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Cueva Negra del Estrecho del Río Quípar: a Dated Late Early Pleistocene Palaeolithic Site in Southeastern Spain

Abstract

Systematic excavation and multidisciplinary research undertaken over three decades have deepened our understanding of the early Palaeolithic archaeology at Cueva Negra del Estrecho del Río Quípar (Caravaca de la Cruz, Murcia, Spain). New results from biochronology and combined ESR and U-series dating corroborate previous magnetostratigraphy, placing the entire excavated sequence between the Jaramillo sub-chron and the Matuyama-Brunhes boundary (i.e. ca. 990–772 thousand years ago (ka)); palaeontological and palynological findings reflect temperate environmental conditions. A bifacially flaked limestone hand axe was excavated 1 m below the top of the Pleistocene sequence. The Equus cf. altidens tooth that provided the ESR estimate was excavated 1 m below the hand axe. Throughout its 5-m-deep sedimentary sequence, small nodules, fragments and struck flakes make up the bulk of the Palaeolithic assemblage. Stratigraphical analysis points to undisturbed continuous sedimentary deposition above a layer of ashy sediment, encountered 4.5 m below the top of the Pleistocene sequence, which contained thermally altered bone and heat-shattered chert cores and flakes. Cueva Negra is among the earliest European sites with firm evidence of combustion.

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Acknowledgements

M.J. Walker, M. Haber Uriarte, A. López Jiménez, M. López Martínez and I Martín Lerma express their gratitude for scientific or technical contributions made by all coauthors with them of publications cited here, and for assistance that has enabled research at Cueva Negra given by members of the Murcian Association for the Study of Palaeoanthropology and the Quaternary (MUPANTQUAT) and University of Murcia Research Group 005-11 “Ecce Homo (Evolución Cenozóico Cuaternario Ecología Homo)”, the Caravaca de la Cruz town council, the director and staff of the Colegio Público Ascruz de Educación Especial at Caravaca, the Servicio de Patrimonio Histórico of the Dirección General de Bienes Culturales of the Comunidad Autónoma de la Región de Murcia and the land owner of Cueva Negra D. Rafael Saura.

J. van der Made is a participant in research project PGC2018-093925-B-C31 of the Spanish Ministry of Science, Innovation and Universities, and acknowledges assistance and access to fossil material given by C. Argot, J.M. Bermúdez de Castro, C. Brauckmann, E. Carbonell, E. Cioppi, M. Comas, A. Currant, T. Engel, C. Ferrández-Cañadell, S. Fraile, M. Gamazo, J. Gibert, L. Gibert, A. González Alonso, E. Gröning, N. Ibañez, R. Kahlke, P. Kamminga, W. von Koenigswald, H. Lutz, D. Mania, M. Martínez Andreu, H. Meller, S. van der Mije, M.R. Palombo, B. Sánchez Chillón, A. Sher, K. Stefaniak and R. Ziegler. We particularly thank the following for their collaboration and conclusions: H-A. Blain (herpetology), A. Eastham (avian palaeontology), G. Rabeder (ursid palaeontology), X. Murelaga Bereicua (chelonian palaeontology), G. Rabeder (ursid palaeontology), A. Rufà Bonache (avian palaeontology) and H. Bocherens and C. Wissing (stable isotope analysis).

The U-series and ESR dating studies have been funded by the Australian Research Council Future Fellowship Grant FT150100215. M. Duval's research is currently funded by a Spanish Ramón y Cajal Fellowship (Ref. RYC2018-025221-I). We are grateful to Les Kinsley, ANU, for his help on the LA-ICP-MS measurements. M. Duval would also like to thank Verónica Guilarte Moreno, María Jesús Alonso Escarza, David Martínez Asturias, Javier Iglesias Cibanal and Carlos Sáiz Dominguez, CENIEH, for their support with sample preparation and gamma irradiation.

M.J. Walker acknowledges debts of gratitude to his mentor and friend, who twice visited Cueva Negra, the late Dr. Derek Roe, expert on the Acheulian and collaborator with Mary Leakey at Olduvai, who was the first Professor of Palaeolithic Archaeology at the University of Oxford, to the late Professor John D. Evans who when Director of the Institute of Archaeology of University College London stimulated M.J. Walker’s interest in Spain, to the Fellows and Governing Body of The Queen’s College, Oxford, who made possible the initiation of his field research in Spain and to the University of Murcia which further facilitated that research and of which he is an Honorific Emeritus Professor following retirement from teaching.

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Walker, M.J., Haber Uriarte, M., López Jiménez, A. et al. Cueva Negra del Estrecho del Río Quípar: a Dated Late Early Pleistocene Palaeolithic Site in Southeastern Spain. J Paleo Arch 3, 816–855 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s41982-020-00062-5

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Keywords

  • Spain
  • Late Early Pleistocene
  • Palaeolithic
  • ESR-Useries dating
  • Palaeontology