Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA
Vol. 96, pp. 7604–7609, June 1999 Anthropology
The early Upper Paleolithic human skeleton from the Abrigo doLagar Velho (Portugal) and modern human emergence in Iberia
ANS VAN DER
*Instituto Portugueˆs do Patrimo´nio Arquitecto´nico, Divisa˜o de Conservac¸a˜o e Restauro, Pala´cio da Ajuda, 1400-206 Lisbon, Portugal;
Department of Anthropology, 13-15 Henry Marshall Tory Building, University of Alberta, Edmonton T6G 2H4, AB, Canada;
Sociedade Torrejana de Espeleologia e Arqueologia, Quinta da Lezı´ria, 2350 Torres Novas, Portugal;
Radiocarbon Accelerator Unit, Research Laboratory for Archaeology and the History of Art,University of Oxford, 6 Keble Road, Oxford OX1 3QJ, England;
Department of Anthropology, Campus Box 1114, Washington University, St. Louis, MO 63130;
Unite´ Mixte de Recherche 5809 du Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, Laboratoire d’Anthropologie, Universite´ de Bordeaux I, 33405 Talence, France;
Centrum voor Isotopen Onderzoek, Faculteit der Wiskunde en Natuurwetenschappen, Rijksuniversiteit Groningen, Nijenborgh 4, 9747 AG Groningen, TheNetherlands; and
Instituto Portugueˆs de Arqueologia, Avenida da India 136, 1300 Lisbon, Portugal
Contributed by Erik Trinkaus, April 26, 1999
ABSTRACT The discovery of an early Upper Paleolithichuman burial at the Abrigo do Lagar Velho, Portugal, hasprovided evidence of early modern humans from southernIberia. The remains, the largely complete skeleton of a
4- year-old child buried with pierced shell and red ochre, is datedto
. 24,500 years B.P. The cranium, mandible, dentition, andpostcrania present a mosaic of European early modern humanand Neandertal features. The temporal bone has an interme-diate-sized juxtamastoid eminence. The mandibular mentumosseum and the dental size and proportions, supported bymandibular ramal features, radial tuberosity orientation, anddiaphyseal curvature, as well as the pubic proportions alignthe skeleton with early modern humans. Body proportions,reflected in femorotibial lengths and diaphyseal robusticityplus tibial condylar displacement, as well as mandibularsymphyseal retreat and thoracohumeral muscle insertions,align the skeleton with the Neandertals. This morphologicalmosaicindicatesadmixturebetweenregionalNeandertalsandearly modern humans dispersing into southern Iberia. Itestablishes the complexities of the Late Pleistocene emergenceof modern humans and refutes strict replacement models of modern human origins.
During the past decade it has become apparent that the humanbiological and cultural evolutionary transitions between latearchaic (Neandertal) and early modern humans and betweenthe Middle and Upper Paleolithic occurred relatively latethroughout most of Iberia (1–4). It is now certain that theMiddle Paleolithic of most of Iberia south of the Pyreneeslasted until about 30,000 years B.P., perhaps as late as 28,000 years B.P., and that the initial stages of the Upper Paleolithicknown to have occurred further north (the Chaˆtelperronianand the early Aurignacian) were never present in this region.Moreover, human paleontological evidence from Zafarraya insoutheastern Spain indicates that late Middle Paleolithic tech-nology from this region was the product of Neandertal pop-ulations (5). This evidence has led to hypotheses as to whyMiddle Paleolithic Neandertals endured in the cul-de-sac of Iberia between 5,000 and 10,000 years after they had beenreplaced (by whatever historical processes) elsewhere in Eu-rope (4, 6, 7). The ‘‘Ebro Frontier’’ model (3, 6–8) suggeststhat the basin of the Ebro river of northern Spain representeda biogeographical and ecological barrier to the diffusion of theUpper Paleolithic innovations developed by late Neandertalpopulations to the north (the Chaˆtelperronian) and, subse-quently, to the dispersal of the first modern human groups in western Europe.Even though both the late Middle Paleolithic and earlyUpper Paleolithic are increasingly well known and chronolog-ically situated south of the ‘‘Ebro Frontier’’ (4, 6, 9), diagnostichuman remains associated with early Upper Paleolithic indus-tries in this region have been elusive. The discovery of a largelyintact early Upper Paleolithic child’s burial at the Abrigo doLagar Velho in Portugal therefore adds significantly to ourknowledge of the biology and burial practices of the earliestIberian modern humans and sheds light on the nature of thetransition from Neandertals to their successors in one of thelast archaic human frontiers.
THE ABRIGO DO LAGAR VELHO
The archeological site consists of deposits within horizontalfissures and along the current base of a limestone cliff on thesouth side of the Lapedo Valley near Leiria, central westernPortugal (lat 39° 45
N, long 8° 43
W). The site wasdamaged by earth removal in 1992, exposing an Upper Paleo-lithic sequence and coming within a few centimeters of theburial along the base of the cliff. On November 28, 1998, thesite was discovered by J.M. and P.S., who also found the lefthandandforearmbonesofthechildinaburrow.Thefollowing week C.D. and J.Z. confirmed the presence of Paleolithicdeposits and a human burial. A salvage excavation directed byJ.Z. ensued from December 12 to January 7, 1999, in theframework of which the burial was excavated by C.D. Paleon-tological analysis by C.D. and E.T. commenced on January 4,1999.The child’s skeleton, Lagar Velho 1 (Fig. 1), was on its backparallel to the cliff base, with the head to the east and left sideagainst the cliff. The cranium and mandible were damaged byearth removal, but the preservation of the left temporal boneand mandible indicates that the head had tilted toward the cliff face. The collapse and folding
of the right ribs suggestthat the thorax was similarly tilted. The pelvis was horizontal,and the feet were plantar-flexed and crossed. The skeleton andthecontainingsedimentareheavilystainedwithredochre,butthe alteration of the sediment stopped at the outer border of the skeleton, suggesting a wrap around the body. Verticallyoriented animal bones and stones outlined the ochre-stainedsediments; radiocarbon dating of one such bone yielded aresultthatisconsistentwiththehypothesisthattheserepresentintentional burial features and not a natural disposition of deposit components caused by digging a burial pit.
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