Evolution of multilevel caves in the Sierra de Atapuerca (Burgos, Spain) and its relation to human occupation


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Publication Date

August 2013


The evolution of the Torcas cave system (Sierra de Atapuerca) is analysed in order to shed light on the formation of the Atapuerca archaeological sites and human occupation in the area, critical for identifying the paths of the first human dispersal into Europe. The geomorphological analysis of the endokarst system and the regional base levels has revealed a multilevel cave system, with drainage directions from south to north, where old karst springs fed the Pico River. Using morphological and topographic evidence we have correlated the fluvial terraces situated at relative heights of + 84–80 m and + 78–70 m above the Arlanzón River (main course), with the first and second cave levels, respectively, both of Early Pleistocene age. The fluvial levels T4 (+ 60–67 m) and T5 (+ 50–54 m) are linked with the third level (Early–Middle Pleistocene), which contains fluvial deposits probably related to terrace T6 (+ 44–46 m). Progressive fluvial incision allowed humans to gain access to the cave system through several entrances from ~ 1.22 Myr until the end of the Middle Pleistocene, when these cave entrances became filled, forming the most interesting hominid-bearing deposits in Europe.


Karst, Multilevel Caves, Fluvial Incision, Archaeological Site, Pleistocene




Geomorphology, Vol. 196 (2013-08-01).