Zafarraya is a Mousterian site located within the El Boquete de Zafarraya (The Zafarraya Pass) of the Sierra Tejeda Mountains in the northeastern portion of the Malaga province of southern Spain, near the border of the town of Alcaucin. Five layers of archaeological material typed to the Mousterian were identified during initial excavations (1980-1983) by Cecilio Barroso-Ruiz and P. Medina Lara. An expanded excavation of the site by Barroso-Ruiz and Jean-Jacques Hublin in 1992 provided human and faunal remains, as well as typical Mousterian artifacts characterized by classic Levallois techniques. Hominid material recovered from the site includes one nearly complete mandible as well as isolated teeth and postcranial fragments. Zafarraya is notable for its secure dating of Neandertal occupation to approximately 33 kya—and likely occupation as late as 27 kyr—providing an example of one of the latest known surviving Neandertal populations.
The most diagnostic specimen from the site is a nearly complete mandible (specimen no. 8698). This specimen has a number of features similar to other late surviving Neandertals. Some notable features include teeth that are small in relation to the height of the mandibular corpus, anterior teeth that are large in relation to the postcanine teeth, a vertical symphysis with a mental trigone and moderate mental eminence, mental foramina positioned under P4, a retromolar space, and a relatively broad ascending ramus. Additional material excavated at the site include a second, burnt mandible, a partial femur, a partial innominate, and isolated teeth. Except for isolated teeth discovered in the upper levels, the hominid material was discovered in association with a hearth on the lowest deposits in the cave. This material also shows varying degrees of Neandertal affinity, though several features of the partial femur and innominate may link the material to later Upper Paleolithic modern humans, possibly providing evidence of continuity with later European populations.
The archaeological and faunal material from the site reveal several important features. Approximately 90% of the faunal material recovered are identified as Capra ibex pyraneica, a local subspecies of goat, which may indicate specialized hunting or scavenging. However, predator fauna has also been recovered, so these predators may largely be responsible for collecting the material. No detailed taphonomic report has been published on the material. The faunal material is also important in dating the site. Bone samples were used in radiocarbon tests, and teeth samples were used in uranium-series dating. Teeth directly associated with the Neandertal remains in the lower level gives a thorium-uranium (Th/U) date of 33,400 years ago, material from the upper level gives a radio-carbon date of 29,800 B.P. and a Th/U date of 27,000 B.P., and material from the middle level gives a radiocarbon date of 31,800 and Th/U date of 31,700 years ago. These dates confirm that Zafarraya is one of the latest surviving Neandertal sites currently known.
The lithic material discovered from all layers is distinctly Mousterian, indicating that the population exploiting the cave may not have been exposed to more advanced Neandertal or anatomically modern human Upper Paleolithic blade technologies that were in use across much of Europe at the time. Zafarraya is one of a number of late surviving Neandertal sites located on the Iberian Peninsula that lack any Upper Paleolithic materials. The persistence of Neandertal populations in this area exhibiting a lack of Chatelperronian or early technologies, as well as the lack of early modern human sites in the area, led to the development of the Ebro Frontier model. This model states that the Ebro river basin in northern Spain acted as a biogeographical barrier to the spread of technologies and peoples into the Iberian, allowing the late survival of distinct Neandertal populations.
The Zafarraya site is significant as a representative of one of the latest securely dated Neandertal occupations, and represents one of the best-known sites in the cul-de-sac of Iberia, which may have been the last holdout for the European Neandertals.
- Barroso-Ruiz, C. (1984). Le gisement mousterian de la grotte du Boquete de Zafarraya (Alcaucin-Andalouise) [The Mousterian deposits from Zafarraya cave]. L’Anthropologie, 88, 133-134.
- Hublin, J.-J, Barroso-Ruiz, C., Medina Lara, P., Fontugne, M., & Reyss, J.-L. (1995). The Mousterian site of Zafarraya (Andalucia, Spain): Dating and implications on the Palaeolithic peopling process of Western Europe. C. R. Acad. Sci. Paris Series, 2a(321), 931-937.
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