New macaque remains about 2,5 million years old to fulfil a gap in the fossil record have been discovered

The discovery is the result of the research of an international team composed by specialists from IPHES-CERCA, URV, University Mohammed Premier of Oujda and INSAP


According to their morphology, teeth were assigned to the Macaca genus – María D. Guillén/IPHES

The presence of macaques in northern Africa dates back to the upper Miocene, about 6-7 million years ago. Shortly thereafter (about 5,5 million years ago), first representatives are found in Europe (Spain and Italy), which migrated on during the Messinian Salinity Crisis. Now, an article published in Journal of Human Evolution and led by research staff from the Institut Català de Paleontologia Miquel Crusafont (ICP), the Institut Català de Paleoecologia Humana i Evolució Social (IPHES-CERCA), the Universitat Rovira i Virgili (URV) , the Geology Department (Science school of the Mohammed Premier de Oujda university) and the Institut National des Sciences d’Archéologie et du Patrimoine (INSAP), describes new fossil macaque remains from the Guefaït site, in northeastern Morocco, 2,5 million years old.

The macaque remains that have been published are part of an ensemble recovered during fieldwork carried out in 2018 and 2019 – Rodríguez-Hidalgo UCM/IPHES/IDEA

The fossils studied in this research consist of six cercopithecid teeth. According to their morphology, teeth were assigned to the Macaca genus. Based on the size of the teeth, researchers estimated that these macaques weighed approximately 12 kilos. Both the size and morphology of the teeth are compatible with those of the current North African species (the Barbary macaque, Macaca sylvanus), although the ascription to this species is tentative.  Molecular data show that Macaca sylvanus diverged earlier than the rest of living macaques found in Asia. Guefaït’s teeth are more similar to those of the current African subspecies than to the European fossil forms. Probably, the species was present during the last 5 million years in Africa, but surprisingly there is a gap in the fossil record between 2,5 and 0,2 million years, which contrasts with the more continuous record in Europe. Our research is now partially fulfilling this gap. Future studies should clarify if this absence is due to a local extinction of this species in Africa or if it is only a matter of sampling. The research also highlights the absence of geladas in Guefaït, a genus that has already been found in Ahl al Oughlam, a Moroccan site of almost the same age. This absence could be due to insufficient sampling or could indicate a slightly earlier age for Guefaït (prior to the dispersal of the geladas to North Africa). The macaque remains that have been published are part of an ensemble recovered during fieldwork carried out in 2018 and 2019 as part of an interdisciplinary collaborative project between Spain and Morocco. This fieldwork provided more than 3,200 vertebrate fossil remains (comprising amphibians, reptiles, and small and large mammals, including elephants, rhinos and hippos, among others) from the initial Early Pleistocene, around 2,5 million years old.

The macaques (genus Macaca) are a group of Old World monkeys (Cercopithecoidea) belonging to the papionine tribe, which also includes mangabeys, baboons, mandrills, and geladas. Wikipedia

The macaques (genus Macaca) are a group of Old World monkeys (Cercopithecoidea) belonging to the papionine tribe, which also includes mangabeys, baboons, mandrills, and geladas. Together with humans, macaques currently are the most widely distributed primates in the world. There are 23 living species, distributed throughout Africa and Asia. In Europe, their presence is restricted to the anecdotal Gibraltar macaques, which are the result of introductions of specimens of Barbary macaques (Macaca sylvanus) by humans. This species inhabits in the wild in North Africa, unlike while the rest of the species of this genus live in Asia. However, according to the fossil record it is known that this species has been previously distributed not only in North Africa but throughout a great part of Europe in the past. In Catalonia, around one-million-year old remains have been described from Cal Guardiola and Vallparadís (Terrassa), and Incarcal (Pla de l’Estany), among other sites. It is thought that all Pliocene European macaques belong to this species, except the insular Pliocene macaques from Sardinia (Macaca majori) and the oldest terminal Miocene remains (around 5 million years old) that have not been assigned to any species.

Research team in this research includes David M. Alba (ICP), Antonio Rodríguez-Hidalgo (UCM, IDEA, IPHES-CERCA), Hassan Aouraghe (Université Mohammed Premier, Oujda), M. Gema Chacón and Robert Sala-Ramos (IPHES-CERCA and Universitat Rovira i Virgili), and Jan van der Made (MNCN-CSIC), among others.

The research has been carried out with the support of the CERCA program (Generalitat de Catalunya) and Agencia Estatal de Investigación (Ministerio de Ciencia, Innovación y Universidades). The research project in Morocco is possible thanks to the collaboration of the Jerada government, local authorities in Aïn Beni Mathar and Guefaït and the Moroccan Institute National des Sciences de l’Archéologie et du Patrimoine (INSAP) and is funded by the Fundación Palarq , the Ministerio de Cultura y Deporte, the Ministerio de Ciencia, Innovación y Universidades, the María de Maeztu program, the Ministery of Culture and Heritage of the Kingdom of Morocco and to financial support to the research group activities (SGR) of the Generalitat de Catalunya, among others.

Paper reference

Alba, D. M., Rodríguez-Hidalgo, A., Aouraghe, H., van der Made, J., Oujaa, A., Saladié, P., Aissa, A. M., Marín, J., Farkouch, M., Lorenzo, C., Bengamra, S., Delson, E., Chacón, M.G., & Sala-Ramos, R. (2021). New macaque fossil remains from Morocco. Journal of Human Evolution. 153: 102951 DOI: 10.1016/j.jhevol.2021.102951

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Hominins in Tanzania exploited diverse ecosystems 2 million years ago

They adapted to unpredictable environments and this ability allowed them to exploit several habitats in Africa and in the rest of continents later on

This is revealed by a new site, yielding the oldest stone tools documented to date in the Oldupai Gorge

The analysed data and results come from recent excavations carried out during 2018-2019 in a relatively unexplored area


The article published in Nature Communications, with the participation of IPHES (Institut Català de Paleoecologia Humana i Evolució Social) –CERCA, shows that the first hominins that inhabited Oldupai Gorge (the Maasai name for the renowned Olduvai Gorge, Tanzania) exploited very diverse habitats and ecosystems 2 million years ago.

“This has been known because of the discovery of a set of stone tools, the oldest documented in the Oldupai Gorge to date”, observes María Soto, researcher at MIAS-UAM (Autonomous University of Madrid) and IPHES collaborator. “A multidisciplinary analysis applied to the geoarchaeological record of the Ewass Oldupa (Geolocality 63) has revealed it, being  also, the oldest evidence of human occupation of this place known to date ”, adds Julio Mercader, director of the research project and IPHES associated researcher.

A selection of stone tools discovered in Ewass Oldupa. Mercader et al.

The Oldupai Gorge (Tanzania) is an area of ​​great importance for the study of Human Evolution since it has a wide ecological record associated with human occupations by different species of hominins. “Despite being a focus for world archaeological research for over a century, the new article represents a milestone, correlating different palaeoecological data with human activities”, highlights María Soto.

Different African, American and European institutions participate in this research, culminating a multidisciplinary analysis of the stone tools, fauna, teeth and plants isotopes, phytoliths, pollen and charcoals, among other evidences.

The geoarchaeological sequence presented comes from recent excavations carried out during the years 2018-2019 in a relatively unexplored area, the western Plio-Pleistocene basin of Oldupai Gorge.

Palmira Saladié, (IPHES-CERCA-URV), Pamela Achieng Akuku ( IPHES-CERCA- URV) and Maria Soto (UAM) – María Guillen/IPHES

The Ewass Oldupa record (which in the Maa language means “On the way to the Gorge”) includes the oldest cultural evidence in this paleoanthropological referential site, a lithic assemblage made up of more than 500 tools, dated between 2 and 1.8 million years. It presents Oldowan typical characteristics, with abundant spheroids (ball-shaped tools), and in which the use of hard hammers and multi-faceted reduction strategies are also documented. Geochemical analysis of the stone-tools, using X-ray Fluorescence, place the procurement area of ​​the quartzites used as raw material 12 km away from the site.

A diverse fauna

Pamela Achieng Akuku, who is doing her doctoral thesis at the Rovira i Virgili University (URV) linked to IPHES-CERCA, and funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of the Canadian Government, and Palmira Saladié, a IPHES-CERCA researcher, associate professor at this university, and co-director of the thesis together with Julio Mercader, have studied the faunal remains from Ewass Oldupa. These analyses have made possible to recognise a diverse faunal association, in which bovids belonging to different taxonomic families, carnivores such as hyenas and leopards, and aquatic taxa such as turtles, crocodiles or hippos have been identified. Remains of a primate, specifically Theropithecus oswaldi, have also been recorded. It is an extinct species belonging to the same family as the Gelada that currently inhabit the Ethiopian highlands. “This variety -says Pamela Achieng Akuku- has allowed us to infer the existence of open spaces with arboreal mosaics around Ewass Oldupa, where the archaic hominins of the Oldupai Gorge lived”.

So far no hominin fossils have been recovered, although remains of Homo habilis have been found in more recent sediments to the east and west of the ancient lake that occupied the current gorge. “If the authors of the recovered tools were members of this species, or of the genus Paranthropus, who occupied the area during the same period, it remains unknown for the moment”, says María Soto.

The recovered assemblages are associated with the early Pleistocene, proceeding from the post-Naabi geological units to the base of Bed II (between 2 and 1.8 million years ago). The chronology of these units is well known from previous work, and an ongoing dating program of the volcanic materials in which the remains are included.

The different evidences analyzed in this study show that the Oldowan groups showed flexible adaptive capacities, inhabiting highly variable ecosystems, from fluvial habitats in volcanic environments, lake areas with different episodes of transgression / regression, and areas close to small river courses with interspersed episodes with volcanism. Hominins knew how to develop in landscapes with drastic variations from fern meadows to forest mosaics, with frequent natural fires, palm groves by the lake and steppes.

“The continuation of the works in Oldupai Gorge and the application of transdisciplinary research show how studies on human evolution can still provide surprises and evidence to change scientific paradigms”, warns María Soto. This research has verified how adaptability, despite technological persistence, allowed the exploitation of a multitude of habitats in Africa, and later in the rest of continents.

Participants in this research are from the University of Calgary, Manitoba, McMaster and Toronto (Canada), the University of Dar es Salaam and Iringa (Tanzania), the Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism (Tanzania), the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History (Germany), the Institut Català de Paleoecologia Humana i Evolució Social-CERCA, Universitat Rovira i Virgili and the Madrid Institute for Advanced Study-Universidad Autónoma de Madrid (Spain). All these institutions work with the Tanzanian Commission for Science and Technology, the Division of Antiquities (MNRT), and under the sponsorship of the Canadian Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (Partnership program)


Mercader, J., et al. (2021). “Earliest Olduvai hominins exploited unstable environments ~ 2 million years ago”. Nature Communications,

Violent death in the Cova Foradada in Calafell about 5000 years ago

The skull of a man who died around the age of 50 from the impact of a stone adze, a type of hoe, has been foun.

By applying forensic criteria, it has been possible to reconstruct how the trauma that ended the life of the deceased occurred

The results of the research have been published in the International Journal of Paleopathology


The traumas that can be observed in the human skeleton constitute the most direct evidence of the episodes of interpersonal violence and are frequently documented in the archaeological record since they have accompanied us throughout all periods of our history. The first cases have been dated to the Paleolithic, but it is from the Neolithic onwards then this behavior increases exponentially. Blows with blunt objects, impacts of projectiles, or cut marks are some examples of injuries linked to violent events. However, determining the type of object that was used as a weapon is not always possible.

A new study published these days in the International Journal of Paleopathology, carried out by research staff from the del Institut Català de Paleoecologia Humana i Evolució Social (IPHES-CERCA), the Rovira i Virgili University (URV) and the University of Barcelona (UB), has identified a case of cranial trauma at the site of Cova Foradada (Calafell, Tarragona). This is an individual of about 50 years of age, who died violently from the impact of a stone adze, a type of hoe, about 5000 years ago.

Miguel Ángel Moreno-Ibáñez, a predoctoral researcher at IPHES-CERCA, and main author of the article points out that the fracture pattern observed in the cranium “has allowed us to infer the type of object that was used to cause the death of this individual, as well as the direction of the blow”. The skull was found in 1999 during a rescue excavation in the Cova Foradada, in Calafell (Tarragona). It belongs to a man about 50 years old and is part of a collective burial from the Late Neolithic – Chalcolithic period (5060 – 4400 years before the present).

Thanks to the analysis of the intrinsic factors of the fracture, such as the biomechanical properties of the bone and the fracture pattern itself, it has been possible to conclude about the weapon used, the direction of the blow, and the position of the attacker relative to the victim.

The fracture has been analyzed with both stereomicroscope and computerized microtomography (micro-CT), is in the right parietal, and shows no evidence of healing.

“The radial fissures, some of them with a considerable opening, the internal beveling and the acute fracture angles inform us that it is a perimortem trauma, that is, around the time of the individual’s death”, comments Moreno-Ibáñez. Furthermore, this individual presents two antemortem injuries, in the occipital and in the right temporal bones, which have completely healed, and a postmortem fracture in the lower area of the occipital. Therefore, in this same skull, it is possible to observe the difference between antemortem, perimortem, and postmortem injuries.

“Cranial injuries are particularly interesting, since the head is the main target when the intention is to kill the individual, so this type of injury is often associated with the cause of death”, adds Miguel Ángel Moreno-Ibáñez. “The resulting fracture pattern indicates that a blunt object with a straight, pointed edge was used (“sharp-blunt trauma”), such as polished stone axes and adzes”, he says.

These objects have very similar morphology but differ in their position and form of use. The axes are hafted following the longitudinal axis of the handle, while the adzes are hafted in a transversal position. “For this reason, the dispersion of the force concerning the point of impact is different between the two cases”, says the same researcher. The fact that it has been possible to identify the point of impact in the cranial fracture of Cova Foradada has allowed inferring which of these objects was most probably used: the adze.

“The greatest destruction is located in an anterior position to the point of impact, so the blow was caused from the back of the individual, probably by a right-handed attacker”, says Miguel Ángel Moreno-Ibáñez. “Besides, a portion of bone was slightly sunken inwards in response to external pressure, so a lever movement was probably made to extract the adze from the skull after the blow”, he states.

As we can see, the study of the bones not only tells us about the people to whom they belonged, but also sometimes about how was their death, or what treatment they received after it. The case of Cova Foradada is an example of how, following forensic criteria, it is possible to reconstruct how a head injury occurred about 5000 years ago. Thanks to the analysis of the intrinsic factors of the fracture, such as the biomechanical properties of the bone and the fracture pattern itself, it has been possible to conclude about the weapon used, the direction of the blow, and the position of the attacker relative to the victim.


Moreno-Ibáñez, M.A., Saladié, P., Morales, J.I., Cebrià, A., Fullola, J.M. (2021). Was it an axe or an adze? A cranial trauma case study from the Late Neolithic – Chalcolithic site of Cova Foradada (Calafell, Spain). International Journal of Paleopathology, 32: 23-30.

Gender-based division of labor 4,000 years ago with some tasks carried out only by women

Only women used their anterior teeth to make threads and strings

The study of dental wear of 106 individuals buried in Castellón Alto site (Granada, Spain) confirms this statement

First author is Marina Lozano (IPHES-URV), who has published a paper about this research in the Journal of Archaeological Science


The El Argar culture developed in the southeastern part of the Iberian Peninsula between 2,200 and 1,550 BCE, It was a complex society, with social differentiation based on gender, age and specialization in the manufacture of craftwork made from ceramics, lithics, textiles and metals.This social complexity is confirmed by the Journal of Archaeological Science, which has just published a new study headed by Marina Lozano, a researcher at the Institut Català de Paleoecologia Humana i Evolució Social (IPHES) and the Universitat Rovira i Virgili (URV), in collaboration with investigators from the Laboratory of Anthropology of the University of Granada, among whom Ángel Rubio Salvador is one of the authors.

Grooves on the teeth from several female individuals showing evidence of working with ropes and threads (arrows indicate non-alimentary dental wear). Author: Marina Lozano/IPHES

Specifically, the analysis of the dental wear of 106 individuals buried in the Castellón Alto site (Granada, Spain) shows that women used their front teeth (incisors and canines) to perform tasks related to the elaboration of threads and cords during the Bronze Age (1900-1600 BCE). The specific dental wear features, including notches, flakes and occlusal and interproximal grooves on the dental enamel, result from the manipulation of plant and animal fibers used to produce textiles and basketry. While previous studies of the material culture of El Argar have evidenced these activities, a direct relationship establishing the gender of the individual artisans had not yet been established.

Non-alimentary uses of teeth of Individual 90 from Castellón Alto site.. Author: Ángel Rubio Salvador

As a result, one of the most important conclusions of this new study is that double labor specialization existed already by the end of the Bronze Age; that is to say almost 4,000 years ago.  It indicates that a single, small group of people was dedicating themselves to handcrafts related to the production of threads and textile manufacture and that, furthermore, these activities were carried out exclusively by women.

On the other hand, the fact that this evidence was recorded in remains belonging to individuals of different ages, with more advanced wear as they get older, allows to infer that this specialization began in their youth and that the same women continued performing these tasks throughout their lives.

This study forms a part of one of the IPHES’ lines of research that aims to identify the use of teeth as tools. Furthermore, in this case, we have obtained data about the division of labor both in terms of gender and of age. Consequently, we have gained a better vision of the lifestyle and social organization of the El Argar culture.


Lozano, M.; Jiménez-Brobeil, Sylvia A.; Willman, John C.; Sánchez-Barba, Lydia P.; Molina, Fernando; Rubio, Ángel. 2020. Argaric craftswomen: sex-based division of labor in the Bronze Age southeastern Iberia. Journal of Archaeological Science

Presentation of 12 master theses of the Erasmus Mundus in Quaternary Archaeology and Human Evolution

Since 2006, fifteen promotions of master students have been graduated and more than 200 research works have been completed


Twelve students have presented their final master research work of the master Erasmus Mundus in Quaternary Archaeology and Human Evolution, 5 of these students started their studies at Rovira i Virgili University (URV), in Tarragona (Spain). Last 21th September Students from Spain, Italy and France defended their works in a joining season using virtual platform. Some of the URV students defended their works from IPHES (Institut Català de Paleoecologia Humana i Evolució Social) videoconference room, but major part defended their work by distance. Also, the jury composed by representatives of the Erasmus Mundus consortium participated online.

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).


Since 2006, fifteen promotions of master students have been graduated and more than 200 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.

Some of the URV students defended their works from IPHES (Institut Català de Paleoecologia Humana i Evolució Social) videoconference room, but major part defended their work by distance

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. The Erasmus + program represents an important recognition of the quality and singularity to attract students and represents a key on the internationalization objectives of the URV.

Students URV and Master Thesis titles:

– BUITKUTE, ERIKA “Paleoparasitology and Its Application. The Case of La Draga Lakeside Settlement and Fumiers Contexts of El Mirador and Can Sadurní Caves”. Dirs: Matthieu Le Bailly, Jordi Revelles

– JISKOOT BUSQUETS, JULIA “Técnicas de recuperación in situ de material óseo en entornos húmedos: el caso de la Grotte de la Carrière (Pirineos Orientales, Francia)”. Dir: Lucía López-Polín

– MARGINEDAS MIRÓ, FRANCESC “Identification of ritual cannibalism through the frequency and distribution of butchery marks from El Mirador cave”. Dir: Palmira Saladié

– PENA PÉREZ, ANA “Local fire history reconstruction in the NE Barcelona Plain (Catalonia, Spain), ca. 8000-7500 cal. years BP”. Dirs: Francesc Burjachs, Santiago Riera

– CANO CANO, NIT “Paleocarpological analysis of the V-IV millennium BC Neolithic fumier layers from El Mirador (Sierra de Atapuerca)”. Dirs: Ethel Allué, Natalia Alonso

A researcher trained at IPHES, Sabrina Bianco, studies the wood supply and consumption from Bàrcino

This is possible thanks to the study of charcoal remains from urban contexts in Barcelona, as el Born 

The objective, among others, is to acknowledge the relationship between the city and its environments, the energy supply and its sustainability 

She has been awarded with a INPhINIT scholarship from Fundació “la Caixa that will allow her to continue her doctoral research in this research centre 


Producing energy has been a human need that goes back to our ancestors. Thousands of years later, when we study our past, the remaining charcoal that is found in archaeological sites is a treasure that informs us of the used resources, the exploited environment, its uses, applications and sustainability; in this way we also know how the climate and the vegetation was in the past. Anthracology is one of the disciplines at IPHES (Catalan Institute of Human Palaeoecology and Social Evolution), which is still far from being fully developed.

In this context, and in this research centre, Sabrina Bianco is forming, a new specialist in anthracology with the support of the Paleo-Barcino team, a project for the paleoenvironmental and archaeological-biological reconstruction of Barcelona directed by Santiago Riera (SERP- Seminari d’Estudis i Recerques Prehistòriques de la Universitat de Barcelona), in collaboration with Carme Miró i Alaix, head of the Pla Bàrcino from the Servei d’Arqueologia de l’Institut de Cultura de Barcelona at Barcelona (ICUB).

Sabrina Bianco arrived at the IPHES in 2018 through the Erasmus + for Traineeships mobility programme, with the aim of learning the different disciplines involved in archaeobotany. In this research centre, the archaeobotany Unit welcomed her with enthusiasm, since normally the students who join this institution are devoted to disciplines such as zooarchaeology and lithic technology. A person who is interested in archaeobotany at this stage of their career is very rare and, consequently, this case was a peach.

Sabrina Bianco’s first scientific studies have already been included in a masters thesis on charcoal and wood consumption from the Born site, among other archaeological contexts in Barcelona. The thesis was intended to provide an initial overview of the energy and economic evolution of this city in medieval and modern times, and was defended at the Università degli Studi di Padova (Italy). Recently she has been awarded with a INPhINIT scholarship from the Fundació “la Caixa”, which will enable her to develop her doctoral thesis between the IPHES and the UB’s SERP research group and to deepen and expand her research in the line initiated with the master’s degree.

Sabrina Bianco at IPHES

Archaeobotany is an area of knowledge of archaeology that is often left at the margin of the big debates for various reasons: the poor conservation of the records, the lack of knowledge about plants and our past, or the difficulty of starting to work on a discipline that requires training in botany. Sabrina Bianco already had some knowledge of anthracology, having collaborated with Dr. Sandrine Paradis-Grenouillet (University of Limoges, France) on a project on kilns from the area of Padua and Trentino. From the first moment, she showed her good skills in the process of taxonomic identification, which is difficult. In addition, Sabrina Bianco was very well welcomed by the many master’s and doctoral students who are part of the centre’s critical mass and who have a very enriching experience in terms of scientific debate, knowledge exchange and support in their research careers.

The proposal of the project in the framework of her master’s thesis to study the charcoal of the Mercat de Born, started at the beginning of her stay at IPHES, since it was at that time that Professor Santiago Riera was looking for a person interested in analysing them. He needed someone who was committed to a specific objective and a time plan to obtain results, and Sabrina Bianco seemed to be the ideal candidate.

In fact, during this first stage of the research she has had an excellent work, which has exceeded all expectations. Her work on the Born, together with the study of the written sources, provides a series of taxonomical data that allow us to understand the vegetal communities nearby the city from which they could come. The configuration of the landscape in this region is closely related to the supply of wood and other agricultural and livestock activities.

The master’s thesis was presented in December at the University of Padua, under the co-direction of Professor Alejandra Chavarria Arnau (UniPD, Italy) and Professor Santiago Riera. The results of this research have been published in the European Journal of Postclassical Archaeologies (PCA). The contribution to the study of the energy supply of the city of Barcelona is essential for understanding population dynamics and urban economic activity in relation to the environment in historical periods.

During her stay in Tarragona, Sabrina Bianco has also strengthened her training through participation in parallel activities in dendroanthracology (a discipline that studies the annual tree rings and the diameter of the wood) with Sandrine Paradis-Grenouillet, and the presentation of the preliminary results of the research on the remains of charcoal kilns excavated by the team led by Josep Maria Vergès (IPHES-URV) and Vincenza Forgia (University of Palermo) in Sicily.  This work was presented at the 7th International Meeting of Anthracology in Liverpool in September 2019.

Sabrina Bianco will continue her scientific career between the IPHES and SERP-UB through a tripartite co-supervision between Ethel Allué (researcher at the IPHES and associate professor at the URV), Santiago Riera and Llorenç Picornell-Gelabert (UIB-University of the Balearic Islands) as an expert in dendroanthracology. In this way, a long period of collaboration between the IPHES, the UB and the UIB is consolidated through synergies that allow the field of study of archaeobotany and especially anthracology to be extended.

International meeting on the study of microvertebrates in archaeological sites

Promoted by IPHES, the 3rd Congress of the Microvertebrate Working Group (MVWG), which belongs to the ICAZ, was recently held in virtual mode

With more than 35 papers presented, the broad focus of the congress was on the role of microvertebrate fossils in reconstructing past environments

Interactions between hominids and wildlife, as well as the effects of climate change, were also the focus of much of the discussion


Promoted by members of the IPHES (Catalan Institute of Human Paleoeoclogy and Social Evolution), the 3rd Congress of the Microvertebrate Working Group (MVWG), which belongs to the International Council for Archaeozoology (ICAZ), was recently held in virtual mode. With 60 people registered and more than 35 papers presented, the role of these fossils in studies related to climate change, taphonomy, commensalism, taxonomy, evolution, palaeoenvironmental reconstruction, biostratigraphy, biochronology and new methodologies and techniques (such as the analysis of ancient DNA) was discussed.

The topics addressed covered a geographic range including South America and the Caribbean (Argentina, French Antilles) to Southeast Asia (Thailand and Cambodia) through Europe, the Middle East (Iran) and South Africa.

The Microvertebrate Working Group (MVWG) was created in 2016 by Angel Blanco Lapaz (Senckenberg Centre for Human Evolution) and Sara E. Rhodes (University of Tübingen) in the framework of ICAZ, as a forum for the exchange of data and information related to the study of insectivorous, rodent, bat, reptile and amphibian remains from archaeological contexts. Its main objective is to provide a platform for the exchange of ideas and increase communication among academics, professionals and, in particular, graduate students with research interests related to microvertebrates. To this end, this Working Group organizes a meeting every two years, the first two taking place in Alcalá de Henares (Spain, 2016) and in Ankara (Turkey, 2018). This year meeting was to be held at the IPHES, in Tarragona, but the Covid-19 pandemic forced the event to become virtual. Despite this shift in venue, it received financial support from the AGAUR (Agència de Gestió d’Ajuts Universitaris i de Recerca) (groups 2017-SGR-859 and 2017-SGR-836).

IPHES was chosen to host the meeting due to the fact that the institute includes a large number of research personnel (senior, postdoctoral and predoctoral) dedicated to the study of small mammals, reptiles and amphibians. This international group, under the coordination of doctors Juan Manuel López-García (IPHES) and Hugues-Alexandre Blain (IPHES-URV), virtually organized this third congress of the MVWG from Tarragona.

In the first session (“Human and small vertebrate interactions”), the communications were “Statistics, taphonomy and representativeness: Making the most out of archaeological micromammal assemblages”, by Andrzej Romaniuk (University of Edinburgh, Scotland); “On the dispersal of the Etruscan shrew (Suncus etruscus) across the Mediterranean Basin”, by Ángel Carmelo Domínguez García (Universidad Complutense de Madrid); “Reconstructing the context of the earlier human occupation of Europe. New results from the small mammals of Pirro Nord 13 (Early Pleistocene, Apricena, southern Italy)”, by Claudio Berto (University of Warsaw, Poland); “Zooarchaeology of reptiles in tropical areas: the beginning of a long story?”, by Corentin Bochaton (University of Bordeaux, France); “Palaeobiogeographic analysis of the amphibians and reptiles from the mid-late Holocene transition of El Mirador cave (Atapuerca, Spain) in the North-Iberian post-glacial context”, by Josep Francesc Bisbal-Chinesta (IPHES-URV); and “Human meets Woodmouse: An assemblage of anthropophilous Apodemus in Middle Neolithic wells from the site Les Bagnoles, SE-France”, by Simone Häberle (University of Basel, Switzerland).

In the second session (“Paleoenvironmental and paleoclimatic reconstruction using small vertebrates”), the papers were: “One million years of diversity shifts in amphibians and reptiles in a Mediterranean landscape: Resilience rules the Quaternary”, by Almudena Martínez-Monzón (IPHES-URV); “The Microvertebrate Assemblage of Ghar-e Boof (Iran): New data for the Late Pleistocene Paleoenvironmental Reconstruction of the Southern Zagros Mountains”, by Ángel Blanco-Lapaz (Senckenberg Centre for Human Evolution, Germany); “Stratigraphically constrained paleoenvironmental reconstructions for the Early Pleistocene site of Barranco León (Granada, SE Spain)”, by Christian Sánchez-Bandera (IPHES-URV); “Late Pleistocene paleoenvironmental and paleoclimatic reconstructions in Northern Balkan Peninsula based on small vertebrates”, by Mihailo Jovanovic (IPHES-URV); “Magdalenian and Mesolithic climatic change in the Ach Valley, SW-Germany: the micromammal evidence from Helga-Abri rockshelter”, by Sara E. Rhodes (University of Tübingen, Germany); “The Howiesons Poort micromammal assemblage at Klipdrift Shelter, South Africa, – local palaeoenvironmental implications”, by Turid Hillestad Nel (University of Bergen, Norway); and “Climatic and environmental transition from latest Pleistocene to earliest Holocene in northeastern Iberia: Balma del Gai (Moià, Barcelona)”, by Sandra Bañuls-Cardona (IPHES-URV).

Small vertebrate remains from Portalon site (Atapuerca)

In the third session (“New and/or improved methods applied to small vertebrates”), the papers were: “Systematic and geometric morphometrics analysis applied to the current and fossil genus Ellobius (Fischer, 1814) from the Middle East”, by Iván Rey-Rodríguez (Muséum national d’Histoire naturelle de Paris, France); “Deep population history of common vole (Microtus arvalis) populations reconstructed using ancient DNA”, by Mateusz Baca (University of Warsaw, Poland); “Evolutionary history of narrow-headed vole from the Late Pleistocene Europe”, by Danijela Popovic (University of Warsaw, Poland); “The environment in NE Iberia during MIS 3, combining taxonomy, taphonomy and geochemistry on small-mammal assemblages”, by Mónica Fernández-García (IPHES-URV); and “Cryptic speciation in the fossil record? The case of Cova Eirós (Lugo, NW Iberian Peninsula)”, by Elisa Luzi (University of Tübingen, Germany).

Sieving-washing residues from Gran Dolina (Atapuerca) containing remains of small vertebrates

Finally, during the fourth session, participants had the chance to present their posters which included: “Palimpsest of micromammal deposits in an archaeological rockshelter (Álvarez 4) from Northwestern Patagonia. Taphonomy, palaeoenvironments and human subsistence”, by Fernando J. Fernández (University of Buenos Aires, Argentina); “Micromammals in carnivore scats: an actualistic taphonomic study of the rodents digested by the Achala culpeo fox (Lycalopex culpaeus smithersi) in Córdoba, Argentina”, by Daiana Coll (CONICET, Argentina); “First record of Hyla meridionalis from north-eastern Iberia (Cova Bonica, Barcelona) and evidence for African anuran translocation during the middle-late Holocene”, by Josep Francesc Bisbal-Chinesta (IPHES-URV); “Bat remains in barn-owl pellets: a case study with applications in taphonomy”, by Julia Galán-García (Museo de Ciencias Naturales de Zaragoza); “Decoding the microvertebrate record in Alero Los Viscos (Catamarca, Argentina): a taphonomic investigation of the surface bone assemblage”, by Mariana Mondini (CONICET, Argentina); “Evidencing hominin ecological shifts using herpetofaunal assemblages: the MIS 11 threshold in Europe”, by Hugues-Alexandre BLAIN (IPHES-URV); “Modelling of climate, ecological and biodiversity changes in the glacial – interglacial and stadial – interstadial cycles based on rodent communities”, by Paweł Socha (University of Wroclaw, Poland); “A genetic study of the European populations of tundra vole (Alexandromys oeconomus) based on ancient DNA”, by Aleksandra Zeromska (University of Wroclaw, Poland); “New approach in palaeoclimatic reconstructions of Cova dels Xaragalls (Tarragona, Spain) through UDA-ODA discrimination methodology. Comparing methods to discern climatic scenario for north-eastern Iberian Peninsula”, by Ana Fagoaga (University of Valencia); “Morphological and morphometric variations of tundra vole (Alexandromys oeconomus) in late Middle and Late Pleistocene”, by Anna Lemanik (Institute of Systematics and Evolution of Animals, Polish Academy of Sciences, Poland); “Conservation of fossil microfauna at Camp dels Ninots site (Caldes de Malvella, Girona, Spain)”, by Elena Moreno-Ribas (IPHES-URV); and “Applying the UDA-ODA discrimination method to a herpetological assemblage from Subunit Xb of El Salt Middle Palaeolithic site (Alcoi, Spain): Preliminary results”, by Rafael Marquina-Blasco (University of Valencia).


The first European populations were capable of adapting to climate change and new habitats 1.4 million years ago

This has been reported in an article published in the prestigious journal Quaternary Science Reviews

The study is led by Christian Sánchez-Bandera, researcher from the IPHES and former Erasmus Mundus student from the URV university

The research is based on the study of amphibians and reptiles revealed from recent excavation campaigns in the Orce Archeological Zone

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Successive climate changes are known to occur over time. One of these changes took place some 1.4 million years ago, with a shift from a warmer and more humid environment, to a colder and more arid situation. This evolution is very clearly recorded in the archeological-paleontological sites of Barranco León and Fuente Nueva 3, in the Orce Archeological Zone (Granada). This study of thousands of fossil amphibian remains has enabled to identify this event, thanks to the presence/absence of these animals in the deposits, which provides numerous clues about the climate and the landscapes characterizing each period.

Christian Sánchez-Bandera (right); researcher at the IPHES, with Oriol Oms (UAB) in Barranco León – IPHES

This evidence from Orce, dated to 1.4 million years ago, provides the oldest indication of a human presence on the European continent. An interdisciplinary team, led by the University of Granada (UGR) and the Catalan Institute of Human Paleoecology and Social Evolution (IPHES) of Tarragona, has managed to reconstruct the evolution of the habitats and climates in which the first human groups lived. This is established in an new paper published by the prestigious magazine Quaternary Science Reviews, led by first author Christian Sánchez-Bandera; researcher at the IPHES, graduate student from the Erasmus Master Mundus in Quaternary Archeology and Human Evolution of the Rovira i Virgili University (URV) and technician in sediment laboratory management of the IPHES, employed in the framework of the Youth Occupation program and the European Social Fund 2014-2020, thanks to the grant awarded by the SOC (Servei d’Ocupació de Catalunya, Generalitat de Catalunya). In addition, this study has been carried out as part of the ORCE Project, financed by the Andalusian Government and coordinated by Juan Manuel Jiménez-Arenas, Professor from the Department of Prehistory and Archeology of the University of Granada (UGR).

Some people of the Orce team members this July — IPHES

The research is based on the analysis of small skeletal remains from amphibians and reptiles recovered in the sites of Barranco León and Fuente Nueva 3, including frogs, toads, lizards and snakes; which are very significant for reconstructing climatic settings and their resulting landscapes. Moreover, new stratigraphic information provided by Oriol Oms, geologist at the Autonomous University of Barcelona (UAB), has facilitated the progress of this research by providing new information obtained from the different levels composing the deposits.

All of the results obtained from the two sites studied, Barranco León and Fuente Nueva 3, indicate that the first populations of Europe thrived in different environmental contexts. A warm environment that was shifting towards increasingly colder and arid conditions is now registered at the Barranco León site some 1.4 million years ago. Meanwhile, at Fuente Nueva 3, the maximum aridity and cold registered some 1.3 million years ago is observed to have later oscillated towards more favorable, humid and warm conditions. This indicates that the oldest human populations on the European continent were able to adapt to the changing environmental conditions taking place during the Lower Pleistocene and to cope with different environmental contexts.


Sánchez-Bandera C., et al., New stratigraphically constrained palaeoenvironmental reconstructions for the first human settlement in Western Europe: the Early Pleistocene herpetofaunal assemblages from Barranco León and Fuente Nueva 3 (Granada, SE Spain), Quaternary Science Reviews (2020).


Special Issue of the Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports on “Functional Studies of Prehistoric Artefacts and their Socio-economic Meaning” is now online

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An international team of archaeologists from the Philippines, Italy, Spain and Russia has put together and edited a special issue of the Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports, a leading international and Scopus-indexed journal that showcases new discoveries and developments in the field of archaeology. This special issue compiles recent research on the reconstruction of prehistoric technologies and the identification of function and the uses of ancient tools made of stone, bone, shell and other materials used by early humans. This extensive volume stems from two scientific sessions organized by the editors for the 18th World Congress of the International Union for Prehistoric and Protohistoric Sciences (UISPP), the world’s leading academic body for prehistoric archaeology, which was held at the Paris-Sorbonne University in June 2018.

Group image of the participants of the UISPP 2018 sessions on functional studies. Photo by L. Asryan.

The scientific sessions and this edited volume are among several activities of the UISPP Commission on Functional Studies. The Commission promotes the study of the diverse roles and functions of artefacts in human palaeoecology in order to understand the evolution and adaptation of tool technologies and behaviour within the socio-economic contexts of their prehistoric manufacturers and users. Also known as ‘Traceology’, specialists and research institutions around the globe are active in this field. Traceology is the major method for the identification of prehistoric activities and is based on the microscopic analysis of tool surfaces. To commemorate two outstanding scientific personalities who were of great importance in the establishment of this research method, this special volume is dedicated to Galina F. Korobkova and Lawrence H. Keeley, who were among the first followers of Sergei A. Semenov, recognised worldwide as the founding father of traceology as an archaeological discipline.

Questions round after one of the sessions on functional studies at the UISPP 2018 Congress. Photo by L. Asryan.

A total of 92 renowned authors and specialists representing no less than 45 universities, laboratories, and research institutions from 17 different countries have contributed to this special issue. They have provided us with 23 articles on cutting-edge research in the analysis of microwear traces and residues that represent a wide range of new and advanced methods in the discipline, making this volume a valuable compendium for several years to come.

Participants discussing on the organisation of the Commission on Functional Studies once finished the sessions. Photo by S. Yamada.

In this regard, this volume goes beyond the initial separation of topics into the two sessions held at the UISPP Congress (‘New Technologies and Methods in Traceology’, and ‘The Role of Traceology for Reconstructing Human Behaviour’). Beginning with an editorial and introduction to the issue and its topics, it sets out with a historiographical paper, then moves on to a set of studies focusing on bone tools. It then delves into a group of papers devoted to lithic artefacts, including some essentially methodological studies focusing not only on tools made of flint but also quartz and quartzite. The volume concludes with an innovative study that aims to shed light on cognitive issues.

Members of the Commission on Functional Studies in charge of the organisation of the UISPP 2018 sessions: Belén Márquez, Natalia Skakun, Laura Longo, Alfred Pawlik and Andreu Ollé. Photo N. Skakun.

The special issue has been edited by Alfred Pawlik (Ateneo de Manila University, Philippines), Andreu Ollé (Institut Català de Paleoecologia Humana i Evolució Social IPHES and Universitat Rovira i Virgili, Spain), Belén Márquez (Museo Arqueológico Regional, Spain), Laura Longo (Univ. degli Studi della Campania Luigi Vanvitelli and Università Ca’Foscari, Italia) and Natalia Skakun (Institute for the History of Material Culture, St. Petersburg, Russian Federation).

“Functional Studies of Prehistoric Artefacts and their Socio-economic Meaning” is the second monographic volume published in a major scientific journal, edited by the current Commission on Functional Studies of the UISPP (the first being Ollé et al. 2017, published in Quaternary International). They demonstrate that traceology is a very dynamic and important discipline in archaeological science and it reflects intense research activities over the recent years, whereby its methods and techniques are constantly evolving and systematically applied to increasingly varied archaeological records across prehistoric periods and throughout the world.

The Editors: Alfred Pawlik, Andreu Ollé, Belén Marquez, Laura Longo & Natalia Skakun


Two Stone tools on quartzite from Gran Dolina might proof that human occupation was steady in Atapuerca along 1.4 million years

Both tools have been found during this field-season at Unit TD08, and they are around 600,000 years old, a time characterized in Europe by a striking scarcity of human presence

In Cueva Fantasma and Sima del Elefante efforts have centered in remodeling and preparing the sites for next field-seasons


Two tools on quartzite found at the site of Gran Dolina (Unit TD8) allow reporting for the first time human presence at Sierra de Atapuerca (Burgos, Spain) around 600,000 years, a time with no evidence up-to-now of hominin presence at any of the caves of this archaeopaleontological complex. Furthermore, this points that hominins were uninterruptedly in Sierra de Atapuerca along 1.4 million years. These two pieces, to which add a fragment of a third piece on Neogene chert, have been discovered by members of the IPHES (Institut Català de Paleoecologia Humana i Evolució Social) and  Universitat Rovira i Virgili (URV) during the excavation season of this month, very conditioned in time and number of participants due to the limits imposed by Covid-19.

This finding entails that this has been a key field season in order to understand the sequence of hominin occupation at the site of Gran Dolina, because it has yielded evidences about a rather unknown stage in all Western Europe, with doubtless scientific interest: the time between the intense occupations reported at Unit TD6 (about 900,000 years) and those belonging to the strong impact recorded at Sierra de Atapuerca in Acheulean times (represented in the site by Unit TD10, from 450,000 years onwards).

A Stone tool on quartzite from Gran Dolina – AOC/EIA

In the same Unit TD8, several macromammals have been identified, among which bear, hyena and jaguar, and also several herbivores remains of rhinos, horses and deer. This has allowed enlarging the archaeological collection of carnivores, the worse known group of this site.

On the other hand, at Sima del Elefante and Cueva Fantasma efforts have focused in remodeling and preparing the sites to enlarge the excavation surfaces. Then, at Elefante, for example, there have been removed several big blocks that fell from the roof of the cave 1.4 million years ago. This collapse occurred when the clay sediments at level 7, the oldest archaeopaleontological stratum known at Sierra de Atapuerca, were already deposited inside the cavity.

From this level remains of tortoise, bear, and beaver have been found, what reinforce the hypothesis that the environmental conditions 1,4 million years ago were more temperate and humid than today.

At Cueva Fantasma archaeologists have remodeled the sedimentary sections of the eastern front of the site, conditioning the unevenness provoked by old quarry works, in order to get a profile that allow to establish stratigraphic correlations among different sectors of the site.

Team IPHES/URV at Atapuerca site this week – Susana Santamaria/EIA

At the upper part of the cave, there is a rich level already opened in 2019 (SF30). In this level dominate the remains of horses, with representation of the entire skeleton, followed by bovids, cervids and suids. Among carnivores, remains of hyena, bear, wolf and fox, badger and lynx have been reported. This same level has yielded several flakes of chert close to the entrance, which indicated that Neanderthals were occupying the place.

At the lower part of the stratigraphy, Unit 21 stands up due to the abundance of hyena remains, as well as their coprolites, so pointing to the possible use of this area as a latrine. This level also reported remains of horses, bison, deer and rhinos, as well as big carnivores such as lion, panther and bear.

Finally, works made by URV-IPHES members at other sites of Sierra de Atapuerca includes the finding of a hominin skull fragment about 450.000 years at Sima de los Huesos, where this year fieldwork has been occasional, and the opening of the Galería de las Estatuas cave entrance, which collapsed 50,000 years ago. Tools on quartzite, chert, and sandstone have been reported. They show strong similarities with the Mousterian technocomplex made by Neanderthals, as well as with the archaeopaleontological record that is being excavating for the last years in the interior of the cave.