The middle to upper Palaeolithic transition at El Mirón cave (Cantabria, Spain)

Ana B. Marín-Arroyo* (Corresponding Author), Jeanne Marie Geiling, Jennifer R. Jones, Manuel R. González Morales, Lawrence G. Straus, Michael P. Richards

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Citations (Scopus)


The use of caves during the Late Middle and Early Upper Palaeolithic in Europe was often characterized by alternation between humans (Neandertals and Anatomically Modern Humans) and carnivores. One of the most important karstic areas in Europe that contains a rich archaeological record during this cultural period is the Cantabrian Region, northern Spain. We explore the archaeological evidence recovered from the lower levels of the stratigraphic sequence in El Mirón Cave dated between 27 and 48ka uncal cal BP – Gravettian and Mousterian in age. Zooarchaeological and taphonomic analyses of the limited number of mammal bones, together with the small lithic artefact assemblages, suggest brief human occupations after which the carcass remains left by humans and, composed mainly of Spanish ibex, red deer and some leporids, were scavenged by carnivores. Carnivores were probably also agents of accumulation, especially in the two lowest layers in which artifacts are most scarce. Notable palaeontological finds include remains of mammoth and leopard. Stable isotopic analyses of Spanish ibex remains provide information of relatively open landscape and suggest that cooler conditions prevailed during the Early Upper Palaeolithic. The results of this research offer an insight on the type of cave use by humans and carnivores during the Middle to Upper Palaeolithic and a palaeoenvironmental reconstruction at the time late Neanderthals and early anatomically modern humans inhabited in the Cantabrian region.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)23-31
Number of pages9
JournalQuaternary International
Early online date22 Jun 2018
Publication statusPublished - 10 Apr 2020

Bibliographical note

This research was funded by the European Commission through a Marie Curie Career Integration Grant (FP7-PEOPLE-2012-CIG-322112), by the Spanish Ministry of Economy and Competitiveness (HAR2012-33956 and Ramon y Cajal-2011-00695), the University of Cantabria and Campus International to A.B.M.A. Laboratory work, associated research expenses and isotopic analysis were generously funded by the Max Planck Society to M.R. The authors want to acknowledge the Museo de Prehistoria y Arqueología de Cantabria for the facilities provided to study the material. Excavations and analyses at El Mirón Cave have been authorized by the Gobierno de Cantabria and funded by the US National Science Foundation, the Gobierno de Cantabria, the National Geographic Society, the Spanish Ministry of Education and Science, the L.S.B. Leakey Foundation, the Marcelino Botín Foundation, the University of New Mexico, the UNM Fund for Stone Age Research (J. and R. Auel, principal donors). Institutional support has been provided by the Universidad de Cantabria with facilities at the Institute of Biomedicine and Biotechnology and the Town of Ramales de la Victoria (Cantabria).

Data Availability Statement

Supplementary data related to this article can be found at


  • Anatomically Modern Humans
  • Cantabrian Spain
  • El Mirón cave
  • Middle to Upper Palaeolithic transition
  • Neanderthals
  • Taphonomy
  • Zooarchaeology


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