The discovery of a 400,000-year-old half skull in Portugal has offered tantalizing hints about a possible ancestor of the Neanderthals. The discovery, unearthed at the Aroeira cave site, marks the oldest human cranium fossil ever found in Portugal, according to a report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Along with the skull, a team of archaeologists has uncovered traces of the Neanderthal's presence in the area of the Archaeological Park of the Côa Valley, which is considered unique in the Iberian Peninsula. Archeologists have found tools, structures such as small bonfires among other vestiges, which prehistoric humans left behind.
"A little of the way of daily life of prehistoric humans who lived about 70,000 years ago in the Côa Valley was revealed by comparing the various levels of excavation," said the archaeologist.
In the mid 90s, the wild, mountain area of northeastern Portugal along the valley of the river Côa was destined to be transformed into a lake, as the result of a damn to bring power and irrigation to a remote region. Then, a team of archeologists uncovered a vast amount of prehistoric cave paintings. The Portuguese government made a difficult and expensive decision. The dam was scrapped, and in its place, a heritage park created. In 1998 UNESCO classified the site as World Heritage.
The drawings show of mountain goats, horses, aurochs (wild hulls) and deer. The first three of these species are the most common and characteristic of the earliest phases of artistic production. They all correspond to the large herbivores that were typical of the ecosystems of the Upper Paleolithic Age in the region.
There are also some rare engravings of fish and just one single instance of a human form, the latter occurring at the end the Upper Paleolithic Age. The signs were engraved under the form of straight lines or in zigzags, with the rocks being pecked or scratched with instruments made of quartzite or flint.
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