Recent discoveries of archaeological remains dating to the Middle Paleolithic period of Europe revealed what was once the first Neanderthal fixed community in the Iberian Peninsula. A team of experts found evidence in Portugal’s Côa Valley that "clearly" shows that Neanderthal people continuously occupied that territory before the arrival of modern human beings - Homo sapiens sapiens. "The continued presence of the Neanderthal man in an open-air camp in the Côa Valley has been proven with this archaeological record and archaeological surveys, which makes this site unique in Europe," said archaeologist Thierry Aubry. The site lies in northern Portugal, just miles away from the Spanish border.
"It was possible to identify traces of Neanderthal man,” said Aubry, that date back 35,000 years and before the date attributed to the famous petroglyphic art in the Côa Valley. “We have found tools, structures such as small bonfires among other vestiges, which prehistoric men left in this place. It makes it unique in the interior of the Iberian peninsula,” said Aubry. makes it unique in the peninsular interior, "explained archaeologist Thierry Aubry, one of the archaeologists involved in the investigation.
Some artifacts dating back more than 70,000 years were found in excavations that delved more than 15 feet at the Salto do Boi site of Cardina, near Foz Côa in the Guarda district of Portugal. "A little of the way of life and daily life of the prehistoric men who lived about 70,000 years ago in the Côa Valley was revealed by comparing the various levels of excavation," said the archaeologist. The dig was done along the banks of the Côa River, downstream from the archaeological sites of Quinta da Barca and Penascosa, which are known for their rock art. "The collected elements show that Neanderthal man inhabited the Côa Valley for years, which allows reconstituting the climatic and environmental evolution of the area over a period of time that exceeds 70,000 years to this day," said Aubry.
Archaeologists involved in the excavations say they have not yet discerned the full potential of the site. "We have not yet reached the rock and we still have levels of sediment to dig in. When that happens, we will find out why the Côa territory was chosen by prehistoric men to settlement,” Aubry explained. According to researchers, the ecological variety of the Côa Valley may be one of the reasons for the concentration of these prehistoric hunter-gatherers.
For his part, the president of the Côa Park Foundation, Bruno Navarro, said that discovery has given a boost to all those who have been committed to making the territory of the Côa Valley a scientific laboratory for all areas of knowledge and, above all, for Portuguese archeology, which now has its "jewel of the crown." "The Foundation is open to all who wish to add knowledge and value to this territory. We have an archaeological research team that has developed a reference work, widely disseminated in the most important national and international forums," concluded Navarro.
Researchers determined after examining many layers of archaeological evidence that both Neanderthal man (Homo sapiens neanderthalensis) and Homo sapiens sapiens continously occupied the same site for thousands of years, which allows experts to compare their respective ways of life and to provide a context to the rock art of the Côa.
At Salto do Boi, with the Côa River at its feet, archaeologists and other technicians have excavated over the last two months more than 15 feet, arriving at the conclusion that part of the artifacts they found belongs to the time of the Neanderthals (350,000 to 35,000 BC). "Until now, we knew that the last Neanderthals occupied the Côa Valley in the period between 60,000 and 35,000 BC, but by the end of this last campaign we went over five meters deep where there were traces of older and successive occupations of the sites by the Neanderthals," said archaeologist Aubry.
According to Aubry, there are few archaeological sites dating from the Middle Paleolithic in either Spain or Portugal, and what is known are single and noncontinuous occupations. "In this place, we have dozens of levels that show a continuous occupation by the Côa hunter-gatherers who we can demonstrate with the study of the collected material. It is possible to decode the transition between the last Neanderthals and the first modern men [the petroglyphic artists of the Côa Valley] that occupied the Iberian Peninsula," he emphasized.
"It will force us to re-evaluate many of the signs of the Paleolithic caves," said Aubry.
Aubry added, “There are archaeological data that will allow to establish that the artists of the Côa arrived at this place, after a long tradition of human occupation of more than 90,000 years at the Salto of Boi / Cardina site." He said that the idea of the excavation was “not to find beautiful artifact, but rather information that would allow us to understand how people lived, what they did, where they went and what they herded in these places." The challenge now facing the researchers is to understand why the Neanderthals and their descendants chose the Côa territory for their rock art. They plan to continue digging more comprehensively. The team of researchers is composed of the staff from the Côa Parque Foundation and various universities. The project is funded by Portugal’s Foundation for Science and Technology.