At present, the codirector of the Atapuerca project, Juan Luis Arsuaga Ferreras (1954—) is one of the two most outstanding Spanish paleoanthropologists. Full professor of human paleontology at University Complutense of Madrid, he has been a member of the research team of Atapuerca site since 1982, when Emiliano Aguirre organized a multidisciplinary group to study this hominid site. In 1991, he became codirector of the Atapuerca research team, which was awarded in 1997 with the Principe of Asturias prize, the most important scientific research award in the Hispanic world. Furthermore, Arsuaga became a member of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States.
Arsuaga is famous worldwide for his finding at Sima de los Huesos, which is a small cavity at the end of a ramp, accessed by a 13-meter vertical shaft, at Cueva Mayor, Atapuerca. The Sima de los Huesos is one of the most productive paleanthropological sites in the world, because at least 28 different individuals had been identified. Several very well-preserved and almost complete craniums, mandibles, pelvis, femurs, hands, and feet have a mixture of ancient and modern characteristics. Some are similar to their Neandertal descendants and others to their ancestors, the first Europeans. These findings allowed Arsuaga and his colleagues to publish many papers in the most prestigious scientific journals.
In the field of anthropology, Arsuaga is specialist in human skeletal morphology, biomechanics, sexual dimorphism, taphonomy, paleoetology, paleopathology and phylogeny of hominids. His discoveries of several skeletons of Homo heidelbergensis in Sima de los Huesos allowed him to propose a new phylogeny for the Homo sapiens lineage. Apart from his main research in Atapuerca, he has participated in the excavations of other hominids sites in Spain and in the Early Pliocene Middle Awash site in Ethiopia.
Several of Arsuaga’s books are best sellers in Spain and have been translated to other languages, including English, for example, The Neanderthal’s Necklace: In Search of the First Thinkers (2002) and The Chosen Species: The Long March of Human Evolution (2005). Nevertheless, his most notable book is El Enigma de la Esfinge (2001), which is a metaphor to explain the mechanisms and the enigma of the purpose of evolution. His writings are excellent popularizations of his findings in the Atapuerca site, explaining very clearly and rigorously his evolutionary theories regarding the origin of humankind.
- Arsuaga, J. L. (2002). The Neanderthal’s necklace: In search of the first thinkers. New York: Four Walls Eight Windows.
- Arsuaga, J. L., & Martinez, I. (2005). The chosen species: The long march of human evolution. Malden, MA: Blackwell.
- Arsuaga, J. L., Carretero, J. M., Lorenzo, C., Garcia, A., Martinez, I., & Bermudez de Castro, E. (1997). Size variation in Middle Pleistocene Humans. Science, 2111, 1086-1088.