La Malia site, a window onto the Upper Paleolithic in the Iberian Peninsula interior

CENIEH 23 Set 2020
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The 2020 excavation campaign at the Tamajón karst in Guadalajara (Spain) and, specifically, at the rockshelter known as La Malia, has been very fruitful, despite its brevity, the result of the COVID-19 public health alarm, and numerous remains of lithic and bone industry have been recovered.

In addition, in this 4th Campaign, which took place from September 4th to 11th, faunal remains with evidence of consumption by human populations during two periods in the Upper Paleolithic were recovered: the more recent being in the Solutrean period, and the older one, of which only a very small area has been excavated so far, in the earliest stages of the Upper Paleolithic.

“These findings corroborate the presence of humans in the interior of the Iberian Peninsula at the onset of the Upper Paleolithic and are of great relevance for understanding the population dynamics in this inhospitable region”, say Adrián Pablos and Nohemi Sala, researchers at the Centro Nacional de Investigación sobre la Evolución Humana (CENIEH), who have been directing the excavations since 2017.

The investigation at this site is being undertaken by a multidisciplinary team of researchers in geology, archaeology, paleontology, taphonomy and paleoanthropology from different Spanish institutions, led by the CENIEH, and including: the Universidad Complutense de Madrid, Universidad del País Vasco, Universidad de Cantabria, Centro Mixto UCM-ISCIII, Universidad de Alcalá, Universidad de Oviedo, Universidad de Zaragoza and the IPHES.

This year's campaign, which was financed by the CENIEH and the project ERC MULTIPALEOIBERIA, and had the permission and support of the Viceconsejería de Cultura y Deportes of the Junta de Comunidades de Castilla la Mancha, has stood out for the strict measures of hygiene and social distancing for the researchers, and required serological tests for the team members, reductions in excavation time and personnel, as well as limitations on the visits.

A key site
The chronology between the disappearance of the Neanderthals and the occupation of the territory by anatomically modern humans is little represented in the center of the Iberian Peninsula. The archaeological record hints at a very sparse human population in the Meseta and the Central System between 28,000 and 42,000 years ago, probably due to climatic and ecological conditions driven by severe aridity, highly unfavorable to recurrent occupation by human groups. Nevertheless, recent excavations are providing new and valuable information on this period.

The paleoecological data of macro and microfauna and isotopic markers in stalagmites are being used to try to infer the climatic conditions in this period and how they could have influenced human populations. Likewise, sediment and bone surface analyses are helping us to understand the site formation processes and the forms of subsistence of the human populations occupying the rockshelter.

Finally, it should be mentioned that the La Malia rockshelter was also occupied in more recent periods by farming groups who excavated structures (silos and pits) directly in the Paleolithic sediments for their day-to-day activities. The sedimentary fillings in these structures contain ceramic, lithic and bone materials that are allowing researchers to analyze the ways of life and funerary practices of these populations from this region's recent prehistory.

“The Tamajón karst sites, and the La Malia rockshelter in particular, offer a window onto the past which will undoubtedly shed light onto one of the least-known periods of the peninsular interior in future campaigns”, conclude the two codirectors.


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