A giant shrew which lived in Atapuerca about 1.2 million years ago consumed mammals larger than it to complement its diet

As it’s evidenced by the marks in a mole humerus, some depressions caused by bites, that haven’t been recorded before in small mammals

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The diet of such small animals like the red-toothed shrews (Beremendia fissidens) is a controversial task among the specialized palaeontologists. Traditionally, they have been regarded as major consumers of insects, but given its weight (50 gr.), some specialists have thought, they would also need to capture some small mammals to maintain their high metabolic rate, as it does its closest relative, the northern short tail shrew.

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The study of a mole humerus (Talpa cf. europaea) that presents six depressions, found at the level TE9 of the Sima del Elefante (Sierra de Atapuerca, Burgos, Spain), with an age of about 1.2 million, has demonstrated that it was consumed by a red-toothed shrew Beremendia fissidens. Gerard Campeny/IPHES

Throughout this discussion, the study of a mole humerus (Talpa cf. europaea) that presents six depressions, found at the level TE9 of the Sima del Elefante (Sierra de Atapuerca, Burgos, Spain), with an age of about 1.2 million, has demonstrated that it was consumed by a red-toothed shrew Beremendia fissidens. “We should note that these alterations are not common in small mammals. So far, in any other micromammal fossil have been found such marks, with a so clear and defined morphology that can be attributed to a bite and allows its study”, said Maria Bennàsar, collaborator of the IPHES (Institut Català de Paleoecologia Humana i Evolució Social) and lead author of the paper published in the Historical Biology. The work has also involved other members of the research center as Isabel Cáceres, Rosa Huguet and Hugo A. Blain, and other members of the Atapuerca Research Team, as Gloria Cuenca and Juan Rofes.

Maria Bennàsar has emphasized that the conducted research “evidenced that the red teeth shrew is the author of the bites on the mole humerus. This suggests its ability to capture larger preys than itself, although it had no specialized morphological features in the consumption of small mammals”.

Reference

Bennàsar, M., et al., “Exceptional biting capacities of the Early Pleistocene fossil shrew Beremendia fissidens (Soricidae, Eulipotyphla, Mammalia): new taphonomic evidence”, Historical Biology (2014).

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First in-person classes in the frame of the Anthropology and Human Evolution degree taught by the URV and UOC

Some questions about the activities that normally are conducted online through the virtual classrooms of the UOC can be solved

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During the last weeks we have developed the in-person classes in Tarragona (Spain) of the first and second year of the Anthropology and Human Evolution degree, taught together and through virtual learning by the Universitat Oberta de Catalunya (UOC) and the Universitat Rovira i Virgili (URV).

These courses are taught by researchers of the IPHES (Institut Català de Paleoecologia Humana i Evolució Social), specifically by: Robert Sala teaching Human Evolution and Culture; Carlos Lorenzo, Biological Anthropology; Marina Lozano, Human Evolution and Ethel Allué, New technologies applied to human sciences.

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One in-person class in Tarragona 

“During these in-person classes some questions about the activities that normally are conducted online through the virtual classrooms of the UOC can be solved, also there are theoretical advances in the content of these courses. Direct contact with students allows developing a more streamlined discussion of some issues of each subject”, Ethel Allué observed.

The second session of the course entitled “New technologies applied to human sciences” was accomplished at the IPHES. The aim was that students could visit a research centre and see how the archaeological materials are studied through specific technologies and techniques.

History Degree students from the URV made a one day practical course at IPHES

This visit allows students to appreciate from first-hand the research activities related to Prehistory and Human Evolution

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A group of 37 students from the History Degree from the Rovira i Virgili University of Tarragona (URV) have recently made a one day practical course at IPHES (Institut Català de Paleoecologia Humana i Evolució Social), within Prehistory and Prehistory of the Iberian Peninsula courses, conducted by Isabel Cáceres and Ethel Allué, both researchers at this center.

“This visit allows students to appreciate from first-hand the research activities related to Prehistory and Human Evolution”, says Ethel Allué. For this purpose, first archaeologist Marta Fontanals from the Projects Unit and Transferences of the IPHES, gave a brief presentation of the center in the Abric Romaní room followed by a guided tour. During a short pause, in the break room, students had the opportunity to enjoy a conversation with the paleontologist Jordi Agustí, ICREA researcher at the IPHES and head of the Research Department of the institute, who especially talked about his knowledge on the Dmanisi site (Georgia), where early hominids up to 1.8 million years old have been found.

During the rest of the day three workshops focused on various areas of Prehistory were performed: sediments sorting, zooarchaeology and lithic technology, by Isabel Cáceres, Ethel Allué and Esther López (grant holder at the Unit of Lithic Technology of the IPHES). “The objective was that the students got insights of the process of the study of the archaeological materials from the moment they arrived to the center until they are studied and stored, including the restoration (if required), identification, interpretation and archaeological experimentation”, says Isabel Cáceres .

The new IPHES website

The consolidation of certain areas of research and the addition of new branches are now fully reflected on the website.

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The IPHES (Institut Catalá de Paleoecologia Humana i Evolució Social) has renovated its website to include the new goals of the Institute, while maintaining the same URL, www.iphes.cat

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Recently, the IPHES opened a new building on the Sescelades campus of the Universitat Rovira i Virgili in Tarragona. The new facilities favour new strategies and further international projection. Furthermore, the consolidation of certain areas of research and the addition of new branches are now fully reflected on the website.

Additionally, the website reflects IPHES’s academic offer and commitment to socialization activities and technology transfer services.

The website also emphasizes the news generated by the institute itself and gives direct access to communication channels in different languages, such as blogs and/or social media.

Birds of prey and small mammalian carnivores shared space with Neanderthals at Teixoneres Cave during the Middle Palaeolithic

These animals, as hominids, consumed rabbit and hare within the cavity

This reveals that Homo neanderthalensis was able to exploit a wide spectrum of fauna

This is revealed in an article recently published in the journal Comptes Rendus Palevol by Anna Rufa, IPHES archaeologist, as principal author

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Up to now, previous investigations established that Teixoneres Cave, located in Moià (Barcelona), was occupied during the Middle Palaeolithic by Neanderthals and large carnivores. Two new studies that have just been published, and which origin are on two master theses from the Erasmus Mundus Master in Quaternary Archaeology and Human Evolution presented in 2013 at the Rovira i Virgili University of Tarragona, provide more information about the occupational dynamics in the cave and expands the faunal range that used the cave.

An article that has just been published in the scientific journal Comptes Rendus Palevol with Anna Rufà, predoctoral fellow in the IPHES (Institut Català de Paleoecologia Humana i Evolució Social), as principal author, states that nocturnal raptors and small mammalian carnivores -such as foxes- shared space with Neanderthals in the Teixoneres Cave during the Middle Palaeolithic, between 40,000 and 50,000 years ago, approximately. These animals, as hominids, consumed rabbits and hares (leporids) within the cavity. “This reveals that Homo neanderthalensis was able to exploit a wide range of fauna”, says Anna Rufà.

Marks on the bones

“The zooarchaeological and taphonomic study of these leporids has identified the presence of nocturnal birds of prey, and small mammalian carnivores – such as fox- as accumulators agents of leporids in Teixoneres”, says the same researcher. “We’ve noted this because predators left consumption traces on bones, such as tooth marks (depressions and grooves) or slight digestive corrosions. In addition, although with lower degree, human groups intervene on leporids remains, and it’s possible to identify cut marks, burned bones and intentional fractures on some remains.

“This behavior allows -says Anna Rufà- to find that Neanderthals were able to exploit a wide range of fauna (from large ungulates to rabbits). In the case of leporids, sex and age profiles of individuals suggest hunting by encounter rates, which could be associated with short-term human occupations”.

Microwear dental studies

Moreover, in a new article published in the Journal of Archaeological Science, leaded by Carlos Sanchez-Hernandez, an ex-student of the Master in Quaternary Archaeology and Human Evolution at the URV, reaffirms that the occupation of Teixoneres Cave by Neanderthals were short, and located near to the entrance.

This conclusion has been suggested by analyzing the patterns of dental microwear and dental eruption of the most abundant large herbivores (ungulates) in the archaeological record of Teixoneres: deer and horse.

Dental microwear studies analyze the microscopic marks related to feeding, which are replaced by new ones in a relatively short period of time, gradually erasing the previous marks. This phenomenon is used as an indicator of the diet of the last days of an animal life. The study of microwear pattern variability allows makes easier to propose an estimation of the occupation dynamics in a site.

The study of the sequence of eruption and tooth replacement also allows to define the period of occupation of the site. In Teixoneres Cave some differences have been identified between levels. In one of the levels (IIIa) occupations are usually short, but developed thorough the year. In contrast, there is a level below (IIIb) whose occupations are mainly in summer, and occasionally, in winter.

References

Rufà, A.; Blasco, R.; Rivals, F.; Rosell, J.; 2014. “Leporids as a potential resource for predators (hominins, mammalian carnivores, raptors): An example of mixed contribution from level III of Teixoneres Cave (MIS 3; Barcelona, Spain)”. Comptes Rendus Palevol 13 (8), 665-680.

Sánchez-Hernández, C.; Rivals, F.; Blasco, R., Rosell, J.; (2014). “Short, but repeated Neanderthal visits to Teixoneres Cave (MIS 3, Barcelona, Spain): a combined analysis of tooth microwear pattern sand seasonality”, Journal of Archaeological Science 49, 317-325.