At the end of the 19th century a mining railway was being cut through the diminutive Sierra de Atapuerca east of Burgos when a series of caverns laden with prehistoric fossils was unearthed. During the course of the next century a veritable goldmine of prehistoric sites was discovered dating back over a million years and marking the Sierra de Atapuerca as the earliest human settlement in Europe. Apart from a bevy of crude tools and animal parts, the remains of a new species were discovered in 1994 in a dig called Gran Dolina. Known as the Homo Antecessor and thought to be a cannibalistic ancestor of Neanderthals and Homo sapiens, they are among the oldest of the discoveries in the area, dating back some 800,000 years. The cave drawings in the Cueva Mayor have been dated to 40,000 years and indicate the arrival of Homo sapiens in Europe. Today the entire area is one massive, ongoing archeological dig that continues to yield new and astonishing evidence about the ones that came before. In 2000, after another significant find of human remains dating to the Middle Pleistocene epoch, UNESCO declared Atapuerca a Heritage of Mankind site.
The guided tour begins at the reception office of Paleorama in the village of Atapuerca. After a brief introduction and explanation of the sites, the tour proceeds alongside the trench cut in the 19th century for the mining railroad. There is an outer track just to the left of the departure point for the inner track by which you can make a free tour of the site. Paleorama is comprised of a revolving group that includes archeologists, teachers, biologists and others who have come to study the pre-historical discoveries at Atapuerca. The tours cost 3i per person and last approximately two hours. Call ahead in the winter. The site is open on Sat. and Sun. mornings in the winter andWed.-Sun. morning and afternoon during the summer . To reach Atapuerca from Burgos (it’s only 15 minutes away).
The Río Ebro
The Ebro, Spain’s longest river, originates from springs in the Cantabrian Mountains and cuts east across the northern expanse of the Burgos province en route to the Mediterranean near Tarragona. It divides the green and mountainous northern region of Burgos – a landscape more characteristic of the autonomous communities that make up “Green Spain” on the Atlantic coast – from the southern flatlands of Burgos that typify Castilla y León. For much of its course the River Ebro is muddy and sluggish, but in pockets, as near the small town of Valdenoceda, it gathers speed in narrow canyons and whips up wild rapids. Valdenoceda is 40 minutes north of Burgos. Take the N-627 north from the city and, after passing Sotopalacios, turn off onto the C-629 in the direction of Peñahorada. Continue on the C-629 as far as its intersection with the N-232, where you’ll find the river and Valdenoceda alongside it.
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