Research paper

Taphonomical interpretations of the Sima de los Huesos site (Atapuerca range, Burgos, Spain): a review

Museo de Geología del Seminari de Barcelona & Departament d’Enseyament de la Gerenalitat de Catalunya, C. Valéncia, 479, 08013 Barcelona, Spain.
Corresponding author


The Sima de los Huesos site, Atapuerca, contains an important sample of fossilised human bones of Homo heidelbergensis. The nature of Sima de los huesos (SH) human remains was interpreted as human burials but a bibliographic review of literature published on this subject has given rise to a new perspective. According to this new revision SH site was originated by different taphonomical mechanisms. Competition between Homo and other predators for the cavity, accidental death around the pit and a feeding trough for felines and canines while the cave had other entrances nowadays obstructed, explain this human fossil association. Large felines fed on human remains around the put. Canids and other scavengers came later for feeding. The water flows in the cave during heavy rainfall produced dispersion, mixing and abrasion in all these human skeletal remains. During all these processes a low sedimentation rate and eventual supply of corpses produced the observed fossil concentration. The majority of bears fell later by accident or died while hibernating neat the site.

Keywords: Taphonomy, human burials, Homo heidelbergensis, Homo neanderthalensis, Sima de los huesos, Atapuerca, Pleistocene.

How to cite: Rabadà i Vives, D.M. 2015. Taphonomical interpretation of the Sima de los Huesos site (Atapuerca range, Burgos, Spain): a review. Spanish Journal of Palaeontology, 30 (1), 79-94.

Received 26 November 2013, Accepted 09 February 2015, Published 30 June 2015