A series of discoveries is revealing that the first inhabitants of Europe settled in a remote and rugged corner of Granada approximately 1.4 million years ago.
The city of Orce is located in the heart of the Altiplano de Granada, in southern Spain, has 1,300 inhabitants and is surrounded by a tapestry of dry wastelands, deep canyons and crystal-clear reservoirs that stretch as far as the eye can see. .
Few travelers venture to this remote corner of Andalusiabut those who do get a fascinating glimpse into Europe’s past.
If you take the winding road 140 kilometers northeast of Granada, passing through the serrated ridges of the Sierra de Huétor Park and the arid steppe plains of the Sierra de Baza Park to Orce, you soon reach this modest hilltop village, with a unique environment.
The village is home to a deep secret: it is believed to contain the remains of the continent’s first humans. In fact, archaeological discoveries in this rural region not only reveal glimpses of where Europeans came from, but also how different the natural world was when humans first set foot on the continent.
“Stones that look like bones”
In 1976, a local farmer named Tomás Serrano began stumbling upon what looked like fossilized remains in his fields.
Recognizing the potential for his discoveries to be important, He showed them to his neighbors and family, explaining that he had found “stones that look like bones.”.
When he contacted local authorities, they did not attach much importance to his findings. But when three members of the Catalan Institute of Paleontology later traveled to the area and examined Serrano’s finds, they confirmed that his hunch was correct: these were no ordinary stones.
The Serrano estate and its surroundings soon became a working archaeological site, and when a team of experts descended near Orce in the following years, discovered a continuous presence of fossilized remains of large mammals dating to approximately 1.5 to 1.6 million years ago.
This fossil layer was formed in an environment of freshwater ponds, near the ancient lake of Orce-Baza, where the bones were deposited and buried in the calcareous mud that covered them.
A surprising discovery
In 2002, as archaeologists continued to excavate the region, they made a surprising discovery in Barranco León, located about four kilometers from Serrano’s farm.
There, buried on the western slope of the ravine14 meters below the surface, the team found the fossilized remains of a child’s tooth.
After extensive testing methods (including electron spin resonance, paleomagnetism, and biochronology), Experts confirmed that the molar dates back to a staggering 1.4 million yearsmaking it the oldest remaining Homo genus on the continent.
The tooth, carefully excavated between layers of sediment, It belongs to a boy who lived in a time when it is believed that humans were just beginning to make fire. This small artifact contains within it the traces of a distant world: the toothy smile of a child frozen in time, in an era when our distant ancestors hunted prey and at the same time tried to avoid being hunted.
A look at a very different Europe
One of the most fascinating aspects of the fossilized finds from the Orce region is that they not only reveal glimpses of humans’ distant past, but also of the ancient landscape of southern Europe.
About 1.6 million years ago, a major lake known as Orce-Baza dominated parts of this region.
When it receded, fresh underground water took its place, leading to a wide range of creatures thriving here. Mammoths, hyenas, saber-toothed tigers, hippos and deer coexisted in this ancient landscape, along with the first hominids of the genus Homo in Europe.
According to Juan Manuel Jiménez Arenas, paleoanthropologist and director of the ORCE Project, “The biodiversity of this site is only comparable to that found in today’s large African parks. And looking at the almost desert lands, it is difficult to imagine that hippos frolicked here and that large short-faced hyenas rested under wild olive and oak trees near freshwater ponds.”
“The Silicon Valley of prehistory”
As excavations continued in the following years, archaeologists discovered additional findings that surprised them: not only was Orce found to contain the oldest human remains in Europe, but The people who inhabited this area about 1.4 million years ago appeared to have used highly innovative techniques to make their stone tools. that would not be used again for 400,000 years, leading experts to declare this site “the Silicon Valley of prehistoric times.”
At the center of this discovery are spherical-shaped stone balls known as spheroids.
These intriguing limestone tools denote high cognitive abilities, knowledge of geometry, as well as the physical characteristics of the raw materials used.
To obtain these carved tools, early humans had to search for the right raw material (fine-grained limestone) and carefully plan each of their blows with a hammer-like object.
Experts believe that the carvers of Barranco León had a preconceived idea of the final product, very fine motor skills and a hierarchy in the carving gestures.
An authentic open-air museum
Thanks to its prehistoric importance and its notable geological richness, The Orce area was recognized in 2020 as a UNESCO World Geopark.
In addition, the region has several museums dedicated to prehistory, including the museum of the First Settlers of Europe in Orce. Here, visitors can marvel at the innovative stone tools used by our ancestors and the impressive bones of mammoths.
Another notable site is the Piedra del Letrero in the nearby town of Huéscar, a famous cave containing elaborate paintings. The deep red depictions of animals and figures date back more than 6,000 years and offer a fascinating glimpse into antiquity.
There are also several companies offering guided tours of the Granada highlands, from the local archaeological museums to the mountains, allowing people to follow in the footsteps of Europe’s first inhabitants.
Especially on weekends, the surrounding wastelands and rugged limestone mountains attract numerous cyclists and hikers eager to explore this hidden corner of Spain.
Even in winter, when the biting wind and low temperatures begin, enthusiasts brave the elements, announcing the arrival of the always welcome snow.
Modern cave houses
Eight kilometers west of Orce, the town of Galera emerges as a captivating testimony of the past.
Here, thousands of cave houses, carved into the bedrock and hills, whisper stories of a bygone era. These houses, of troglodyte and prehistoric origin, They are believed to date back to Arab times (beginning in 711 AD).
Today, these caves not only serve as contemporary dwellings, but also constitute a living connection to the enduring history of the Altiplano region, weaving a seamless thread from ancient times to modern times.
For adventurous travelers, these caves provide an immersive accommodation and cultural experience.
With panoramic views and carefully curated interiors, each cave house tells a story of resilience and adaptation.
Beyond its archaeological importance, The region’s small towns enchant visitors with their many cobblestone streets, quaint cafes and local marketsproviding a sample of traditional Spanish culture.
This is also one of the best places to try the area’s famous Segureño lamb, a local sheep related to the shepherds of this region.
The trail of the first settlers of Europe
From Iberians to Romans to Muslims, wave after wave of different people and cultures eventually followed these early humans here.
Each of them found a home in this rugged landscape and at the same time left their mark on it.
One way to understand and experience this layered history firsthand is to embark on the Great Trail of the First European Settlers: a 143 km itinerary that allows travelers to travel its length by car, bicycle or on foot.
The route passes through the towns of Huéscar, Castril, Castilléjar, Galera, Orce and La Puebla de Don Fadrique. The imposing La Sagra mountain (2,383m) dominates the trail’s horizon, and the journey itself is a scenic adventure through traditional Andalusian countryside.
Whether on two wheels, four wheels or on foot, this is a region to be absorbed slowly, allowing for spontaneous detours to centuries-old towns to discover hidden treasures along the way, many of which are still being unearthed.
Remember that you can receive notifications from BBC News Mundo. Download the latest version of our app and activate them so you don’t miss our best content.
Do you already know our YouTube channel? Subscribe!
This news article has been translated from the original language to English by WorldsNewsNow.com.
You can visit the original source at the link below.
Original Source Link