Covering everything from the major news of the week and burning social issues, to expat living and la vida local, EL PAÍS’ team of English-language bloggers offers its opinions, observations and analysis on Spain and beyond.

Authors (Bloggers)

Chris Finnigan is a freelance journalist based in Barcelona. He writes for Barcelona Metropolitan and is a book reviewer and reader for The Barcelona Review. He is a graduate of the London School of Economics. You can find him on twitter @chrisjfinnigan

Ben Cardew is a freelance journalist, translator and teacher, now resident in Barcelona after growing up gracefully in Scotland via Norwich. He writes for The Guardian, the NME and The Quietus, among others, on everything from music to digital media. You can find him on Twitter @bencardew

Fiona Flores Watson is a freelance journalist, guide and translator who has lived in Seville since 2003, and has been a writer and editor for more than 20 years. She writes for the Guardian, Telegraph and Sunday Times Travel Magazine. Originally from Essex, Fiona is also Consulting Editor of and has her own blog, Scribbler in Seville. She has been contributing to Trans-Iberian since 2014 and tweets at @Seville_Writer

Jeff Brodsky is a freelance writer. He arrived in Barcelona in 2013 via an admittedly indirect route, living in Chicago, Arizona, Seville, Amsterdam, North Carolina and Madrid. Despite not having stepped foot in Seville for over five years, he still speaks Spanish with an Andalusian accent. Jeff’s writing has been published in newspapers and magazines in America and Europe.

Koren Helbig is an Australian freelance journalist and blogger enjoying a life of near-eternal sunshine in Alicante. She writes for publications in Australia, the United States and the United Kingdom, focusing on stories exploring smart and positive approaches to social issues. She hangs out on Twitter at @KorenHelbig and keeps a selection of her favourite stories at

Julie Pybus lives in a small off-grid house on a hillside in Catalunya. She usually focuses on helping charities and social enterprises with their publications and websites, but has also written for The Guardian, Country Living and The Observer. Julie launched and runs a hyperlocal website which endeavors to increase understanding between the different nationalities in her area @JuliePybus

Paul Louis Archer is a freelance photographer, multimedia storyteller and artist educator. A cross-disciplinary worker, who endeavors to encompass the mediums of photography, audio design and writing. Born in Hertfordshire of an English father and Spanish mother. Based in the United Kingdom. @PaulLouisArcher

Vicki McLeod is a freelance writer and photographer. She has lived in Mallorca since 2004. Vicki writes about her beloved island for The Majorca Daily Bulletin, the only daily English language paper in Spain; produces regular columns for the Euro Weekly News, and articles for Vicki runs PR strategies for several businesses in Mallorca and London as well as working on her own blogs and projects. She and her husband, Oliver Neilson, supply photo and text content for private clients via @phoenixmediamlr. She tweets at @mcleod_vicki.

Born in Newcastle upon Tyne and based in Barcelona, Alx Phillips writes about contemporary art, dance and theatre in a way that human beings can understand. For more previews, reviews, interviews and extras, check:

More than bear bones: Awesome Atapuerca

Por: | 10 de julio de 2013


If it had not been for an English mining company, Europe's oldest human species would still be undiscovered, the fossil remains of over a million years trapped inside a Spanish hill that turned out to be riddled with holes and paleoanthropological significance. Atapuerca, a rural parish to the east of Burgos, became a magical name among archeologists in 2007 when the jawbone of an adolescent was shown to belong to a previously unknown hominid species, tuning on its head the previous theory of human presence in Europe.

At the dawn of the 20th century, Basque industry required iron and coal in larger amounts than existing mines in Asturias and León were then able to provide. The Sierra de Demanda in the central Iberian mountain system proved to offer an alternative. The rail route built to link the new mines with the north coast passed through the district of Atapuerca. "Rather than go around the sierra, which as you can see is not very big, these English engineers decided to blast straight through," explains our guide David, himself an archeologist at the site, as the bus picks its way through the green wheat fields between the rivers Arlanzón and Vena that flank the flat-topped Atapuerca range. Some have speculated that the motive was not to build a straighter track, but rather a desire for a limestone bonus once the trench had been blasted deep through the rock, almost, but not quite, straight like a noncommittal smile. The cutting is gated at each end. There is something of Jurassic Park about the site. There has to be something both mysterious and precious inside.

That limestone karst had offered shelter from the elements, safety from animals (and other humans?), natural traps for hunters and even walls to paint for people over a million years. These humans were Homo antecessor - the new species to which that 1.2-million-year-old jawbone belonged - Homo heidelbergensis (previously considered the first Europeans), Homo neanderthalensis and Homo sapiens, who were here right up to the Iron Age, a fact attested to by their zig-zag patterned ceramics. Caves had formed by the action of water and been used by men before successively being filled with sediments, the layers of which are now being skimmed off and analyzed to piece together the history of humankind at Atapuerca.

Did a bowler-hatted mining engineer or the local navvies carving out the railway cutting stop to wonder about the glints of white bone fragments, visible in the galleries that open directly on to the trench? It seems not. The metallurgical railway long gone, the next link in the chain is Trinidad de Torres, a mining engineer who was looking for cave bear fossils as part of his PhD thesis, David continues. "Trino," our unlikely hero, fell in with speleologists, who told him where he could find some bear bones; he found many, and something more. In 1976 Torres went to the anthropologist Emiliano Aguirre with what he thought were human fossils. By 1980 the Sima de los Huesos (Pit of Bones), accessible via a 500-meter crawl through the rock and now a sanctuary only open to the chosen few, became a focus of increasingly feverish archeological activity and would eventually yield the cranium of Miguelón (a heidelbergensis who has become a symbol of the area around Atapuerca) and signs that hundreds of thousands of years ago, man symbolically deposed of its dead.

More holes within Atapuerca's "Swiss cheese" were uncovered, David reveals. Like Galería, a pit which sometime between 200,000 and 400,000 years ago was used as a trap by hunters. Fooled by the judiciously placed vegetation, animals such as deer would fall, perhaps breaking a limb or dying outright at the bottom of this 16-meter chimney. Given that the pit linked to other caves, "would the hunters stay there to feast," our guide enquires? With cave lions or saber-toothed tigers on the loose, the answer is a definite no. What to do? How to haul a great carcass out of the pit? "We have found animal skulls, ribs and vertebrae in there," the guide explains. "But no legs." It seems that even the earliest Iberians were ham freaks.

Stone and later flint axes would be used to butcher the prey. But how can we know when a stray tool or a piece of jawbone, impossible to DNA test due to its great age, is from a certain period? Here a wonderful thing comes into play, explains David. Over the Earth’s history the poles periodically change - north becomes south and vice versa. Iron deposits in rock and sediment can be analyzed and their alignment shown to swing one way and then the other, allowing archeologists and paleontologists to equate the passage of time with an object’s position in a geological formation. Awe at or.

Why here? The area looks like so many other tracts of land across the Castilian meseta: rolling wheat fields, interrupted by craggy hilltops covered in scrub. In fact, Sierra de Atapuerca is in the Bureba Corridor, a geographic passage linking the Ebro and Duero river basins, with the mountains of Sierra de la Demanda to the south and the foothills of the Cantabria Range to the north. Particularly in times of glaciation, this would be an inevitable place of passage for herds of herbivores crossing the northern half of the Iberian peninsula. Groups of four different human species "have walked, slept, hunted, gathered and eaten across the beautiful landscapes that form Sierra de Atapuerca. Horses, rhinos, bison, fallow deer, wild boars, deer, bears, tigers, lynxes, lions and many other animals have shared forests of evergreen oak, juniper, English oak, chestnuts, birch , beech, pine trees and riverine coppices," in the words of the Atapuerca Foundation's excellent website.

So what is left to be discovered? Funnily enough, the 2013 excavation season started this month with the hope of nailing a Neanderthal, that species which has left such abundant remains across the Iberian peninsula. Atapuerca operatives have established beyond all doubt that the heavy-browed human was present at and near the site, thanks to finds of the Neanderthal calling card: the flint ax. But bones to seal the full four-species deal have been stubbornly absent so far. Decades of work lie ahead, and the fortuitous nature of its discovery and the vast amount of sediment still to be excavated means that many more surprises could be in store in Atapuerca - and in who knows how many as-yet unnamed sites across the world. It just needs a railway engineer or a fossil-hunting student to break the seal on an unknown truth.

El País

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