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Guadix-Baza: Orce project

Location: Orce (Granada)
Cronology: Plio-Pleistocene
Director: R. Sala and B. Martínez

The Guadix – Baza project is devoted to the archaeology of the first human settlement in Western Europe and the palaeontology and the paleoecology of that region since the Late Pliocene. Although its objective is to comprise the whole basin and the totality of human occupation located there, which is the reason we undertook surveys in some sites such as Solana del Zamborino, Huéscar 1 and Cúllar, the project is specially focused on the Orce sites: Venta Micena, Barranco León and Fuente Nueva 3. All sites are in the eastern shore of the former Baza saline lake, located in the eastern half of the Guadix – Baza basin.

Venta Micena comes first chronologically, 1.5-1.6 million years ago, a site where until now no human record has been detected. Then comes Barranco León, around 1.4 million years ago, recording the oldest human settlement in western Europe, where a human tooth was recently found, and followed by Fuente Nueva 3, 1.3 million years ago. This chronology has been obtained by the combination of biostratigraphic methods, namely on micromammals, palaeomagnetism and radiometric dating techniques, mainly through ESR.

Concerning the palaeoecology, the three sites correspond to lake-margin position. Nevertheless, we can distinguish them by the bigger or lesser amount of water present in each place, as it is indicated by micromammals. Venta Micena corresponds to a marsh area inside an open savannah environment dominated by the abundant presence of ungulates and large carnivores, such as the giant short-faced hyena and sabre-tooth tigers. The mammal community indicates a mixture of a basically Eurasian fauna with few species of African origin, a combination that is present in all three sites. Even the precise ecological position is different for each site, since Barranco León corresponds to an ancient channel margin and Fuente Nueva 3 is related to a former spring. 

Barranco León and Fuente Nueva 3 bear a very rich archaeological record composed by the remains of the anthropic access to the carcasses of large mammals and by a huge collection of lithic tools, the richest in Western Europe for the oldest human dispersal in the region. The debitage techniques recorded in the Orce sites are dominated by the bipolar-on-anvil percussion and the free-hand orthogonal debitage, by a wide presence of very large tools probably related to percussive actions, and by the absence of small-shaped tools. The widely recorded orthogonal and polyhedral cores are finally showing a primitive Mode 1 technology with important African roots in Western Europe.

The research team is led by Robert Sala and Bienvenido Martínez-Navarro, with the collaboration of Jordi Agustí and Paul Palmqvist (Universidad de Málaga) for Palaeontology, while the archaeological management is shared with Isidro Toro (Museo Arqueológico de Granada), Leticia Menéndez and Juan Manuel Jiménez-Arenas (Universidad de Granada).

Orce (Granada)
R. Sala and B. Martínez