Spain Trip, Day #1: Caves of the First European Hominids

On Day #1 (Sunday, 14 October), we visited Sima del Elefante: a cave near the town of Atapuerca in northwest Spain.  In 2008, 1.2-million-year-old hominid teeth were found in this cave, making this the oldest evidence for hominid occupation of Europe.

The Geologic Context

The cave system is part of a Cretaceous-age limestone deposit that formed as part of an inland sea.  This was long after the Variscan Orogeny.  Pangaea had rifted apart, and Spain was still attached to France.  When Africa rifted away to the south, the Spain rotated to make room, causing seafloor spreading in the Bay of Biscay.  This resulted in a transgressing sea, which deposited the cherts and limestones that would eventually become the caves at Atapuerca.  These cherts would become the materials for early tools of the earliest European hominids.