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Max Abroad : The Best of Spain

Quite simply writing about the best things Spain has to offer and anything that might crop up along the way. Spain is a lot more than just sun, sand and sea...

Spanish Neanderthals had there own medicine
22 May 2017


Recently, the science journal Nature published a study co-authored by Lalueza-Fox that suggests the extinct human species the Neandethal had developed its own medicine cabinet to cope with pain and disease.

This is what emerges from an analysis of calcified dental plaque from two individuals who once lived in the northern Spanish cave of El Sidrón in Asturias.

“Evidence for self-medication was detected in an El Sidrón Neanderthal with a dental abscess and a chronic gastrointestinal pathogen,” reads the study abstract.

Ancient DNA from this individual’s dental plaque suggests that he chewed poplar bark, which is a natural source of salicylic acid, the analgesic ingredient in aspirin. “This bark has no nutritional value, so why would he chew it if not to relieve the pain?” wondered Lalueza-Fox who works at the Evolutionary Biology Institute in Barcelona, at a presentation of the study.

The Neanderthal also consumed Penicillium, a fungus with antibiotic properties. These results back the findings of an earlier 2012 study, which concluded that the Neanderthals of El Sidrón used plants like chamomile, which helps with digestion, and Achillea, which has anti-inflammatory properties.



The British prehistorian Karen Hardy, of Barcelona’s Autonomous University, signed both papers. “All of the world’s animals self-medicate. Dogs, for instance, eat grass to induce vomiting. To me , the surprising thing would be for Neanderthals not to self-medicate,” she said.

Recent research has dispelled the cartoonish notion of Neanderthals as subhuman creatures. Members of the species adorned themselves with showy feathers, possessed praiseworthy technology, used fire to cook, buried their dead and had sex with modern humans over 100,000 years ago.

According to hardy The Neanderthals were intelligent, and they possessed an ecological knowledge that we have lost. María Martinón Torres, a paleoanthropologist at London University College, notes how the study shows that Belgian Neanderthals had a meat-based diet, while the Spanish ones were more vegetarian. A diversity that portrays the Neanderthals as a flexible species, able to exploit different resources depending on circumstance and availability.

This researcher is aware however that a British anthropologist named Chris Stringer came up with an alternative theory in 2013: that these non-food plants were found in Neanderthal dental records due to their own consumption of herbivore stomach contents. But Martinón Torres notes that the indications of salicylic acid and natural antibiotic consumption only show up in a Neanderthal with a painful dental abscess, which as far as she is concerned, seems like more than just a happy coincidence.



The cave of El Sidrón, in the northern Spanish region of Asturias, was discovered in 1994 and excavation has been going on since 2000. Since then, it has produced a treasure trove of 2,500 bone remains from at least 13 Neanderthal individuals, both male and female. Around 49,000 years ago, in what appears to be an act of survival cannibalism.

Professor Lalueza-Fox told a meeting of the Royal Society in London that they appeared to have been killed and eaten, with their bones and skulls split open to extract the marrow, tongue and brains.  The victims included three female and three male adults, three boys aged 12-15 and three children aged from two to nine years.  All had been butchered.  It must have been a big feast.  We think Neanderthal groups were about 10-12 strong so this may have been a complete family group, although someone may have got away.

Neanderthals lived in Europe from about 240,000 to 30,000 years ago so their remains at most sites range over many millennia.  Unusually, the El Sidron find captured a single deadly event one day around 49,000 BC – thousands of years before the first modern humans arrived in Europe.  The remains were all buried in a room-sized gallery 250 yards from the entrance, but were likely washed into the chamber from above.

Professor Lalueza-Fox said: “We think the victims were killed in a rock shelter above where their bones were found.  They were killed and their bones stripped of meat and dumped.  Then shortly after they were killed, a powerful storm came along and washed the bones, stone tools and sediments down a chimney and into the little gallery where we found them.  Those sediments sealed the chimney and the gallery, so the bones sat there for 51,000 years till they were found again.”

The bones were remarkably well-preserved and their DNA virtually uncontaminated, allowing Professor Lalueza-Fox and his team to sequence Neanderthal genes governing features like hair colour, blood group and taste perception.

The El Sidron find is not the first evidence of cannibalism among Neanderthals, which may be one of the reasons why they were ultimately less successful than modern humans.  Professor Lalueza-Fox explained: “Neanderthals had small social networks, which made them less able to co-operate with others in times of trouble.  Perhaps that made them prone to eating each other when times got hard.”

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The Most Enchanting Park in Spain
12 May 2017

The burbling of crystalline water, the light filtering through the leaves of the trees, bathing the landscape in a lime green light and the aroma of nature has made this place one of Navarre's most spectacular sights.
The Source of the Urederra river is located north of Estella-Lizarra. It is the natural outlet of the aquifer lying under the karstic massif of Urbasa. Its springs to life at an altitude of 700 metres, on the southern edge of the plateau, with an impressive 100 metre fall that, over millions of years, has modelled a rocky amphitheatre of breathtaking beauty. The summit of the face itself reaches more than 900 metres.As the river continues other waterfalls and abundant turquoise-coloured pools are formed as a consequence of the karstic structure, which lets the water repeatedly seep through the cracks in the rocks from the bowels of the earth. The particular hue of these waters probably inspired the name of the river, as "Urederra" means "beautiful water". Apart from the water, there is also a diversity of flora and fauna occupying this natural space, beech, oak, elm, maple, yew and almond trees, stand out among the more significant plants, while Griffon and Egyptian vultures, kites, eagles and ravens represent the animal kingdom. Variety is one of the park's natural hallmarks.
A low-difficulty trail, 5.3 kilometres long, accompanies the river up to it's beautiful source. The route, which is clearly marked, begins on the edge of the car park located at the entrance of the town of Baquedano. After taking the main track and crossing a gate, the trail forks. I recommend going up the left branch of the trail, which runs closer to the river and returning along the eastern path, which runs at a higher elevation. 
This mysterious place is part of the Urbasa-Andía Nature Reserve, located in the Amescoa Valley, a land of bioclimatic transition, flanked by the Urbasa plateau and the precipitous Sierra de Loquiz. These lands were declared a Natural Park on the 27th of February 1997. Together they cover an area of 21,408 Hectares mainly covered with beech woods and mountain pastures. 
 Among other attractions, Amescoa offers numerous nature trails, many megalithic remains and villages that maintain their traditional nature. To top it all off, you can enjoy the excellent local food, based on local products such as beans, lamb, ewe's milk junket, Idiazabal cheese and the famous Patxaran sloe berry liqueur!

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Best time to visit : In Summer or Autumn

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The Cement Factory That Became a Home...
01 May 2017



An architect in Barcelona has spent almost half a century renovating an old cement factory into his home office—and managed to create a gorgeous statement of functionality and enchantment along the way.

Known as “La Fábrica,” the modern-day fortress that houses Ricardo Bofill’s firm, Taller de Arquitectura, is a visual incongruence of exposed concrete and rich green flora. After purchasing the cement factory in 1973, Bofill transformed the eight spacious silos into a lofty interior for his workshop and home


The cement factory, dating from the first period of the industrialization of Catalonia, was not built at once or as a whole but was a series of additions as the various chains of production became necessary. The formal result was given, then, by a series of stratified elements, a process which is reminiscent of vernacular architecture, but applied to industry.

Bofill already imagined future spaces and found out that the different visual and aesthetics trends that had developed since World War I coexisted here. Surrealism in paradoxical stairs that lead to nowhere; the absurdity of certain elements hanging over voids; huge but useless spaces of weird proportions, but magical because of their tension and disproportion.

Seduced by the contradictions and the ambiguity of the place, he quickly decided to retain the factory, and modifying its original brutality, sculpt it like a work of art.

The result proves that form and function must be dissociated; in this case, the function did not create the form; instead, it has been shown that any space can be allocated whatever use the architect chooses, if he or she is sufficiently skilful.

“Presently I live and work here better than anywhere else. It is for me the only place where I can concentrate and associate ideas in the most abstract manner" says Bofill.

"I have the impression of living in a precinct, in a closed universe which protects me from the outside and everyday life. The Cement Factory is a place of work par excellence. Life goes on here in a continuous sequence, with very little difference between work and leisure. I have the impression of living in the same environment that propelled the Industrial Revolution in Catalonia.”

Bofill’s studio is located in the factory silos over four floors connected by a spiral staircase. Reflecting the company’s culture, the highly functional floor layout encourages team work and provides a perfect environment for individual concentration and creativity. Ricardo Bofill’s office on the first floor is a minimalist space with 4 meters ceiling height and pristine white walls and carpet.


The doors, windows and decorative elements are clear references to a cultured, historical architecture, in contrast to what might be described as the industrial vernacular of the original factory.

As part of the creative renewal and adaptative reuse of the cement plant, the factory hall was transformed into a conference and exhibition room, generous in size with floor to ceiling heights of 10 meters. With slightly oxidized surfaces, the raw concrete walls preserve the industrial aesthetics and spatial quality, the memory of the structure’s former use.

The site, largely covered with grass, is bordered by groups of eucalyptus, palms, olive and prune tree, mimosas, and climbing plants that wrap the exposed concrete walls, giving the building this mysterious aspect of romantic ruin that makes it unique and unrepeatable.

Bofill has never ceased to renew this large industrual building for the past forty years, enlarging and embellishing its spaces as writing the history of his life, a biography in constant evolution. In the upper part of the factory Ricardo Bofill transformed a huge volume of brute cement into the main living room. It is a perfect cube with a sequence of arc windows.

The kitchen-dining room located in the ground floor is the meeting point for the family. In the middle of the room, a white marble rectangular table supported on ironwork legs surrounded with Thonet chairs, seat and backrest with wickerwork. Two-sided fireplaces designed by the architect Oscar Tusquets, add warmth, charm, and ambience to the room.

The renovation draws its inspiration from the Catalan Gothic style, and also includes influences from other architectural languages. According to Bofill, while today the original cement factory has been successfully transfigured, La Fábrica will always remain an “unfinished work.” La Fábrica stands as a testament to the fact that any space can be reborn, and proves that an imaginative architect can adapt their art to even the most unexpected surroundings.

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