Orce’s Archaeological Wonderland

Orce’s Archaeological Wonderland

The village of Orce is situated on the high plateau of Granada in southern Spain. Residents have long relied on groundwater to raise crops or livestock in the region’s semi-arid landscapes. Many still do, but in 1976 a farmer east of town unearthed some unusual fossilized bones in a field near the Rio Orce that helped turn the town into a destination for archaeological research.

Once archaeologists began digging, they discovered that calcareous muds formed in ponds near the shores of an ancient lake had preserved vast troves of fossils. Among them: a child’s tooth that was 1.4 million years old. According to some experts, that meant the fossils in this area represented some of the oldest examples of hominins in western Europe. Other fossils discovered in this area include saber-toothed tigers, hyenas, hippos, horses, deer, bovids, mammoths, rhinoceroses, wild dogs, and wolves.

The location of that first discovery, as well as several nearby fossil sites that archaeologists have excavated, are within the area shown in the wide view of this satellite image. The image was captured by the OLI-2 (Operational Land Imager) on Landsat 9 on February 23, 2024.

While satellites and remote sensing did not play a direct role in locating the fossils discovered in this area, these technologies have helped advance the field of archaeology in recent decades. Read more about that in Peering through the Sands of Time: Searching for the Origins of Space Archaeology.


NASA Earth Observatory image by Wanmei Liang, using Landsat data from the U.S. Geological Survey. Story by Adam Voiland.

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