En The Cave of El Sidrón 2500 remains have been analyzed with great detail and prudence since the 2000 year, following the protocol of "Clean Excavation" that the global project called for "Neanderthal genome". Researchers have donned anti-pollution suits and, like astronauts who tread a new planet, have been pioneers in the analysis of certain genes, taking a giant step in the knowledge of this species.
13 neandertales Asturians
The permanent exhibition that brings these advances to the public can be seen in the town of Infiesto, at the Piloña “Tierra de Asturcones” Visitor Reception Center. Take the title of "The 13 of the Sidrón" because anatomical fossils have identified at least thirteen Neanderthals of both sexes: seven adult individuals, three adolescents, two juveniles and one child. Furthermore, genetic analyzes reveal that all of them had close family ties. The basic evidence of its existence is four mandibles, three maxillae, a multitude of teeth, skull fragments and different bones of the trunk and extremities.
They lived in Asturias about 49.000 years ago. The 13 were classic neanderthals, because they had a more elongated and flattened skull than ours, the largest brain; Prominent frowns and noses, very large nostrils, "barrel"-shaped chest. They were short, with short, stocky arms and legs.. Light skin and freckles; many of them redheads. They used their mouths as if it were a third hand with which they grabbed skins to tan them. They lived in smoke-laden environments and consumed medicinal plants. They had the capacity for abstraction, perhaps they spoke, they took care of their elderly, they practiced cannibalism and used chopsticks for their oral hygiene.
A reef for science
The paleontological works of El Sidrón have collaborated, and much, has reinforced this evidence. The Studies on mitochondrial and nuclear DNA practiced in the Osario Gallery have been profoundly refreshing. The excavations, in conditions of very high sterility, have allowed, among other things, to recover the MC1R gene, which allows dating its propensity to red hair. Another scientific contribution of El Sidrón: 13 possessed the same genetic variants as modern humans in the FOXP2 gene. A key gene in the development of neuronal areas involved in the internal language, comprehension and speech. The researchers argue that there is also very strong evidence of cannibalism. And not only as a sporadic and ritual experience, as the scholars in the field had been holding. In El Sidrón episodes of cannibalism were frequent and included the intentional fragmentation of the bones.
The Asturian deposit also treasures tools, some 300, elaborated in a siliceous rock of local origin called «Piloña flint». A rock of great hardness that has a yellowish-brown color, soft to the touch and favorable to the size. From Piloña it was transported to different prehistoric settlements of the Principality. During the Paleolithic era it was a very appreciated raw material. It is transported on a regular basis to deposits such as La Viña, in the middle Nalón valley, or Llonín, in the Cares river valley, both located more than 40 kilometers from the main supply area.
A unique exhibition in its kind
If the remains of El Sidrón have reached us it is because the 13 individuals they were trapped in the cave after a big storm. Trapped inside a peculiar and surprising karst system that preserved the fossils in the best possible way. The Osario Gallery is so recondite and special that it was not altered by the action of carnivores, rodents or other agents. The circumstances were also very favorable: as soon as they were deposited, the bones were covered by sediment and began to fossilize immediately.
The careful exhumation, and all the years of study are perfectly synthesized in this permanent exhibition that was first itinerant. It was launched for the first time in the Archaeological Museum of Asturias, later moving to the Rock Art Center of Tito Bustillo, the Faculty of Philosophy and Letters of Oviedo, the Museum of Altamira and the University of Alicante.
Now it can be seen permanently in Infiesto. And we are about the Neanderthals who lived in this territory thanks to samples, replicas, photographs, audiovisuals, illustrations and varied panels. One of these panels reflects the skeleton of several of the individuals located in the cave, with the aim of showing the height they had. The average height is 1,64 centimeters.
One of the conclusions we will reach after a leisurely visit is that the Neanderthals were too close to us, the sapiens. They came to live with modern man but they were unable to adapt to the abrupt changes of temperature, to the drastic reduction of animals for their survival, and to the genetic exhaustion that reduced family groups, making their survival even more difficult.
The exhibition is located in the Visitor Reception Center of Piloña Tierra de Asturcones, building of the Obra Pia, C / Covadonga 11, 33530 Infiesto.
Free entrance to the exhibition
Guided tours 3 €. Minors of 12 years free.
For group visits, you can arrange a prior appointment at the Phone 984 081 246
Thursday to Monday
Opening hours: 10:30 a.m. at 17:30 p.m.
Guided tours: 12:30 p.m. and 17:30 h.
Tuesday and Wednesday closed for rest.
Source: Visitor Reception Center of Piloña Tierra de Asturcones · Infiesto
Text: © Ramón Molleda for asturias.com