Excavation work at the Atapuerca archaeological complex in northwestern Spain has unearthed a small flint knife that was made 1.4 million years ago and is the oldest evidence of the presence of hominids at the site.

A small, three-centimeter stone fragment with a very defined edge lends weight to the hypothesis that hominids have maintained a permanent presence in Europe for nearly 1.5 million years, Eudald Carbonell, one of the three excavation directors, said.

That would contradict the generally accepted theory that Europe was populated in waves and was devoid of hominids for long periods of time, he added.

The small knife was discovered at the Sima del Elefante cave infill, two meters below the spot when archaeologists discovered a jawbone fragment that, until this latest find, had been considered the oldest evidence of the presence of hominids in Europe.

In an earlier find, a biface (hand axe) found at Atapuerca's Gran Dolina led experts to link that large cave with the Sima de los Huesos (Pit of Bones), which contains remains of the Homo heidelbergensis species, a human predecessor, dating back more than 400,000 years.

The remains of that species have almost exclusively been discovered at Atapuerca.

Another object found at Atapuerca, a 1-million-year-old sandstone chopping tool, led experts to hypothesize a link between 800,000-year-old Homo heidelbergensis remains with the oldest hominid remains at the site (dating back as far as 1.2 million years).

The discovery of the flint knife now provides evidence of the existence of even older settlements. EFE