the first people to hibernate in winter?

Have you ever heard of the archaeological site of Atapuerca, also known as the “Sierra d’Atapuerca”, or the Sima de los Huesos or the “Cave of Bones”? In fact, the Sierra d’Atapuerca is a group of deposits in the municipality of Atapuerca in northern Spain.

The Sima de los Huesos is an avenue (an abyss) that is home to a 430,000-year-old Paleolithic site that contains a wide range of anthropogenic artifacts and fossils of the first humans, from hunters and gatherers to Bronze Age and modern humans .

While scientists have spent decades studying these human remains since the site was discovered in 1976, two researchers have just made an interesting discovery about the bones stored there.

Bones 6,000 years old!

Researchers Antonis Bartsiokas and Juan-Luis Arsuaga, who work in the Department of History and Ethnology at the Democritus University of Thrace, were indeed interested in the bones of Sima de los Huesos. Note that some of these bones are 600,000 years and 400,000 years old. At first glance, scientists believe that the bodies were deliberately buried in this cave.

Researchers are working at the Atapuerca site, where fossils and stone tools of the first known people in Western Europe were discovered on August 5, 2005 in Atapuerca, Spain. Photo credit: Shutterstock / Natursports

But that’s not all. While doing an excavation in Atapuerca, the researchers found that the bones had a distinctive feature. In fact, they showed signs of seasonal fluctuations, the guard reports. In other words, these signs suggest that early humans experienced an annual disruption in their bone growth, similar to that seen in hibernating species.

While it seems unlikely to us, scientists suggest that this hibernation could have been caused by the lack of food. They write that “the drought could not have provided the people of Sima with enough high-fat food to endure a harsh winter that forced them to hibernate in the caves.”

Did the first humans change their physiological mechanisms in order to survive?

However, if that hypothesis is possible in the eyes of the authors of this study, published in the journal Anthropology, they add that large mammals do not go into the hibernation that we know but into the deep sleep we know. ”Scientists admit, however also suggests that human-sized brains have high demands that may not allow long periods of sleep.

In any event, the scientists say this discovery “offers an innovative approach to the physiological mechanisms of metabolism in early humans that could help determine the life cycle and physiology of extinct human species”. But scientists also speculate that this old hibernation mechanism could prove useful for space travel. A project that NASA has been working on since 2014 …