The largest set of Neanderthal fossils located in Catalonia, and one of the most relevant in the Iberian Peninsula, has been identified in remains extracted from Cova Simanya, in the Sant Llorenç del Munt i l'Obac natural park, in Vallès. Western. These are 54 bone fragments from a woman, a young individual of 11 or 12 years old, and a minor of 7 or 8 years old. All, according to carbon 14 tests, are more than 50,000 years old.
The three individuals were buried nearby, in a small, narrow and dark path, about 70 meters from the entrance of the cave, which is about 300 meters long.
Juan Ignacio Morales, from the Catalan Institute of Human Paleoecology and Social Evolution (IPHES), has led the research, together with Artur Cebrià, from the University of Barcelona (UB), and paleoanthropologist Antonio Rosas, from the National Museum of Natural Sciences in Madrid (MNCN-CSIC).
“Of the entire group, the adult individual stands out especially, of which remains of both arms have been identified. Among them there is an entire humerus and a practically complete hand, and also remains of the feet, as well as different vertebrae and ribs,” Rosas pointed out.
Up to ten teeth and a jaw fragment have also been identified. Two of the teeth belong to the juvenile individual and the remaining eight may be compatible with the adult individual, although "the possibility that they correspond to more individuals cannot be ruled out," said the paleoanthropologist.
The current investigation is based on a story with a pirate included. At the end of the 70s, an archeology fan took a pick and shovel and excavated and looted a good part of the Neanderthal remains. He kept them in a box and detailed the find, without knowing their paleontological value. “He was an amateur pirate, but very careful in the description,” the researchers explain. “The shame is that, with his theft, the context disappeared and now there is little information.”
It was not until 1986 that, after different pressures, he gave his treasure to the Generalitat. It was deposited in warehouses in Cervera, where some museum collections that do not have space are left. No one realized its importance until archaeologists opened it in 2020 and, thanks to the persistence of Cebrià and his team, a research project began to study human fossil remains and their archaeopaleontological context.
In parallel, recent excavation work in Cova Simanya has made it possible to reconstruct the origin and history of the remains and recover new ones. Stone tools, processed animal bones, and documented campfires suggest that the cave was a significant enclave for Middle Paleolithic populations.
Antonio Rosas assures that these fossils "will help clarify the role that the Iberian Peninsula has had in the complex evolutionary history of Neanderthals", since today it is beginning to be known that there are "different lineages" of this extinct species, but still "not We know the reasons for how and where they originated.” “Iberia and Cova Simanya have a lot to say in this regard.”
Juan Ignacio Morales highlights that the first dating carried out indicates that the presence of Neanderthals in Simanya is older than the carbon 14 limit, that is, prior to 50,000 years. Alternative dating techniques now being carried out on the remains will allow their age to be determined more precisely.
Along with the use of the cave, field work has shown that the cavity also served as a hibernation refuge for both the brown bear and the cave bear, a use that lasted until 42,000 years ago. Much later, the cave was used sporadically.
The excavations have the support and financing of the Sant Llorenç del Munt Natural Park and the Barcelona Provincial Council, which have protected the site and organized guided tours.