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1 January 2012
Pendant could be the oldest found at open-air digs in Spain

A pendant discovered last Summer at the Irikaitz archaeological site in Zestoa (in the Basque province of Gipuzkoa, Spain) may be as old as 25,000 years, which would make it the oldest found at open-air excavations throughout the whole of the Iberian Peninsula. The stone is nine centimetres long, has a hole through one end, and was used to sharpen tools. Team leader Alvaro Arrizabalaga: "Almost every year some archaeological artefact of great value is discovered; at times, even 8 or 10. It is a highly fruitful location".
     Irikaitz lies behind the bath spa in Zestoa, on the other side of the river Urola. Mr Arrizabalaga - from the University of the Basque Country (UPV/EHU) - has been carrying out excavations here summer after summer, together with students and researchers from this and other universities and in cooperation with Aranzadi Science Society. Since 1998 they have uncovered 32 square metres, compared to the 8 hectares or more this site covers.
     According to Arrizabalaga, when they started, "We did not know what to expect - either about its chronology or about the kinds of remains likely to be uncovered".  They were fascinated when they came across 'totally exotic' raw material: volcanic stones. Says Arrizabalaga, "It is a geological rarity. In the Urola River valley there is a layer of volcanic stones; the river cut through these, took them to the surface and brought them to this place. This is why humans from prehistory came here - there was no other place in the Basque Country with stones like these".
     Dating in Irikaitz is very difficult, as there are hardly any organic remains - the earth is so acidic that it has consumed almost everything, leaving only stone tools and plant fossils - thus there are few means for dating certain finds.
     There were two periods of human occupation in Irikaitz, the most recent being 25,000 years ago - the pendant discovered this summer being from that time. The older occupation dates from the early Stone Age (Lower Palaeolithic), between 500,000 and 150,000 years ago - a margin of 350,000 years - and the team are currently applying tests in an effort to determine more precise dates for this level.

Edited from Basque Research, Physorg.com, ScienceDaily (27 December 2011)

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