The Sierra de Atapuerca sites have been known since the end of the 19th century. The Burgos-based Edelweiss Caving Club (ECC) began to catalogue and map Cueva Mayor in the 1950’s. In 1962, ECC members reported sightings of fossils in the Railway Cutting to the authorities. Ten years later, the ECC discovered Galería del Sílex and in 1976, they located hominid skulls in Sima de los Huesos. The story of the Atapuerca Project really began in the same year, when mining engineer Trinidad Torres identified human remains in Sima de los Huesos. He informed palaeontologist Emiliano Aguirre, who immediately decided to investigate the Sierra de Atapuerca sites. In 1978, Aguirre designed a research project for the first digs in these hills. Emiliano Aguirre led the excavations until 1991, when he retired and handed over the leadership of the Atapuerca Research Project to Juan Luis Arsuaga, José María Bermúdez de Castro and Eudald Carbonell, deputy chairs and founders of the Atapuerca Foundation. The three co-directors built up a multidisciplinary excavation team which won the Prince of Asturias Award for Scientific and Technical Research in 1997.
The Atapuerca Research Team (ART) now includes nearly 300 experts from 22 countries and 30 scientific disciplines. During the summer digs, they work at the Atapuerca sites, and spend the rest of the year at universities and research centres where they work in collaboration with the Foundation.