For many years, the Malalmuerzo (“bad lunch”) cave near Granada, Spain, located near rocky farmland, was open to the public. Local residents ducked under the low ceiling and made their way through the stalactites, and some crawled to the depths of the cave and the early paintings.
They brought home “an artifact […] ceramics, pieces of bone, etc. writes a local businessman. In 1983 the first archaeologists showed up, but the hunt for memories continued until local authorities closed down Malalmuerzo, now an important site for the study of early humans.
The first humans and a missing link
A new paper led by the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology reports the discovery of 23,000-year-old human teeth – the remains of a person believed to have lived during the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM), making them the first of their kind.
Archaeologists have long studied how early Europeans weathered the coldest period of the last ice age, when glaciers covered 25% of the world’s landmass and sea levels plummeted. Many people migrated to the relatively warm Iberian Peninsula, especially to its southern part, which is only about 8 miles from North Africa.
The new discovery fills a crucial missing link between the Aurignacian group of early humans, which lived before the LGM, and the Magdalenian, which lived after. The researchers attributed the new person to the Solutrean group, which first appeared in Iberia around 24,000 years ago and fashioned a range of new stone tools. For the most part, archaeologists map the movement of groups from this era by painstakingly analyzing their tools and implements.
New in the Solutréan group
The Solutrean settled heavily on the Atlantic and Mediterranean coasts and largely remained away from the central plateau of Spain. Territorialism also drove the group to the mountainous regions in the north of the country, according to the study. But that did not push the Solutean towards North Africa.
“Why the Strait of Gibraltar was a barrier at the end of the last ice age is still one of the unresolved questions of archaeological research in the Western Mediterranean region,” says Gerd-Christian Weniger from the University of Cologne. . in a press release.
Researchers recovered Malalmuerzo’s DNA from the pair of incisor-like teeth and ultimately concluded that they belonged to the same person, the 23,000-year-old individual. This means that the person would have lived around the same time that humans painted a horse and a bull and other abstract shapes on the cave walls.
The Solutrean rock art resembles that of the ancient Gravettian culture, which spread throughout Europe about 32,000 years ago and contributed to young Solutreans. The study concluded that at the height of the Gravettian influence, one of the two “genetically distinct groups” formed the other group, which adapted its technologies more to cope with extreme cold.
After the Solutreans survived the Ice Age, they saw agriculture established in Europe, thanks to migrants from what is now Asia Minor. While some of the hunter-gatherers have spread into a warming Europe, others have remained in the Iberian Peninsula and mixed with the farmers there.
“Amazingly, the genetic heritage of Paleolithic hunter-gatherers is still detectable among the first farmers of the southern Iberian Peninsula,” says Vanessa Villalba-Mouco of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in a press release, “indicating a local mix between two population groups with very different lifestyles.”