10 million years ago, a large freshwater lake occupied the central part of the Madrid basin. There they came to drink the Sabertooth, the bear-dogs and many other large animals. Madrid has been a territory rich in paleontological remains, and fauna fossils from between 23 and 5 million years ago have been found. Some of its deposits are of world reference. And from now on, you can learn more about this aspect at the Regional Archaeological Museum, which has just opened a room dedicated to the subject and will even change its name, becoming Regional Archaeological and Paleontological Museuml.
Before, cavities were formed that acted as natural traps for the animals: moisture accumulated at the bottom, and the large mammals were the only ones who dared to enter them, without being able to leave later on many occasions. This explains the wealth of remains found in sites such as that of Hill of Battalions, in Torrejón de Velasco, where a real treasure was discovered with Machairodus – the popular ‘saber tooth’ -; the Paramachaidorus – the size of a leopard – or the primitive hyenas and bear-dogs. Even red pandas have been found, in addition to large herbivores such as rhinos, the equid Hipparion or the mastodon Tetralophodon.
Paleontology allows you to take a look back to times when this was literally another world. Like the Cretaceous period, where the sea level rose so much that it even partially covered the area of what we know today as Madrid and which were once hardened and coastal areas. But the Madrid basin is internationally known for its Miocene fauna, and especially for large mammals: from the Madrid rhinoceros to the Amphicyon, the largest carnivore, whose dentition is reminiscent of the current wolf.
In Alcalá de Henares
With this immense natural wealth, the strange thing is that to date it has not been valued as it will be from now on in the room dedicated to it in the Regional Archaeological and Paleontological Museum. Fossils, reconstructions of animals and landscapes they will allow the visitor to the new room of the museum, located in Alcalá de Henares, to move with their eyes and their minds to other times and other landscapes. The space will be dedicated to the paleontologist Emiliano Aguirre. And its weight in the museum as a whole is such that it will even generate its name change.
The Minister of Culture, Marta Rivera de la Cruz, inaugurated this Thursday the new room, together with the mayor of Alcalaíno, Javier Rodríguez, the director of the Museum, Enrique Baquedano, the general director of Cultural Heritage, Elena Hernando, and the CSIC Research professor and scientific advisor of the new space Jorge Morales . Regarding the space, the counselor highlighted how “in a pioneering way it connects Archeology and Paleontology” and “comes to recognize the indefatigable work that has been carried out in the museum for years.”
Paleontology, as a discipline, emerged in Spain in the mid-nineteenth century, and was closely linked to the first fossil finds on the terraces of the Manzanares, one of the most important and significant sets of Pleistocene sites in the Iberian Peninsula, declared a Site of Cultural Interest in the Community of Madrid. Remains of aurochs, horses, and Palaeoloxodon antiquus, a somewhat smaller elephant that turned out to be an Iberian endemism, have been found there.
The new room of the Madrid museum displays references to some of the region’s sites that are known worldwide for their finds.
Travel through time
Whoever visits space will travel through time that will allow them to approach what was the territory that we now call Madrid, and that according to experts, was then quite similar to the fauna of the African savannas. There are fossils and anatomical assemblages in it, and recreations of landscapes of great scientific and artistic quality, works made by the paleoartist Mauricio Antón, an internationally recognized expert. The assembly allows the approach to Paleontology not only for specialists, but also from didactics, for the general public. And know what Madrid was like before man.