Field Trip

Atapuerca complex and surroundings

Sierra de Atapuerca is a low rise ( 1085 m.a.m.s.l.) just 15 km east of Burgos. It sits on the north-eastern edge of the Cenozoic basin of the Duero River, and is part of the Mesozoic boundary of the Iberian Range. It is separated from the southern edge of the Cantabrian Range by a tectonic corridor, known as the Bureba Corridor, which links the Tertiary depressions of the Duero and Ebro River valleys. The Sierra forms a positive relief connected to a SE-NW anticline. It is composed of Mesozoic rocks, mainly Upper Cretaceous limestone and dolomite.

The landscape in this region evolved under the influence of Neogene erosion-sedimentation and ascent cycles and the incision of the current river valleys during the Quaternary. The Arlanzón River has 14 terrace levels, now 92-97 m above the modern river bed. This has shaped a hierarchy of open air formations and a major set of multilevel caves.

The Sierra de Atapuerca caves form a sub-horizontal sequence with three levels of ducts set 90, 70 and 60 m above the today’s Arlanzón River bed. This karst system contains 4.7 km of explored passages, including the Cueva Mayor-Cueva del Silo Complex, Cueva Peluda and Cueva del Compresor, and the sediment-filled entrances of the cavities in the Railway Cutting: Sima del Elefante, Gran Dolina and the Galería Complex.

These features have shaped a transitional landscape between mountain and plateau domains, with a variety of biotopes thanks to the magnificent biogeographical location under Mediterranean, Atlantic and continental influences. The rich ecosystem, evidence of which has been preserved in the numerous cave infills, has been exploited intensively by different groups over time.

The CAREX of Atapuerca is a space of the Junta de Castilla y León dedicated to the dissemination of experimentation in Archaeology. Thanks to this discipline we can get to know precisely how tools, huts, textiles, ceramics or works of art were made and used in the past.

This centre has two complementary spaces: the exterior area and the interior area. The exterior area is articulated in a chronological tour, where the visitor knows the evolution of the technological innovations along the History of Humanity. The inner area contains the first permanent exhibition on Experimental Archaeology held in Spain. This exhibition follows a thematic axis from the main disciplines of study in which Experimental Archaeology is divided: (1) lithic carving, (2) tool production over time, (3) tool use, (4) fire production, (5) evolution of the habitat throughout Prehistory, (6) ceramics, (7) weaving and basketworking and (8) art and musical instruments. Throughout this tour the visitor can see and also touch many of the replicas of archaeological materials made with the same techniques used in each period and even use some of these instruments. In this way the visitor also becomes an experimenter in the techniques of the past and at the same time learns part of our research process in these matters.

This centre has also been institutionally integrated within the international association of Experimental Archaeology EXARC (Archaeological Open Air Museums, Experimental Archaeology, Ancient technology and Interpretation).

“Paleolítico Vivo” is a reserve linked to a project that aims to reintroduce European bison and Przewalski horses (endangered prehistoric horses) in the area around Atapuerca (Burgos). It allows the visitor to see and learn about some of the animals that lived in Europe 10,000 years ago in an environment of extraordinary natural wealth. It also makes it possible to approach Prehistory, not only through its fossils or replicas, but also directly through the protagonists of those ecosystems that roamed throughout the Upper Palaeolithic.

In a 4×4 safari, 10,000 years later, you can observe the species that shared territory with our ancestors.

“Mina Esperanza” is located in Olmos de Atapuerca, 18 km from Paleolítico Vivo.

Its history begins around 1908 but it is not well into the XX century that the mining activity is noticeable. The first citation of its exploitation dates to 1940.
Mining was carried out along two transverse faults located between the elevations of 920 m. and 860 m. The thickness of both mineral-rich beds was 15 m. and 8 m. respectively. The target mineral was brown hematite with an iron content of 55%.

The mine remained active until 1973 when profits plummeted due to the high cost of transportation it. In 2007, the Olmos de Atapuerca Neighbourhood Council began the rehabilitation of a portion of the mining complex. Since 2013 the Esperanza Mine has been open to the public.