Human fossil remains

Fig. 1

The presence of human remains in a site is not frequent. They are very significant and can be used in numerous research fields, such as paleoanthropology or phylogenetic studies. The analysis of the characters of each fossil gives us valuable information in order to understand the variability of a species, its development patterns, etc. But also, there are other studies, like the study of the diet, or the study of pathologies and/ or traumatisms which can help in a very significant way to understand the ways of life of human communities of the past.

However, the existence of human remains in a site can be the result of different processes and agents. The most common are related to anthropogenic activities, although they can also be a product of carnivore activities, or, even, a consequence of sporadic events associated to natural causes.  We can highlight four main possibilities which explain the presence of human remains in sites.

– Firstly, the intentional accumulation of corpses by burying or simple deposition of the corpse without previous preparation. In these places, especially in those which present optimum conservation conditions, the corpse is usually complete, with a high index of skeleton representation and a low proportion of bone alterations produced by carnivores.

-The second possibility is related to the inputs of carnivores. Some species, like hyenas, leopards or wolves, often bring part of the corpses they consume till their refuges or dens. In this way, the existence of isolated remains could respond to a partial transport of corpses deposited in other places or the hunting or scavenging of some individual. The elevated grade of bites and fractures generated by this type of predators characterize the places which have these types of processes.

-The third possibility is related to cannibalism, which seems to be present during all human evolution and from the earliest moments in Europe. The identification of this activity lies in the identification of anthropogenic marks on bones, such as cut marks, fracturing evidences to access the bone marrow, intentional thermal alterations or, even, and human tooth-marks.

– Lastly, the fourth possibility is more related to occasional events, like accidents, disasters, or even causes related to the loss of some bones, as are phalanges or teeth. In these cases, the isolated recuperation of the anatomic elements and the absence of anthropic alterations could be identifying factors of the existence of these processes.

In Bolomor Cave we have found seven human fossil remains attributed generically to the Neanderthal lineage. The stratigraphic location of some of these specimens is difficult to determine, as they were recovered from the sediments previously removed by the mining work in the 1930s. The rest of the skeletal elements were documented in clear stratigraphic position during the archaeological excavation process:

– Fibular shaft of an adult individual found in level III. Ante quem dating of 121±18 ky.

– Lower left molar of a young individual (about 5 years old) found at level IV. Ante quem dating of 121 ± 18 ka.

-Deciduous upper molar of an individual of 6-9 months of age found in spoil sediments.

– Lower left canine very similar to modern humans. It comes from the sediment disturbed in level I sub, wherein intrusive modern day elements have been documented.

– Upper left canine of an adult individual found in the altered sediments from Ia-Sub XIII. The breccia covering the fossil could be linked to level XIII.

– Parietal fragment with coronal suture of an adult individual from the sediment removed by the quarrying work.


Conjunto de restos fosiles humanos recuperados en Cova del Bolomor  (2003).

Set of human fossil remains recovered in Bolomor Cave (2003)

Most of the above-mentioned specimens can be assigned to MIS 5e (early Late Pleistocene); among them, the third, fourth and sixth (in the order listed above),could be more modern, as they were located in a clearance context with some post-Palaeolithic items. The fifth specimen, however, given the sedimentological characteristics associated with it and where it was found (XIII spoil sediments), is related to levels XII-XV and its location in MIS 7 cannot be dismissed. This specimen is well related to the canines from Sima de los Huesos, in Atapuerca (Burgos, Spain), and in general, with the European human fossils of the Neanderthal lineage.

Fragmento de parietal en el interior de brecha osifera.

Parietal bone fragment in breccia sediment