Taphonomy, derived from the Greek “taphos” meaning “burial”, and “nomos” which translates to “law”, is a fundamental discipline for unraveling the mysteries surrounding the fossil deposits. Situated at the intersection of geology and biology, this discipline is devoted to the meticulous analysis of the processes governing fossilization and seeks to discern the causes behind the formation of fossil accumulations.
By examining bone assemblages from a taphonomic perspective, we can decipher a wide range of processes, from carnivore tooth marks to anthropic cut marks, as well as other signals left by biological or geological agents. The fractures present in bones also provide valuable information about their history, indicating when and how they were generated. It is through the interpretation of these data that we can reconstruct past events, understand the processes involved, and in some way, step back in time, akin to investigators at a crime scene.


There are indications that some animals may have mortuary behaviour. Some primates, such as chimpanzees or gorillas, may show changes in their usual behaviour such as staying near the carcass for a period of time, cleaning the teeth of the corpse, or even mothers carrying the carcass of a dead calf for weeks. As time passes, they end up leaving the lifeless body and that activity ceases forever.
Other species, such as dolphins or elephants, also develop specific behaviours with the corpses of their relatives such as looking at, touching or even transporting the corpse for a while. This type of behaviour is fascinating, but it is not considered funerary behaviour, but mortuary. Do you remember the differences between these behaviours?
Death is an experience shared by all living things, but only people honor the dead with funeral rites. Unlike mortuary behaviour (related to the treatment of the body after death), funeral behaviour is a ritual, symbolic activity, characterized by having two components: space and time. Humans create spaces for the dead. In addition, we honor the death and maintain a link with them over time, commemorating the deceased through rites. In this way, a natural process (death) becomes a cultural process, which with different mortuary manifestations, is common to all human cultures that currently inhabit the planet.
The culture of death is a common and exclusive axis of human beings, but, when did our ancestors begin to acquire a culture of death? Listen to our podcast “Historias de la Prehistoria” to learn more!


A holotype is a physical specimen of an organism used when the species is first described.
In 1857 Professor Hermann Schaaffhausen published the analysis of the fossil remains rescued from a German quarry: the upper part of the cranium or calvaria, the ulnae, the femora, the radii, and fragments of the innominate bones, a scapula, a clavicle and some ribs. His conclusions were disconcerting, the morphology of the cranium was different from everything that was known at the time, particularly the strange morphology of his orbital torus.
In 1864, William King reviewed the morphology of the bones and proposed that it was a new species of humans that were named Homo neanderthalensis (man of the Neander Valley). Thus the Neandertals were born in the scientific literature.
The fossils of this specimen are known as Neandertal 1, and thus became the type specimen of this species.


Mount Carmel is a limestone hill rising just over 500 meters above sea level on the Mediterranean coast of northern Israel, near Haifa. Its caves have provided valuable information, especially during excavations conducted between 1929 and 1934 by Dorothy Garrod in the Tabun and Skhul caves.
In Tabun cave, Garrod and her team unearthed a stratigraphic sequence spanning a wide chronological range. Among the most notable discoveries is the nearly complete skeleton of Tabun 1, assigned to an adult  Neanderthal female with an estimated chronology of 120,000 years. She was found lying on her left side in a pit dug into the cave floor. It is considered one of the oldest Neanderthal burials in the fossil record. Tabun 2 is a mandible interpreted as belonging to a male individual.
Just a few meters from Tabun lies the cave of Skhul, where Garrod’s team found numerous pits excavated in the floor of the cave’s vestibule, containing 10 individuals, including adults and children, but with a crucial difference: they were not Neanderthals, but Homo sapiens. Although the individuals at Skhul shared geographic proximity and a similar archaeological context with those at Tabun, their anatomy marked a distinction.
These findings raise significant questions about the relationship between Neanderthals and Homo sapiens in the region, suggesting the potential for coexistence and interaction between the two species.


The fossil dubbed the Taung Child is the type specimen of its species, Australopithecus africanus. The skull exhibits a combination of human and ape-like traits and retains deciduous teeth, providing valuable information for estimating the approximate age at death, which was established between 3 and 4 years old. During fossilization, sediment saturated with calcium carbonate-rich water filled the skull, allowing for the preservation of a replica of the brain as it petrified. The marks present on the skull have been likened to those found on bones discovered in the nests of large raptors, such as eagles. This discovery suggests the possibility that the individual was captured by an eagle and taken to its nest for consumption.
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Once the theory of evolution is accepted, some people start looking for the ancestor of humans. Listen to our podcast “Historias de la Prehistoria” on Spotify to find out more about this “missing link”.


At just 22 years old, Charles Darwin embarked on a transformative journey that lasted nearly five years and took him to explore remote corners of the world. During the voyage, Darwin not only collected samples of native fauna and flora but also made crucial observations that would later inspire his theory of evolution. Along the Argentine coast, he unearthed fossils of extinct creatures such as the megatherium and the glyptodon, which led him to question the predominant theories of his time. Furthermore, his observations on the differences between species of rheas intrigued him and led him to reflect on the relationship between species and their environment. His courage and curiosity led him to explore still unknown regions, such as the Santa Cruz River and the channels of Tierra del Fuego, where he encountered cultures and landscapes that deeply impacted him.
During his stay on the Galápagos Islands, Darwin was fascinated by the diversity of species he found. He observed that tortoises, finches, and other creatures varied significantly from one island to another, sowing the seed of his idea about evolution and natural selection. These discoveries would play a crucial role in the subsequent development of his revolutionary theory.
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Charles Lyell, considered the founder of modern geology, studied law at Oxford but, as he was passionate about the natural sciences, he also attended the lectures and field trips of geologist William Buckland.
Influenced by Hutton’s Theory of the Earth, he focused on actualism and was against catastrophism. In 1827 he decided to give up his law practice and devote himself entirely to geology. His idea was to publish a book with all the material he had been collecting. Finally, the book Principles of Geology was published in three volumes (1830, 1832 and 1833), was a success and became the most influential geological work of the 19th century. It laid the foundations of modern geology by establishing a system for studying the Earth’s geological past, based on the idea that the present is the key to the past. Its importance lies in the fact that it proposes a working method based on three principles: actualism, uniformitarianism and dynamic equilibrium. They could be summarised in that geological processes have always been the same and that slow but steady forces have a greater effect than fast and violent ones. Lyell respected Cuvier’s work, with whom he had a good relationship, although he strongly disagreed with his catastrophist theory.
He maintained a very good friendship with Darwin, whom he met in 1836, on his return from his voyage on the Beagle. He was very interested in the rock samples he had been collecting and in his articles on geology. They saw each other frequently, and later wrote to each other, to discuss scientific questions of interest to both of them. One of them was that of deep time, which each needed to fit their theories: uniformitarianism needed the Earth to be very old, and evolution too. For a time, the theory of evolution and natural selection were a source of disagreement between them. But in 1863 Lyell published “The Geological Evidence of the Antiquity of Man“, in which he accepted the theory of evolution with some reservations; the following year, in his second edition, he fully accepted it. And with his approval, the theory gained many followers.
If you are interested in geology, its different theories and, in general, the history of prehistory, we encourage you to listen to our podcast!


Have you ever wondered why scientists need to classify living organisms and who laid the foundation for the classification of living beings as we know it today?
In the third episode of our podcast “Historias de la Prehistoria” and in this new post, we talk about Carl von Linneo and the importance of his work in the organization of living beings.
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Have you had the chance to listen to our podcast “Historias de la Prehistoria“?
If so, don´t miss the third episode which will be coming out tomorrow! Meanwhile, we invite you to go one step further and dive into the fascinating details of William Smith’s scientific contributions to geology.
If you have not been able to listen to it yet, don’t wait any longer and join the adventure.  Find us on Spotify or keep reading this blog to discover more about William Smith and other exciting topics.