Alto de la Huesera and Camino del Molino

Overarching period: Copper Age, 6,500 to 3,700 BP
Specific period: Bell Beaker Culture, 4800 – 3800 BP
Carbon dating: 3,900 - 4,500 years old
Alto de la Huesera - 42.57° North, °2.57 West
Camino del Molino - 38.10° North, 1.85° West
Site location country: Spain
mtDNA haplogroups: U, J, V, H
Y haplogroups: I, C, G

Copper Dagger Example of a Copper Age dagger [4]

The Individuals of Alto de la Huesera and Camino del Molino:

The individuals in this sample were found at two sites in present-day Spain. Four of them came from the site Alto de la Huesera, seventy kilometers (forty-three miles) southeast of Álava in the Basque Country. The other four individuals came from the site Camino del Molino, on the east side of the town Calavaca de la Cruz, seventy-four kilometers (forty-six miles) west of the city of Murcia. The individuals were carbon dated to between 4,147 and 5,100 years old [11,12].

The site of Alto de la Huesera is a tomb formed by seven vertical slabs with a corridor around eight meters long, known as a dolmen. Significant volumes of material were used in the construction of dolmens, which has led scientists to believe that they were cultural icons and therefore required a degree of social organization [13]. It is believed that the tomb was built around 5,000 years ago and was used continuously until 3,550 years ago [11]. Inside the burial was skeletal remains of 130 individuals, arrow points, sylex flints, a bronze burin, a gold plaque, a bone point and some ornaments made from bone and rock [11]. A decorated slab was found in the tomb, with five deep horizontal grooves which meet at one end. It is believed that these grooves represent daggers [14].

Social unrest was common in this region at this time, which could have manifested as violent conflict. Using chemical analyses to determine details about the childhood diets of the individuals buried at Alto de la Huesera [15], scientists found that, firstly, females were exclusively breastfed for a longer duration than males. This could be because of different parenting strategies depending on the sex of the baby. Secondly, both males and females had a delayed weaning process (both were partially breastfed up to four years of age). This could be due to poor food supply. Finally, females at the age of nine to eleven had low protein intake, indicating either poor diet due to age- and sex-related social practices or high physiological demand.

The other site in this sample, Camino del Molino, is over 4,000 years old. It is a burial site with the remains of 1,363 individuals. It is located five-hundred meters from the settlement Molinos de Papel, where it is believed the individuals lived. The skeletons of the individuals appear to be dispersed around the site, most likely because they were moved to make space for more remains. Only one hundred and eighty-two skeletons remain complete. Although most were in a foetal position, one had its hand tied behind its back. Some skulls show signs of violence. Among the remains were about twenty copper items, including a spike and a dagger, forty arrowheads, sixty flint knifes, four axes, several daggers, some rods made of bone, and four hundred pottery vessels [16].

In the burial site, there were six wolf skeletons, and the remains of over forty dogs [16]. Domestic animal bones have also been found in burial sites in the surrounding area from a similar time-period. This suggests that the human-animal relationship was already complex at that time. Some scientists believe that these animal bones may be evidence of ritualistic offerings, although the significance of this is not entirely clear. It is possible that the animals were killed and buried with the individuals to accompany the deceased [17].

Genetic evidence suggests that early Iberian farmers were interbreeding with local hunter-gathers at this time [12]. The Copper Age individuals in this sample had a large proportion of hunter-gatherer ancestry [11]. Evidence suggests that there was more than one way that hunter-gatherer DNA was mixed in with the ancestors of these individuals – some of the ancestry comes from admixture between farmers and local hunter-gatherers; some comes from admixture with other farmers who had themselves interbred with hunter-gatherers from different areas [11]. Shortly after this period, central European individuals migrated into Britain, displacing the previous population. However, genetic analysis suggests that they did not arrive from Iberia and that the similar culture in Iberia and central Europe spread by diffusion of technology, not through movement of people [12].

Three of the individuals in this sample belonged to mitochondrial haplogroup U, which was the most common haplogroup among European hunter-gatherers of the Paleolithic and still exists in Europe today although at lower frequencies due to the genetic contribution of incoming European farmers [18]. Two of the individuals belonged to mitochondrial group J, which can be found in about 12% of the present European population and is also found in Middle East and North-East Africa. It originated in the Paleolithic (45,000 years ago), potentially in the Caucuses area [19]. Individuals of this haplogroup may produce higher body heat – a trait which may have been selected for in northern Europe [20]. Another two individuals belonged to the mitochondrial haplogroup V, which is a haplogroup believed to have evolved in Western Europe at a time when ice covered almost the entire continent, causing Iberia to become a refugium. As the glaciers retreated around 15,000 years ago, the haplogroup was then carried across Europe [21]. The final individual belonged to the haplogroup H, which is also commonly found in Europe today and is known to have Middle Eastern origins. It has been found in Mesolithic hunter-gatherers, and existed in Europe prior to the arrival of agriculture [22].

Of the four males in the sample, two belonged to Y-chromosomal haplogroup I, which dates to the Paleolithic Iran/Caucuses area, and likely arrived with steppe peoples into Europe [23]. The other two males belonged to Y-chromosomal haplogroups C and G. Haplogroup C is very rare among Europeans but common in Asia, particularly Japan and Oceania [24]. Some evidence suggests that one subclade of this haplogroup may represent a direct patrilineal descent from Genghis Khan [25]. Haplogroup G is common in Europe today but thought to be of Anatolian or Iranian origin [26].