Twelve students from the URV present their Erasmus Mundus Master thesis in Quaternary Archaeology and Human Evolution

Students from many different countries defend their work on 16th and 17th September at the Universita ‘degli Studi di Ferrara (Italy)

Among the studied topics are the Barranc de la Boella, Abric Romani, Atapuerca, occupations in Tunisia or the rock art of Tanzania

Coinciding with the beginning of the course, a total of 26 theses of the Erasmus Mundus Master in Quaternary Archaeology and Human Evolution offered at the Rovira i Virgili (URV), twelve of which have been realized ​​by students of this university from diverse countries as: Algeria, Eritrea, Tanzania, Tunisia, Cuba, Italy, Spain, France and Portugal. The defense is presented on 16th and 17th September at the Universita’ degli Studi di Ferrara (Italy).

Among the topics that focus the interest of these research is the hominid paleodiet at the Cueva Mirador de Atapuerca (Burgos) 5,000 years ago, new applications of computed tomography applied to paleoanthropology, competition between hominins and carnivores during the Pleistocene based on the Barranco de la Boella (La Canonja, Tarragona); paleontological study of the large Quaternary mammals at Oued Sarrat (Northwest Tunisia), the ecological environment of the human occupations in Level O at Abric Romani (Capellades, Barcelona) from micromammals and their accumulation process, rock art of Tanzania, retouched artifacts analysis of level III at Cova de Teixoneres (Moià, Barcelona) or the production and distribution of flint industry in the Abric Romani P level.

The Erasmus Mundus Master in Quaternary Archaeology and Human Evolution is done in partnership with other European institutions, as the Universita’ degli Studi di Ferrara (Italy), Muséum National de Historia Natural (Paris, France), Instituto Politécnico de Tomar and Universidade de Trás-os-Montes y Alto Duero (both in Portugal) and the University of Diliman (Philippines), but the students are from many different countries.

Internationalization

The first thesis of this Master were read in 2006 and more than 100 research papers have been completed until now, many of which are based on different projects where the Institut Català de Paleoecologia Humana i Evolució Social (IPHES) participates, in the commitment of this center to link teaching with research, field work and socialization.

The Erasmus Mundus Master in Quaternary Archaeology and Human Evolution began in the 2004-2005 academic URV course, thanks to the research carried out by the IPHES, that participates in the main worldwide projects of its field. This year, the European Commission notified the renewal under the new Erasmus+ program for three more years, ensuring the continuity of the guarantee and quality that represents being part of the Erasmus Mundus program for the students training and the internationalization of the URV.

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A 1.3 million years old phalanx discovered in Atapuerca shows that the morphology of the modern human hand was already defined at that time

The features observed on it confirm that those hominids were capable of producing and using stone tools in a complex way

This human fossil, along with the mandible found in the same site and the Orce teeth, is one of the oldest in Europe

As it is revealed in an article now published by the Journal Human Evolution, being an IPHES researcher, Carlos Lorenzo, the main author

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The Equipo de Investigación de Atapuerca (EIA) has recently published in the Journal of Human Evolution, a study based on the analysis of a human phalanx found in 2008 in the Sima del Elefante, Atapuerca (Burgos), 1.3 million years old, it shows that our hands morphology was already defined at the time.

The main author of the article is Carlos Lorenzo, a researcher of the IPHES (Institut Català de Paleoecologia Humana i Evolució Social) and URV (Universitat Rovira i Virgili of Tarragona), who has led this work along with Adrián Pablos, a postdoctoral researcher of  the Universidad de Burgos (UBU) and the Centro Nacional de Investigación sobre la Evolución Humana (CENIEH), in collaboration with other scientists of these institutions and the Centro Mixto UCM-ISCIII de Evolución y Comportamiento Humanos. Also as authors of the IPHES and the URV had participated Rosa Huguet, Josep Vallverdú and Eudald Carbonell.

The analyzed fossil, scientifically identified as ATE9-2, is the first (proximal) phalanx of the left fifth finger of an adult and was found at the same level as the mandible published in the Nature journal as the oldest hominid in Europe, 1.2-1.3 million years old.

Comparisons that have been established with the lacking fossil global record for this anatomical part, and two samples of modern humans, indicate that the fossil ATE9-2 don´t greatly differ from these or the neanderthals, in morphologic terms. “It means, that the phalanx, and therefore the hand, has changed little in morphology over 1.3 million years to the present”, explains Carlos Lorenzo.

“The only observed differences -he continues- have to do with the robustness of the fossil, which shared with neandertals and the Sima de los Huesos homind bones. This robustness, or width of the distal joint, seems like a primitive character already detected in other skeletal parts and the oldest hominids. This confirms the fact that the species Homo sapiens differs from other fossil species in its graceful body”

Until the appearance of this phalanx, there is no fossil record of the genus Homo for this anatomical element older than neanderthals and Sima de los Huesos hominid remains. There are only proximal phalanges of the hand of an Australopithecus fifth finger, and some other fragmentary remains but is still unknown if they belong to the genus Homo or Australopithecus.

“The phalanges of Australopithecus are curved, a fact that some researchers have linked to the difficulty or impossibility of producing and using stone tools”, says Carlos Lorenzo. “The fossil of the Sima del Elefante is straight as in modern humans”. However, “The procedure of manufacturing stone tools has changed a lot from 1.3 million years ago”. This fact led the researchers to conclude that the phalanges (and thus the hand) of the hominids had every morphological characteristics to produce very advanced stone tools at least 1.3 million years ago”.

The first rock engraving attributed to a neanderthal was found in Gibraltar

This evidence confirms the ability of this species to abstract expression

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The study on the identified rock engraving in Gorham’s Cave in Gibraltar  has confirmed that the imprint of the artistic lines observed was most probably made intentionally ​​by neanderthals, which confirms the ability of this species to abstract expression. The finding is presented in a scientific article on Monday September 1st by the journal PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences). Among the signatories is the archaeologist Jordi Rosell, IPHES (Institut Català de Paleoecologia Humana i Evolució Social) researcher.

Until now, the discoveries of rock art had been attributed only to modern humans, who arrived in Western Europe around 40,000 years ago. Instead, the team of Gibraltar, which works with the IPHES, has found an engraving covered by a sediments where previously artifacts, made ​​by neanderthals around 39,000 years ago, have been discovered (mousterian flakes and cores), what suggest that is prior to this date.

The engraving is covered by a mineral crust, whose chemical analysis demonstrate that was formed before the burial. Researchers took microphotographs of the grooves edges and after comparing them with those obtained with experimental techniques, determined that were made with stone tools, confirming the intentionality of these artistic lines.

Thus, these results suggest that the abstract model adds another evidence, such as the use of pigments and an intentional burial, whereby perhaps before the intellectual capacity of neanderthals was underestimated, according to the authors.

Bibliographic reference

Article # 14-11529: “A rock engraving made ​​by Neanderthals in Gibraltar,” by Joaquín Rodríguez-Vidal et al.