas