The last Neanderthal necklace

Found for the first time in the Peninsula: remains of personal ornaments with eagle talons from the Neanderthal Period 

These remains are older than 39,000 and were found in the cave Foradada in Calafell, they were probably part of a necklace

This use of eagle talons as ornaments could have been a cultural transmission from the Neanderthals to modern humans, who adopted this practice after reaching Europe

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Eagle talons are regarded as the first elements used to make jewelry by Neanderthals, a practice which spread around Southern Europe about 120,000 and 40,000 years ago. Now, for the first time, researchers found evidence of the ornamental uses of eagle talons in the Iberian Peninsula. An article published in the cover of the journal Science Advances talks about the findings, which took place in the site of the cave Foradada in Calafell (Tarragona, Spain). The article was led by Antonio Rodríguez-Hidalgo, researcher at the Institute of Evolution in Africa (IDEA), researcher at the IPHES (Institut Català de Paleoecologia Humana i Evolució Social) and member of the research team in a project of the Prehistoric Studies and Research Seminar (SERP) of the UB (University of Barcelona). Palmira Saladié is another author and she’s researcher at the IPHES too and teacher at the Rovira i Virgili University.

The interest in these findings lies in the fact that it is the most modern piece of the kind so far regarding the Neanderthal period and the first one found in the Iberian Peninsula. This circumstance widens the temporary and geographical limits that were estimated for this kind of Neanderthal ornaments. This would be “the last necklace made by the Neanderthals”, according to Antonio Rodríguez-Hidalgo.

“Neanderthals used eagle talons as symbolic elements, probably as necklace pendants, from the beginnings of the mid Palaeolithic”, notes Antonio Rodríguez-Hidalgo. In particular, what researchers found in Cova Foradada are bone remains from Spanish Imperial Eagle (Aquila adalberti), from more than 39,000 years ago, with some marks that show these were used to take the talons so as to make pendants. The found remains correspond to the left leg of a big eagle. By the looks of the marks, and analogy regarding remains from different prehistorical sites and ethnographic documentation, researchers determined that the animal was not manipulated for consumption but for symbolic reasons. Eagle talons are the oldest ornamental elements known in Europe, even older than seashells Homo sapiens sapiens perforated in northern Africa.

Imperial eagle phalanx from Cova Foradada and Neanderthal skull

The findings belong to the châtelperronian culture, typical from the last Neanderthals that lived in Europe, and coincided with the moment when this species got in touch with Homo

Morales, researcher in the program Juan de la Cierva affiliated at SERP and signer of the article, presents this use of eagle talons as ornaments could have been a cultural transmission from the Neanderthals to modern humans, who adopted this practice after reaching Europe.

Cova Foradada covers the most meridional châtelperronian culture site in Europe. The discovery involved a change in the map of the territory where the step from Middle Palaeolithic to Upper Palaeolithic took place 40,000 years ago, and where interaction between Neanderthals and Homo sapiens sapiens probably took place. Studies in Cova Foradada started in 1997. At the moment, the supervision of the excavation is led by Juan Ignacio Morales and Artur Cebrià. The archaeological study of this site is included in a SERP project funded by the Department of Culture of the Catalan Government and another funded by the Ministry of Science, Innovation and Universities, headed by UB professor and SERP director Josep M Fullola.

In addition to researchers mentioned above, the article is also signed by members of the Museum the Natural History Museum of Paris, the University of Salamanca, the University of Calgary (Canada) and the French National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS).

Reference of the article

A. Rodríguez-Hidalgo et al. 2019. “The Châtelperronian Neanderthals of Cova Foradada (Calafell, Spain) used imperial eagle phalanges for simbòlic purposes”. Science Advances.

The UE renews the Erasmus Mundus Masters in Quaternary and Prehistory that is taught in Universitat Rovira i Virgili at Tarragona

Carlos Lorenzo, professor at URV: “This is a very good news in order to maintain the international commitment in education that is being promoted jointly with the IPHES’s team”

Last September, 9 students defended their final thesis Works ate Ferrara (Italy) and 1 student defended last June in Paris

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Since the academic year 2004-2005, thanks to the collaboration with the IPHES (Institut Català en Paleoecologia Humana i Evolució Social), the Universitat Rovira i Virgili at Tarragona (URV) offers the Erasmus Mundus Masters in Quaternary Archaeology and Human Evolution. Right now, the European Commission has just announced the agreement to renew it: “That will allow us to enjoy during four more years the guarantee and quality which means to be part of the Erasmus Mundus programme for student recruitment and internationalization of URV”, said Carlos Lorenzo, Coordinator of the master and Head of Education in the IPHES.

This academic offer is carried out jointly with other European institutions: Università degli Studi di Ferrara (Italy), Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle (Paris, France), Instituto Politécnico de Tomar (Portugal) and Universitat Rovira i Virgili.

Since the time the master’s programme started, every year around fifteen new students join URV, coming from all the regions in the Spanish state and from countries of many areas of the world: Italy, Portugal, Algeria, India, Thai, Morocco, Georgia and Mexico. Teaching staff from other countries such as Argentina, Chile and Mexico has come in order to teach their knowledge.  In these years more than 150 master dissertations have been presented, which consist in original research works mandatory to obtain the Erasmus Mundus certificate together with a research mobility abroad in a second international center that possibility to obtain the title Erasmus Mundus.

The research projects currently developed in Eurasia, which the IPHES is actively taking part in, such as Atapuerca in the Spanish state and Dmanisi in Georgia “are some of the appeals for recruiting students, who see the opportunity to work in excavations key for solving very important topics in studying human evolution; like the fact of knowing how the first human dispersals happened, the routes which were used, the species involved an so on”, points out Carlos Lorenzo.

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The research projects currently developed in Eurasia, which the IPHES is actively taking part in, such as Atapuerca (photo) in the Spanish state and Dmanisi in Georgia “are some of the appeals for recruiting students, who see the opportunity to work in excavations key for solving very important topics in studying human evolution;

Precisely, the Coordinator of this master and Head of Education in the IPHES highlights: “One of the elements which the EU took into consideration for renewing our master’s programme as well as initially including us as an Erasmus Mundus is that we carry out research of high quality since more than 20 years ago and we develop join projects with our partners which are based on the most important records regarding human evolution”.

The same researcher has pointed out that “all this activity and the fact that the EU renews the academic programme shows our master degree belongs to the international elite, in the framework of the mobility which the Bologna process requires”.

In this way it is expected to consolidate Tarragona as a worldwide reference in studies on human evolution.  Indeed, last September nine students from the master’s degree defended their thesis in an academic session at the Università degli Studi di Ferrara, and one student did the same last June in Paris. The topics of analysis have been the anatomy of Neanderthals; 3D study of brain asymmetries and sexual dimorphism in Homo sapiens, Pan troglodytes, Gorilla gorilla and fossils of the genus Homo; the consolidation of fossil bony material, the ictofauna marina processing with flint tools, the tapirs of the Camp dels Ninots (Caldes de Malavella), the funerary practices in the Neolithic, the forestry resources for firefighting, the mechanical cleaning of fossils in the process of conservation and restoration to facilitate its study and new methods to investigate the tafonomy of the deposits of Olduvai (Africa).

Genetic data from 1.7 million years ago identified, the oldest recorded to date

The journal Nature has reported the finding of a rhinoceros tooth at the site in Dmanisi, Georgia, where members of IPHES and the URV are working

Molar found in Dmanisi and which has provided the genetic information discussed in the article

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A recent finding has paved the way to a revolution in the study of evolution after an international team working in Dmanisi (Georgia) has acquired genetic data from a 1.7-million-year-old rhinoceros tooth, the oldest to have been identified to date. The data acquired is a full set of proteins – a proteome – identified in the animal’s dental enamel and is 1 million years older than the oldest DNA sequenced from a horse and which dates back 700,000 years.

The finding was announced in an article published in the journal Nature, which was authored by leading scientists from the University of Copenhagen and Saint John’s College (University of Cambridge). However, the project also counted on the participation of 48 other researchers, two of whom were ICREA (Catalan Institute of Research and Advanced Studies) researchers from IPHES (Catalan Institute of Human Palaeoecology and Social Evolution) and the URV (Universitat Rovira i Virgili): Bienvenido Martínez-Navarro, who studies the large carnivores at Dmanisi (bears, hyenas and sabre-toothed tigers), and Jordi Agustí, who analyses the small mammals from the same site, which has become one of the main sources of information on the first humans.

Molar found in Dmanisi and which has provided the genetic information discussed in the article. Credits: Natural History Museum of Denmark

The finding reported in Nature is a major advance in the field of biomolecular studies into ancient fossil remains and may provide an answer to some of the mysteries of animal and human biology, enabling scientists to accurately reconstruct evolution over time, now from much further back in the past.

In the last 20 years, ancient DNA has been used to tackle a variety of questions about the evolution of extinct species, adaptation and human migration, but it has its limits. The new genetic information will make it possible to reconstruct molecular evolution beyond the habitual time limits of the preservation of DNA, so the analysis of ancient protein from dental enamel is the start of an exciting new chapter in the analysis of molecular evolution, as the scientists participating in the study have been quick to point out.

The DNA data that genetically track human evolution only cover the last 400,000 years. But the lineages that led to modern humans and chimpanzees – the living species that is genetically closest to humans – separated some 6 or 7 million years ago, which means that the scientific community currently has no genetic information for 90% of the evolutionary path that has led to modern humans.

Neither does the scientific community know how we are genetically linked to extinct species such as Homo erectus – the oldest species known of the genus Homo with human body proportions similar to those of Homo sapiens. Everything known about Homo erectus at the moment is almost exclusively based on anatomic, not genetic, information.

Stephonorhinus rhinoceros skeleton. Credits: Natural History Museum of Denmark.

The researchers used ancient sequencing technology (based on the innovative technology known as mass spectrometry) to retrieve genetic information from the tooth of a 1.7-million-year-old Stephanorhinus, an extinct species of rhinoceros that lived throughout Mediterranean Europe and in western Asia. They managed to sequence the ancient protein and retrieved genetic information that had been impossible to obtain with DNA sequencing.

Tooth enamel is extremely hard, abundant and long-lasting. It is found in mammals and provides more genetic information than collagen, the only other protein that has been retrieved from fossils more than a million years old. As a result, applying mass spectrometry to this material opens up a wide range of possibilities for a more advanced evolutionary study in both humans and mammals, and it will revolutionise research methods based on molecular markers.

Molecular phylogenetic analyses show that the Stephanorhinus rhinoceros comes from a group related to the woolly rhinoceros (Coelodonta antiquitatis). This shows that Coelodonta evolved from a primitive representative of Stephanorhinus which, therefore, has at least two evolutionary lines.

This rearrangement of the evolutionary lineage of a single species may seem like a mere small adjustment, but the identification of changes in numerous extinct mammals and humans may lead to a new understanding of how the world has evolved. The discovery may enable scientists from all over the world to collect genetic data  from ancient fossils and construct a larger, more accurate picture of the evolution of hundreds of species, including our own.

Bibliographic reference. Cappellini et al., “Early Pleistocene enamel proteome from Dmanisi resolves Stephanorhinus phylogeny”, Nature  (2019).

Brazilian capuchin monkeys stone use may show similarities with earlier hominin activities

An international team investigate primates looking for clues about hominin technological development and to learn more about the use of pounding stones by Homo antecessor (dated ca. 1 Ma). These primates have been observed using stones to crack open nuts or dig holes looking for spiders or roots.

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Fossils and stone tools are key findings unearthed at any archaeological site focused on human evolution studies, however, behavior does not fossilize, and it is not possible to observe hominins using their tools. Thus, primatology plays an important role, as the study of modern primates can help us to understand the behavior of the earliest human populations. In this context, an international research team is focused on the analysis of capuchin monkeys from Serra da Capivara, in Brazil. The main goal is to investigate the use-wear marks developed on the stone tools used by these monkeys and build a theoretical model that could help to understand the emergence of hominin behavior.

“There are around 30 individuals (capuchin monkeys) that live in the wild across the Oitenta area at Serra da Capivara”, explain Adrián Arroyo, a Juan de la Cierva fellow at IPHES (Institut Català de Paleoecologia Humana i Evolució Social) and specialised in functional studies of prehistoric tools through the analysis of the marks left on them. Dr Arroyo, who compared on his PhD pounding tools from African sites (Olduvai Gorge and West Turkana) and stones used by chimpanzees, is currently applying this methodological approach to the objects found at Gran Dolina (Atapuerca, Burgos), used by Homo antecessor, species that was discovered here for the first time and is dated to ca. 1 Ma.

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Brazilian capuchin monkeys at Serra da Capivara, in Brazil – Tomos Proffitt (UCL)

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“The study of capuchin monkeys can help us to understand those activities that our ancestors could do by comparing the stone tools used by these primates and the ones identified in archaeological places like Atapuerca, although this methodology can also be applied to the earliest stages of human evolution. In fact, this is one research field with a great potential, as it can be used to interpret the beginning of the technology, how did it emerge as well as investigate if before stone flaking, the use of stones was already assumed by hominins, and how they began knapping stone tools”, explain Adrián Arroyo.

Hominin activities are investigated through the use of microscopic and functional studies, a discipline that allows researchers to observe the traces developed on the stones tools after being used and compare them to the ones identified on other experimental reference collections. Thus, continuing the functional studies developed at IPHES, a group of stone used by capuchin monkeys from Serra da Capivara will be studied, allowing the researchers to understand their tools and will help to understand potential activities carried out within the earliest stages of Atapuerca.

This study is part of an international project funded by the Leakey Foundation and led by Dr Tomos Proffitt, British Academy Fellow at the Institute of Archaeology (University College London). Team members are Dr Adrián Arroyo (IPHES), Dr Lydia Luncz (Oxford University) and Dr Tiago Falótico (Sao Paulo University). As well as collaborators, Prof Ignacio de la Torre (UCL), Prof Sonia Harmand and Dr Nicholas Taylor (Stoney Book University).

“At Serra da Capivara we re-visit those places where the monkeys have done their activities. They use stones to crack nuts, dig holes to search for spiders or roots, they also hit others stones to pulverize the surface and lick the dust produced, in fact, this activity is still investigated to determine why they do it”.

During the field season, the team map the stones that have been used by the monkeys and document their position as it is done in an archaeological site. The main difference is that in this case, the tool users are present. “It is quite a new research line within human evolution studies, especially because till now there were no systematic studies of the stones used by primates from an archaeological perspective. There were quite a number of behavioral studies, but very few about their lithic technology”, detail Adrián Arroyo.

The systematic research of capuchin monkeys from an archaeological perspective began in 2012 in Oxford. Before then, archaeologist did not have access to the archaeological signature made by capuchin monkeys in order to identify similarities and differences with the hominin record. Thus, thanks to the collaboration with this international team, functional studies of hominin stones tools developed at IPHES are increased now with stones used by primates.

 

Abundant molds of wooden remains were found in the Abric Romaní site evidences from 60,000 years old Neanderthal communities

They were discovered during the excavation, conducted since August 5th and will end next Wednesday

This fieldwork season celebrate the 110 years of the discovery of prehistoric remains, in this site. Since then, 36 annual campaigns have been held

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Abric Romaní preserves traces of some plants remains, including wood, thanks to the precipitation of carbonates over them. After the decay of the wood or vegetal materials, only its footprints remain as negatives. Author: Palmira saladié/IPHES

From the 5th of August to the 28th, the annual archaeological excavation is being carried out at the Abric Romaní site in Capellades (Barcelona, Spain). A group of 35 people have been collaborating in the excavation tasks under the coordination of Dr. M. Gema Chacón, Dr. Josep Vallverdú and the Dra. Palmira Saladié, three researchers from the IPHES (Catalan Institute of Human Paleoecology and Social Evolution). The other doctors and participating students come from this research center, from the URV (Rovira i Virgili University of Tarragona, including the Erasmus Mundus Master in Quaternary and Human Evolution Archeology) and other Spanish and international institutions.

The continuation of the level R excavation will allow the analysis of the whole archaeological assemblage and especially the hearths preserved on the surface of the shelter. Author: Palmira Saladié

Abric Romaní is an important site with archaeological remains, evidence of Neanderthal life. Sixteen archaeological levels have been fully excavated until nowadays, in an area of 300 m2. We have documented different types of occupations, suggesting societies with high mobility and with complex social structures. The mainly hunted species are reed deer, horse, aurochs and rhinoceros. The tools associated were mostly made of flint and limestone, and probably on wood.

Reed deer (Cervus elaphus), one of the mainly hunted species – Palmira Saladié/IPHES

This season is the 110 anniversary of the discovery of prehistoric remains in this site and since then 36 annual campaigns have been held. This year, the works were focused on the excavation of level R dated to 60,000 years old. Although it is the beginning of the level excavation, and the remains of fauna and the stone tools have not already been studied, we can document a very important amount of wood negatives or molds. Abric Romaní preserves traces of some plants remains, including wood, thanks to the precipitation of carbonates over them. After the decay of the wood or vegetal materials, only its footprints remain as negatives.

If the presence of some wood tool can be attested, the knowledge of wooden tools productions during the Middle Paleolithic could by implemented, given the perishable nature of wood. The continuation of the level R excavation will allow the analysis of the whole archaeological assemblage and especially the hearths preserved on the surface of the shelter. All this data will permit a better knowledge about the Neanderthal lifestyle.

Open the pre-enrollment for the Erasmus Mundus Master’s degree in Quaternary Archaeology and Human Evolution

There are many student who after obtaining the title have found work in their countries.

The link with the IPHES allows the students to learn from the best team that investigate human evolution and acquire knowledge of the best techniques.

In the master there are students from countries as diverse as Algeria, India, Thailand, Morocco, Ethiopia, Eritrea, China, Chile, Georgia and Mexico.

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Until next July 19th, the pre-enrollment for the 2019-20 course of the Erasmus Mundus Master’s degree in Quaternary Archaeology and Human Evolution, taught at the Rovira i Virgili University of Tarragona (URV) is open. In this master participates researchers of the Institute of Human Paleoecology and Social Evolution (IPHES).

This master’s degree is taught since the 2004-2005 academic year, in partnership with other European institutions: Università degli Studi di Ferrara (Italy), Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle (Paris, France), and the Tomar Polytechnic Institute.

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Students in a practical class at IPHES

Since the start of the course, at the URV every year, more than fifteen new students from all the regions of Spain and from many other places in the world, including Italy, Portugal, Algeria, India, Thailand, Ethiopia, Eritrea, China, Indonesia, Armenia, Chile, Argentina, Georgia and Mexico. At the same time, teachers from France, Italy, Chile, Georgia, Israel, Morocco and Mexico have come to Tarragona to teach their expertise, and experts from the URV and IPHES have traveled for educational purposes to these places. In these years, more than one hundred fifty students have obtained the master’s degree after presenting their final research work and after performing a mobility period in other center of the Erasmus Mundus consortium. This mobility period has been financed with Erasmus+ mobility grants.

Carlos Lorenzo, professor of the URV and coordinator of the Teaching Area of IPHES, declared: “All these reasons makes the master’s degree very attractive because, in addition, there are many who after obtaining the degree they have found work in the countries where they come from”. The archaeologist himself emphasize, “The link with the IPHES allows students to learn from the best teams that investigate human evolution in different European centers. Our consortium ins a great school that allows them to learn the best techniques. ” In this sense, Carlos Lorenzo pointed out that the aforementioned institutions are the hard core of this consortium, but there are other collaborations with others institutions from Germany, England, different parts of Spain, etc.

The attractiveness

The research projects that are currently being developed in Eurasia, by the IPHES, such as Atapuerca, Orce in Spain, or Dmanisi in Georgia are some of the attractiveness to students. They foresee the possibility to work in key sites to develop a research about important issues in the study of human evolution, such as the different aspects that explain the first dispersions, the routes followed, the species that carried them out, etc.

The population history of the last hunter-gatherers of the Iberian Peninsula

Between 18.000 to 8.000 years ago, when significant climatic changes which impacted population dynamics

Human populations have an inherent capacity for rapid growth checked by the constraints of the environment, during episodes of climate change

This study in published today in Nature Communications

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The scientific journal Nature communications is publishing a new study today about the demographic dynamics of the last populations of hunter-gatherers that inhabited the Iberian Peninsula between 18.000 to 8.000 years ago. This period, known as the Pleistocene-Holocene Transition, is characterised by extreme changes in climatic and environmental conditions whose impact on prehistoric societies has been debated for decades.

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Distribution of archaeological sites with radiocarbon dates analyzed in this study. The colours represent the different regional subsets analyzed.

The paper analyses the whole radiocarbon record of the Iberian Peninsula for this period, conducting thousands of computational simulations to compare the goodness of fit of different demographic models. Therefore, three different demographic phases have been identified for this period. First, during the end of the last glacial cycle, between 16.600 and 12.700 years ago, the population grew exponentially. In contrast, between 12.700 and 10.200 years ago, during the cold episode of the Younger Dryas and the rapid warming of Early Holocene onset, authors find a sustained phase of population contraction and stabilisation. Finally, at third demographic phase is identified between 10.200 and 8.000 years ago, during the Mesolithic period, with a rapid population increase followed by stabilisation under a new demographic threshold.

The results show that prehistoric foragers had an inherent capacity for rapid demographic growth, but this was checked by the constraints of the environment, especially during periods of climate change.

This research has been lead by a research team of IPHES (Institut Català de Paleoecologia Humana i Evolució Social) and Universitat Rovira i VIrgili (URV) in the context of the ERC project PALEODEM (Late Glacial and Postglacial Population History and Cultural Transmission in Iberia), supported by the European Research Council. Researchers from the Department of Archaeology, Anthropology & Forensic Science of the Bournemouth University and the School of Business at the Warwick University have also taken part in the investigation.

Bibliographic reference

Fernández-López de Pablo, J., Gutiérrez-Roig, M., Gómez-Puche, M., McLaughlin, R., Silva, F., Lozano, S. “Palaeodemographic modelling supports a population bottleneck during the Pleistocene-Holocene transition in Iberia”, Nature Communications (2019) DOI: 10.1038/s41467-019-09833-3,

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