Emiliano Aguirre, discoverer of Atapuerca, dies at 96

When the paleontologist from Ferrol (Coruña) Emiliano Aguirre began to work at the Atapuerca site in Burgos in 1976, this enclave was only a promise. His initial work was the introduction of a fundamental book to understand the history of humanity in an area declared World Heritage ago 21 years by Unesco. Aguirre died this Monday at 96 years, as confirmed by the Atapuerca Foundation. Ana Crespo, president of the Natural Sciences Section of the Royal Academy of Exact, Physical and Natural Sciences of Spain, recalls that Aguirre was the first director of the Atapuerca project: “I believe that, rigorously, it can be said that he was its discoverer”.

José Luis Sanz, paleontologist, Spanish popularizer and one of the countless disciples of Aguirre in a multitude of scientific disciplines, considers that the recently deceased professor has undoubtedly been responsible for “the entry of Spain in the modernity of Paleontology ”. His enormous scientific and teaching capacity stands out, which has given rise to “dozens and dozens of researchers”: “Not only did he discover Atapuerca, but he also started the research and launched the multidisciplinary structure that has made the site a world reference. He is the undisputed father of modern paleontology. ”

Aguirre began working in the Sierra de Atapuerca in 1976 and raised his findings to the category of discoveries of world importance until the international recognition of this deposit, located 15 kilometers east of the capital of Burgos, as one of the most important to understand human evolution.

Already in 1983, Aguirre warned that Atapuerca was a unique site and insisted on the need to maintain the excavation campaigns due to the lack of funds, which forced the temporary closure of the tasks planned that year.

His works were recognized with the Prince of Asturias Award to Scientific and Technical Research in 1998, a year before Juan Luis Arsuaga, José María Bermúdez de Castro and Eudald Carbonell assumed the direction of the Atapuerca Foundation.

The relay did not distance him from the reservoir or. Until the last moment he stayed in contact with the project and contributed an important bibliographic and documentary legacy on the findings in the cave.

More than a million years

In the deposits of the Sierra de Atapuerca fossil remains and evidence of the presence of five different hominid species have been found: Homo sp . (yet to be determined, 1. 300. 000 years), Homo ancestor r (850. 000 years), pre-Neanderthal (500.000 years), Homo neanderthalen sis (50. 000 years) and Homo sapiens .

Graduated in Philosophy, Natural Sciences, Theology and PhD in Biological Sciences, from the beginning he conceived the Burgos quarry as a multidisciplinary and long-term project.

In addition to the Prince of Asturias, in 1998 was awarded the Castilla y León Prize in Social Sciences and Humanities and in 1999, the Gold Medal for Merit at Work . In 2000 he was appointed permanent academic of the Royal Academy of Exact, Physical and Natural Sciences and, later, an honorary member of the College of Biologists of Galicia.

Aguirre’s connection with Atapuerca was favored by an Engineering student to whom he directed the thesis and who found some teeth in the area. In that moment he knew they were human. In the cut made in the ground for the construction of a railway line, the paleontologist found more fossils

The scientist did not focus only on Atapuerca. Between 1955 and 1962 he discovered in the province of Granada more than twenty deposits with fossils from between 900. 000 and 1. 200. 000 years.

Emiliano de Aguirre was also one of the creators of the Madrid school of vertebrate paleontology and assumed in 1985 the address of the Museum of Natural Sciences, created in 1771 by Carlos III on the basis of funds donated by Pedro Francisco Dávila, born in Guayaquil (Ecuador).

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