The Azokh Cave site in the Caucasus was an important passageway for the hominins during their migration from Africa to Europe and Asia

This is reflected in the first international and multidisciplinary monograph dedicated to the site where the members of the IPHES have big input

Students from this region complete their formation and scientific degree through different international programmes where the IPHES participates too

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The study of migratory routs, used by different hominin groups during their migration from Africa to Europe and Asia, is one of the most important branches of investigation. There are different proposals and geographic points, which may have had particular importance. The Azokh Cave site, located in Nagorno Karabakh (Southern Caucasus) is now getting special prominence.

The first international and multidisciplinary monograph dedicated to the excavations and research of Azokh titled “Azokh Cave and the Transcaucasian Corridor” was published by Springer, an international editorial, specialised in science, medicine, and technology.

According to this study, the hominins and different animals inhabited Azokh Cave during their pass from Africa to Europe and Asia around 300 to 100 thousand years ago BP. Moreover, this cave was used by three different hominin species: Homo heidelbergensis, Homo neandertalensis and Homo sapiens, and has almost continuous register of lithic remains (from Middle to Upper Pleistocene) associated with fauna.

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Homo heidelbergensis remains discovered at Azokh Cave – Fernández-Javo et al.

The monograph includes the results of detailed studies of all these remains (hominin, faunal, vegetal and technological) found in Azokh during the excavation seasons of 2002 – 2009. In addition, an important effort was made to contextualise the site in the Caucasus connecting the results obtained from Azokh Cave with other sites of the same chronology and from the same geographic area (e.g., Kudaro I, Kudaro III, Treugol’naya, Tsona, Djruchula, Mezmaiskaya etc.).

More than twenty institutions and research centres from different countries are involved in the monograph’s publication. The IPHES has a great input in it, as five out of fifteen chapters (those of lithic artefacts, macro and micro vertebrate remains, taphonomy and charcoals) are leaded by its researchers and collaborators such as Dr. Isabel Cáceres, Dr. Ethel Allué, Dr. Andreu Ollé, Dr. Hugues A. Blain and Dr. Lena Asryan.

The History

Azokh Cave was discovered by M. Huseinov in 1960’s and was excavated for around twenty years by Russian and Azerbaijani researchers. Almost all the sedimentary infill and fossil contents at the entrance of Azokh 1 was emptied during these excavations leaving a small part at the back of the entrance. During these excavations faunal and lithic remains were recovered together with a hominin mandible fragment in unit V, which was classified as Homo heidelbergensis.

In 2002, an international, multidisciplinary research team restarted the excavations at the site. During these excavations, from Unit V (300.000 years old) together with herbivore (Equus hydruntinus, Equus ferus, Stephanorhinus hemitoechus, Stephanorhinus kirchbergensis, Capreolus pygargus, Dama aff. peloponesiaca, Dama sp., Megaloceros solihacus, Cervus elaphus, Bison schoetensacki, Ovis ammon, Capra aegagrus, Saiga tatarica) and carnivore faunal remains (Canis cf. Lupus, Canis aureus, Meles meles, Martes cf. Foina, Crocuta crocuta, Lynx sp., Felis chaus, Panthera pardus, Ursus spelaeus, Ursus sp.), Middle Pleistocene lithic artefacts (it can be characterised as Late Acheulean or pre-Mousterian without bifaces) and fragments of charcoals were found.

Cave bear (Ursus spelaeus) is present in all the excavated archaeological units, but it is dominant particularly in Unit II with a chronology between 180 to 100 thousand years BP. The cave bear remains are associated with Levallois lithic assemblage in this unit. In addition, a hominin tooth was found at this unit determined as Homo neanderthalensis.

In one of the cave entrances (discovered during 2003 excavation season and named as Azokh 5) remains of Homo sapiens were found dated by 14C between 1.265 and 2.300 years.

Involvement of the IPHES

The IPHES was involved in the “Azokh Caves Project” in 2006 through researchers Ethel Allué and Isabel Cáceres. The participation of the institution was increasing since then, bringing not only experts to the project (they are more than twelve now) but also helping the local students to continue their formation and studies in the IPHES and URV (University Rovira i Virgili) through the international Master’s or pre-doctoral grants in Quaternary and Human Evolution under the supervision of the researchers from the IPHES.

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The monograph includes the results of detailed studies of all these remains (hominin, faunal, vegetal and technological) found in Azokh during the excavation seasons of 2002 – 2009

Doctoral thesis

In this context, Lena Asryan is one of the examples, who studied first the IPHES-URV’s Masters of Erasmus Mundus and then continued the doctoral studies in Quaternary and Prehistory (funded by the Wenner-Gren foundation [WIF-212]) at the same university. In September of 2015 she defended her doctoral thesis titled “Azokh Cave lithic assemblages and its contextualization in the Middle and Upper Pleistocene of South-west Asia”.

This research study is focused on the lithic assemblages of Azokh Cave recovered during the excavations of 2002 to 2013. The study of these assemblages indicates that the human occupation of the cave was short and seasonal in character and that it was alternatively occupied by hominins and large carnivores.

These conclusions are supported also by other studies (geological and paleontological) presented in the monograph, which show occupation of the cave by Ursids for hibernation during the dry periods of the cave (autumn-winter) and opportunistic access of hominins to bear carcases after the hibernation, possibly for obtaining leftover meat, skin and ligaments.

The investigation in Azokh Cave is included within the working lines of the research group known as IPHES-URV “Evolució social, cultual i biológica al Plistocè inferior i Mitjà” (AGAUR, SGR 2014-899) and in the Research Development Programme of the URV (2014PFR-URV-B2-17 and 2015PFR-URV-B2-17).

 

 

 

IPHES hires three youngsters through a guarantee youth program

They are going to be working from Monday to Friday, full-time during six months

Run by experts of this research center they will achieve tasks, according to their specialty, within the paleoecology, restoration and photography fields

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IPHES (Institut Català de Paleoecologia Humana i Evolució Social) counts since November 15th, on the incorporation of 3 technicians with employment contract in practices as a result of the European program of Garantia Juvenil, designed to offer training and employment opportunities to youngsters between 16 and 30 years who neither study nor work.

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Sioba Grande, Blanca Sicília and Sheila García at IPHES – Laura López

Run by experts of this research center they will achieve tasks, according to their specialty, within the paleoecology, restoration and photography fields. All of the technicians enjoy now from contracts by the Iniciativa d’Ocupació Juvenil and the Fons Social Europeu 2014-2020, with a 91,89% of cofinancial support.

The given grant to IPHES has an amount of 33.000 euros that let to open 3 employment contracts in practices for a 6 month period and a 100% of working day.

Members of IPHES teach to undergraduate students in the History and Arts History degree at URV

In some of the curses, doctoral students contribute significantly

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During the 2016-17 academic year, members of the Institut Català de Paleoecologia Humana i Evolució Social (IPHES), teach a total of four subjects in the frame of the History and Arts History undergraduate degrees of the Universitat Rovira i Virgili de Tarragona (URV), three of which are mandatory. These are: Human evolution and Culture, and Historic Methodology, by Robert Sala, and Prehistory, by Ethel Allué and Eudald Carbonell. In some of these subjects,  doctoral students, Anna Rufà, Esther López, Leopoldo Pérez and Pedro Piñero contribute significantly.

The optional course is Prehistory of the Iberian Peninsula and is taught by Isabel Cáceres and Anna Rufà. Furthermore, the archaeologist Eudald Carbonell makes a number of sessions dedicated to specific items like violence, diet and technology.

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The technology practice by Eudald Carbonell was, focused in a prospection nearby IPHES

In the framework of the Prehistory and Prehistory of the Iberian Peninsula courses recently took place a practical training at IPHES. Like in previous times, in that academic year were offered three workshops: one about zooarchaeology carried outtrained by Isabel Cáceres, the second about microvertebrates, taught by Pedro Piñero, and the last one, on archeobotany, by Ethel Allué.

The technology practice by Eudald Carbonell took also place and was focused, this year, in a prospection nearby IPHES where materials are found in the surface of the so called Tarragona pre-urban zone.

Also, the students visit IPHES guided by Marta Fontanals, member of the Unit of Projects and Transference (UPT). The aim of this practical course is to give an approach to the third year students of History and Arts History degree to the activities made by the members of IPHES. During the workshop, there is a special remark on the different lines of research through the variety of scientific ways such as laboratories, the use of microscopes and fieldwork.

Upper Paleolithic humans may have hunted cave lions for their pelts

The researchers found that most bones showed signs of having been modified by humans using stone tools, with a specialized technique similar to that used by modern hunters when skinning prey to keep the claws attached to the fur.

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Upper Paleolithic humans may have hunted cave lions for their pelts, perhaps contributing to their extinction, according to a study published October 26, 2016 in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by Marián Cueto from the Universidad de Cantabria, Spain, and colleagues as Edgar Camarós (IPHES – Institut Català de Paleoecologia Humana i Evolució Social).

The Eurasian cave lion, likely among the largest lion species ever to have lived, became extinct around 14,000 years ago, but the reasons for its disappearance are not clear. Upper Paleolithic humans were previously known to have hunted other small and large carnivores, but archaeological evidence of lion hunting is sparse. To help fill in this gap, Cueto and colleagues examined nine fossilized cave lion toe bones from the Upper Paleolithic cave site of La Garma, in northern Spain, for evidence of cave lion exploitation by humans.

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Lion fossils from La Garma (Cantabria, Spain)

The researchers found that most bones showed signs of having been modified by humans using stone tools, with a specialized technique similar to that used by modern hunters when skinning prey to keep the claws attached to the fur. The authors suggest that the toe bones they analyzed may therefore have been part of a single lion pelt, which possibly lay on the floor of the occupied cave. La Garma is known to have been associated with human rituals, and cave lions may have been symbolic animals for Upper Paleolithic humans.

While the analysis is not definitive evidence that Upper Paleolithic humans exploited cave lions for their pelts, the authors speculate that human hunting of cave lions, perhaps as part of ritual activities, might have been a factor in cave lion extinction.

Citation: Cueto M, Camarós E, Castaños P, Ontañón R, Arias P (2016) Under the Skin of a Lion: Unique Evidence of Upper Paleolithic Exploitation and Use of Cave Lion (Panthera spelaea) from the Lower Gallery of La Garma (Spain). PLoS ONE 11(10): e0163591. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0163591

 

IPHES Researchers presented papers at Homo erectus 100+25, International Senckenberg Conference, Tbilisi

“Homo erectus enigma” is still one of the most intriguing issues in hominin evolutionary research and the Dmanisi hominins are crucial for addressing these questions

The scientific sessions took place in the Auditorium of the Georgian National Museum in Tbilisi, 20-24 September

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In 1991, 100 years after the 1891 discovery of Pithecanthropus erectus in Java, the International Senckenberg Conference was held in Frankfurt to review 100 years of Homo erectus research. In 2016, 25 years later, the “Homo erectus enigma” is still one of the most intriguing issues in hominin evolutionary research. At the centennial conference in Frankfurt 1991 the first hominin find from Dmanisi had its premier appearance on the international research scene. A truly extraordinary story of discoveries started in the Southern Caucasus that has produced five skulls over the last 25 years of research.

125 years of Homo erectus. TBILISI 20-24 September 2016 was organized jointly by the Georgian National Museum, the Senckenberg Research Institute Frankfurt/Main, and the ROCEEH Project of the Heidelberg Academy of Science. The scientific sessions took place in the Auditorium of the Georgian National Museum in Tbilisi.

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Jordi Agustí, ICREA-IPHES researcher (left) with Robert Sala, IPHES and director researcher, in the Homo erectus 100+25, International Senckenberg Conference, Tbilisi

A wealth of new finds demonstrates the high diversity within the Homo erectus hypodigm as well as the presence of regional variants in Africa and Eurasia. It is mainly the Caucasus, which added crucial information to the earliest stages of Homo out of Africa. The Dmanisi hominins are crucial for our understanding of the “Homo erectus enigma” as they display a high morphological diversity, entirely unknown before.

It is evident, that after 100+25 years of Homo erectus research, there is now sufficient new evidence to revisit the “Homo erectus enigma”. This conference on the one hand aims to comprehend state of the art knowledge about Homo erectus and on the other, to develop new approaches and questions for future international and interdisciplinary research.

Papers presented by IPHES with others researchers

Jordi Agustí, Isabel Cáceres participate in the paper lead by Mohamed Sahnouni on the Ain Hanech sequence: “Early Homo erectus behavior and adaptation in North Africa: New data from Ain Hanech and Tighennif (formerly Ternifine) sites in northern Algeria”

Robert Sala, Gema Chacón propose a paper on the Algerian sites where lead research in cooperation with the Centre de Recherches CNRPAH of Algiers: “A Middle Pleistocene human occupation of an ancient humid basin close to the Chotts Regions (N’Gaous, Algeria)”.

Isabel Cáceres participates in the Gona project lead by Sileshi Semaw: “The early Acheulian from Gona, Ethiopia: implications for Homo erectus technological transitions and diet”.

Bienvenido Martínez-Navarro, Eudald Carbonell, Xosé-Pedro Rodríguez: “The Plio-Pleistocene record from the Engel Ela basin (Danakil desert, Eritrea): geology, paleontology and archaeology”.

Bienvenido Martínez-Navarro participates in the research team of Dmanisi lead by David Lordkipanidze: “Dmanisi large mammal assemblage”

Jordi Agustí participates in the research team of Dmanisi lead by David Lordkipanidze: “The late Neogene-Quaternary small vertebrate succession from Georgia: zoogeographical and paleoecological implications”.

 

 

Maçao welcomes the XI presentation of master thesis of the Erasmus Mundus in Quaternary Archaeology and Human Evolution

Students from many different countries as Spain, France, Italy, Chile and Venezuela have participated

Since 2006, eleventh promotions of master students have been graduated and more than 168 research works have been completed so far

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Maçao (Portugal) has hosted the presentation of 16 Erasmus Mundus master’s thesis in Quaternary Archaeology and Human Evolution, taught in the Rovira i Virgili University (URV), in Tarragona (Spain). Apart from European students of Spain, Italy, France, Chile and Venezuela, have defended their works. The defense was held on 19th and 20th September.

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Students and teachers in Maçao these days – IPHES

The Erasmus Mundus Master in Quaternary Archaeology and Human Evolution is given in partnership with other European institutions, particularly the University of Ferrara, (Italy), the National Museum of Natural History (Paris, France) and the Tomar Polytechnic Institute (in Portugal).

Internationalization

Since 2006, eleventh promotions of master students have been graduated and more than 168 research works have been completed so far. Many of them are based on different projects in which the IPHES participates, in line with the center of uniting teaching with research, field work and socializing.

Indeed, the Erasmus Mundus Master in Quaternary Archaeology and Human Evolution began to teach at the URV in 2004-2005 academic year, thanks to the research carried out in the IPHES, participating in major global projects in its field. Last year, the European Commission renewed this academic offer within the new Erasmus + program for three more years, this award represents an important recognition of the quality and singularity to attract students and represents a key on the internationalization objectives of the URV.

Synthetic replicas jostle for analyzing bloodstains on prehistoric and ethnographic tools

An experimental study at IPHES shows that they can faithfully reproduce the morphology of red blood cells

Currently, dentistry, palaeontology, criminalistics and archaeology are some of the fields where they are applied

They could also be applicable to other organic residues such as muscle, skin or tendon, or the surface of other types of specimens, such as clinical samples or industrial pieces

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Some archaeological and ethnographic specimens are not available for direct examination using a scanning electron microscope because of methodological obstacles. For example, the piece is too large to fit in the chamber of such instrument, or it is a structure that cannot be moved from its place, like a ceremonial altar. There may also be legal troubles because the custodian or owner does not grant permission to take it out from the museum or private collection. In this context, synthetic replicas jostle for in many fields. Currently, dentistry, paleontology, criminalistics and archaeology are already some of the fields where they are applied.

At IPHES (Institut Català de Paleoecologia Humana i Evolució Social), synthetic replicas are used in different types of research (taphonomy, palaeoanthropology, prehistoric technology) for a long time. So far, in prehistoric technology, this type of replicas have been used for microscopic examination of traces of use, but its application to organic residues had not received the same interest. This situation may now change with the scientific contribution by Policarp Hortolà, biologist and researcher at IPHES. In an experimental study published in the journal Microscopy and Microanalysis, he shows that synthetic replicas can faithfully reproduce the morphology of red blood cells in bloodstains. Therefore, “they are feasible for identifying, via scanning electron microscope, bloodstains on archaeological and ethnographic objects”, he says.

“The most important advance is methodological, because it allows examining, under the microscope, replicas of organic residues instead of the originals”, this researcher says. It could also be applicable to organic residues different from blood (e.g. muscle, skin, tendon, etc.), as well as the surface of other types of specimens (e.g. clinical samples or industrial pieces) when, for any reason, the original is not available for microscopic study.

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Original (left) and synthetic replica (right) (© Microscopy Society of America)

To determine the viability of synthetic replicas, Policarp Hortolà carried out a pilot study with human bloodstains on stone, wood and shell, which are some of the organic materials used by prehistoric and etnohistorical societies for the manufacture of their objects.

The final objective was to evaluate the feasibility of using synthetic replicas for identifying bloodstains through the morphology of red blood cells. Broadly, if organic residues can be replicated without damaging valuable originals, then they could be studied microscopically without removing the original pieces from museums or private collections.

Silicone moulds and polyurethane replicas
To make the replicas, first silicone molds of bloodstained areas were made, from which polyurethane resin replicas were obtained. Subsequently, the original samples and their corresponding resin replicas were examined with a scanning electron microscope. Finally, the results of both types of samples were compared. “It should be noted that, in all the studied samples, the ability of the replicas to reproduce the morphology of red blood cells in the bloodstains was confirmed”, Policarp Hortolà remarks.
Reference

Hortolà, Policarp (2015). Evaluating the use of synthetic replicas for SEM identification of bloodstains (with emphasis on archaeological and ethnographic artifacts). Microscopy and Microanalysis 21(6), pp. 1504-1513.

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