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The research site at Abrigo de Navalmaíllo which has been found to be a Neanderthal hunting camp.  Source: CENIEH

76,000-Year-Old Neanderthal Hunting Camp Discovered In Madrid

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A 76,000-year-old hunter’s camp has been discovered and examined beneath the Spanish capital of Madrid. Here, in blood-soaked times of glory when the hunting was good, Neanderthals butchered and prepared large bovids and deer for returning to their hungry families in distant caves.

European Neanderthal History Deepens

Earlier this month researchers from the Barcelona University announced the discovery of abstract Neanderthal cave paintings in Cueva de Ardales in Málaga, Spain. Archaeologists were stunned when they learned the images were 65,000 years old, challenging what is known about the emergence of artistic thinking. Now, an ancient Neanderthal hunting camp has been discovered in Madrid that dates to an almost unimaginable, “76,000 years old.”

Professor Abel Moclán from the National Center for Research on Human Evolution (CENIEH) is the lead author of a new study based on recent discoveries at the Abrigo de Navalmaíllo archaeological site, in Pinilla del Valle, Madrid. Measuring 300 m2 (3,200 sq ft) the Navalmaíllo site is known as the largest of its type in the Iberian Peninsula region.”

According to a CENIEH release, evidence suggests that 76,000 years ago Neanderthal hunting communities tracked, hunted and captured animals locally, around what is today the city of Madrid. It was clearly understood that transporting needless animal parts back to the more permanent hunting residences was a waste of valuable calories, so whole animals were taken here first where the nutritious marrow was extracted from bones and the guts were discarded. The paper says Neanderthal “hunting parties” were hosted at this site, before and after stalking bovids and deer.

Faunal remains from the Navalmaíllo site include: a) jaw of a large bovid; b) rhinoceros molar; c) horse molar; d) molar hyena; e) stone tool cutting marks, and f) percussion mark to access the medulla of a long bone. (Abel Moclán et al. / Quarterly Science Review)

Taphonomy Revealed a Temporary Neanderthal Hunting Camp

In the new paper, Professor Abel Moclán and colleagues describe the discovery of a large bovid jaw and rhinoceros, hyena and horse molars. Furthermore, confirming suspicions of Neanderthal interaction at the site, the team of researchers identified cut marks on the teeth and bones which were made by stone stools. A report in Daily Mail explains that a “taphonomic study” was carried out on fauna samples collected from the Abrigo de Navalmaíllo site. To save you the bother, I Googled “Taphonomy.” It is the term used to describe the study of how organisms decay and become fossils.

The taphonomy results from the Abrigo de Navalmaíllo site showed that the organic matter “matched remains found at similar hunting camps.” However, it did not match samples from Neanderthal “residential camps.” This means the site was a “temporary” hunting station. From this location in Madrid, freshly killed animals were chopped up, the most useful parts were selected and loaded onto sleds then trekked back to the more permanent residential caves.

The remains of many animals were found, and artificial intelligence was used to identify them. (Abel Moclán et al. / Quarterly Science Review)

The remains of many animals were found, and artificial intelligence was used to identify them. (Abel Moclán et al. / Quarterly Science Review)

Artificial Intelligence Was Called In, Again

This particular discovery is interesting archaeological researchers in Spain perhaps more so than the discovery of a primary residential camp would be celebrated. Why so? Only a few Neanderthal sites like this have ever been discovered in the Iberian Peninsula, dating to 76,000 years BP. In fact, so detailed was the analysis of the organic remains sampled at the site, and so expansive was the data, that Artificial Intelligence was required to process the information and produce results. Hold on a second. How did we get from 76,000 BP to AI in one paragraph?

Analysis of fauna remains from the Abrigo de Navalmaíllo site demonstrated that Neanderthals around Navalmaíllo hunted mainly large bovids and deer. However, a wide range of large, medium and smaller animal remains were discovered at the site. AI was able to identify which species, and what ages, were most hunted by the Neanderthals. While the results revealed that large bovids and cervids (deer) were the most hunted animals, the AI bot had to plough through data layers from many other animal remains including: “giant horses, rhinoceroses and many small animals,” the researchers said in the study.

In conclusion, the team of scientists say Navalmaíllo is one of “the few archaeological sites in Iberia that can be interpreted as a hunting camp,” rather than a seasonal hunting residence. What else this discovery suggests is that many more similarly dated hunting camps are out there awaiting discovery on the Iberian Peninsula.

Top image: The research site at Abrigo de Navalmaíllo which has been found to be a Neanderthal hunting camp.  Source: CENIEH

By Ashley Cowie



Crasslee's picture

Domesticated animals 75,000 years ago?! Hahahahahahaha!


ashley cowie's picture


Ashley is a Scottish historian, author, and documentary filmmaker presenting original perspectives on historical problems in accessible and exciting ways.

He was raised in Wick, a small fishing village in the county of Caithness on the north east coast of... Read More

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