They find a jaw from 15,000 years ago in Tarragona

This afternoon, the head of the Archaeological and Paleontological Heritage Service of the Department of Culture of the Generalitat, Maria Teresa Miró Alaix; the Minister of Culture of the Regional Council of the Barberà Basin, Silvia Iturria y March; the mayor of Vimbodí and Poblet, Joan Canela Rios, and the director of IPHES-BÚSQUEDA, Robert Sala y Ramos, have participated in the presentation of the human remains recovered in the archaeological site of Molino del Salto (Barberà Basin) together with the directors of the excavations Manuel Vaquero, IPHES-BUSCA researcher and professor at the Rovira y Virgili University, and Susana Alonso, IPHES-BUSCA researcher.

The work carried out last May at the Molí del Sal site will form part of the history of human evolution and Catalan prehistory. The excavation of level B2 has surprised researchers with an exceptional find. These are the remains of a human jaw belonging to an infant individual of about 4-5 years of age with a chronology around 15,000 years before the present.

From the taxonomic point of view, this individual corresponds, like all the fossil populations of the Upper Palaeolithic, to our species, Homo sapiens.. The mandible is practically complete, although it has been found broken into two fragments. It preserves part of the dentition, specifically two deciduous molars on each side.

It was found spatially associated with a semicircular stone structure that could have been built by humans. However, the relationship between this structure and the human remains has yet to be determined and that is probably why we will have to wait for the completion of the work on this level. If this relationship is confirmed, it is likely that more human remains will appear in future campaigns.

In the Iberian Peninsula, the discovery of human remains from the Upper Paleolithic is something exceptional. In the specific case of the end of the Magdalenian, most of the remains are isolated finds, often recovered in ancient excavations. The jaw of the Molí del Salt joins the few Catalan sites that have provided remains from this period, such as the Balma de Guilanyà (Solsonès) or the Cueva Grande (La Noguera), and becomes the oldest human fossil found to date south of Catalonia.

The mandible has been the object of a laborious cleaning by the restorative technician of IPHES-CERCA Gala Gómez, so that it can be manipulated for further study.

From now on, a set of analyzes will be carried out that will allow researchers to obtain very valuable information on these populations. Genetic studies will make it possible to establish the relationship with other contemporary populations, as well as with earlier and later populations.

The data available at that time indicate that the end of the Upper Palaeolithic was a very dynamic moment from a demographic point of view, with the arrival of new human groups that replaced or mixed with those living in Europe up to that time. If DNA can be extracted from the jaw of the Molí del Salt, it will be possible to establish the role of the populations of southern Catalonia in these demographic dynamics. On the other hand, isotope and tooth wear studies will provide fundamental data to know the diet of infant individuals in these final stages of the Upper Palaeolithic.

A hunter-gatherer camp

The Molí del Salt site is located on the left bank of the Milans River (a small tributary of the Francolí River), in the municipality of Vimbodí and Poblet (Conca de Barberà). It is a conglomerate shelter located in a transition zone between the Prades mountains and the Catalan Central Depression. Its location, on a natural communication route such as the Francolí valley and the foot of the Prades mountains, is especially appropriate in the context of a hunter-gatherer way of life, in which mobility and access to a diversity of natural resources are essential aspects. This explains why the Molí del Salt was intermittently occupied by populations from the end of the Upper Palaeolithic for more than 2,000 years.

The archaeological excavations that have been carried out since 1999 have discovered a stratigraphic sequence of about 2.5 meters thick with an important sequence of human occupations corresponding to the Mesolithic and the Upper Paleolithic, dated between 9,000 and 15,000 years before the Present. However, the main part of the sequence is between 13,000 and 15,000 years before the present, when the occupations of the end of the Upper Palaeolithic took place.

From the cultural point of view, it is the last moments of the period known as Magdalenian. During this time, the site functioned mainly as a residential camp for populations of nomadic hunter-gatherers, who settled here from time to time.

Until now, the Molí del Salt site has provided more than 50,000 archaeological remains, most of them stone tools and bones of the animals that these hunter-gatherer populations ate. As usual in the sites of this chronology found on the peninsular Mediterranean slope, most of the faunal remains correspond to rabbits. However, there are also remains of larger animals, such as deer, goats and wild boar. All present clear evidence (cut marks and fractures) indicating that the animals were hunted and consumed by humans.

As for the stone tools, almost all of them are made of flint, a fairly abundant material around the site. The full range of typical tools of a hunting camp is found, both domestic tools used in different activities (fur work, processing of animal and vegetable resources) and projectile points used for hunting.

Pieces of unique furniture art in the world

One of the singularities of the Molí del Salt site is that it has provided an important collection of pieces of furniture art, which has made it a benchmark for the study of Paleolithic furniture art, not only in Catalonia, but also in the whole of the Iberian Peninsula. With twenty rounded pebbles and engraved schist plates, it is currently the most important collection of Palaeolithic art furniture in Catalonia.

It should be remembered that the evidence of Paleolithic art had always been very scarce in Catalonia, which represented a clear anomaly in relation to the rest of the peninsula.

Most of the engravings correspond to figures of animals (deer, horses, oxen), but from this group of pieces discovered in the Molí del Salt, a schist plate with a very special series of engravings stands out. The semicircular motifs have been interpreted as representing huts, since their shape and proportions respond to characteristics that have been observed in habitat structures built by contemporary hunter-gatherer groups.

The composition as a whole would therefore correspond to the representation of a camp, possibly what could have been in front of the shelter at the time the engraving was made. This shale plate has been interpreted as a map of a hunting camp from over 13,000 years ago and is unique in the world.

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