Eudald Carbonell, IPHES´s Director (Institut Català de Paleoecologia Humana i Evolució Social) participated recently in a class of the Prehistory course conducted by lecturer and member of this research center, Ethel Allué, from the History Degree offered by the URV (Universitat Rovira i Virgili – Tarragona – Spain). The archaeologist referred to a number of concepts such as Violence, Solidarity, Inequality and Compassion in Prehistory, throughout the scientific thinking obtained with different researches in which he participates, along with other scientists of his research team. He also talked about issues such as what is a violent act, bioethics, morality and ethology, among other topics.
The key question done by the student Eduard Jimenez (History student in curricular practices at IPHES) whether if all these aspects of our evolution are innate or hominin cultural adaptations, served to finish Eudald Carbonell intervention.
Percussive activities and their related tool manufacture systems are documented early on in the archeological record. The characterization of large-sized percussion tools in Oldowan stone tool assemblages and their role in ancient toolkits is often difficult to ascertain. This situation may begin to change thanks to a new methodology developed by researchers at the IPHES (Institut Català de Paleoecologia Humana i Evolució Social), the Universitat Rovira i Virgili (URV) and the Archaeological Museum of Granada.
This new research impetus is founded on the analysis of limestone tools from the Oldowan sites of Barranco León and Fuente Nueva 3 (1.4 and 1.3 million years old, Orce, Granada). The resulting methodological advances prepared by Deborah Barsky, Robert Sala, Josep Maria Vergès, Leticia Menéndez (IPHES-URV) and Isidro Toro (Archaeological Museum of Granada) have recently been presented at the International Conference: Percussive Technology and Human Evolution, held at the Institute of Archaeology, University College London and organized by Ignacio de la Torre (researcher and Reader in Archaeology of UCL).
“One of the main results evidenced by our study is that the hominins from Orce systematically used abrupt edges and the intersections of flat surfaces to carry out a wide range of percussive activities”, says Deborah Barsky, researcher and responsible for research in African Prehistory at IPHES. “This work has allowed us to identify, describe and illustrate a series of percussion marks, which we believe, will provide a useful foundation for future studies on macro tools from ancient lithic assemblages. Our methodology, especially developed for studying these little-known tools, has also allowed us to identify some loosely configured tool types in the Orce assemblages”.
The aim of the conference was to discuss the emergence and evolution of percussive technology. “This exciting topic was discussed enthusiastically by a group of international specialists and scholars in the fields of Human Evolution, Archaeology, Evolutionary Psychology and Primatology”, says Deborah Barsky. The impact achieved underlines a growing interest in recent years for the study of percussive activities and traces they left on hammerstones, cores and large tool forms in early stone toolkits from both Africa and Eurasia.
The conference included four sessions: percussive technologies in modern humans and other primates, percussive stone tools and the archaeological record, percussive activities in wild primates and the role of percussive tasks in human evolution.
Percussive technology dates back to the earliest stages of humanization and is therefore a key aspect for understanding how first cultures evolved. “In the framework of Lower Pleistocene Western Europe, Barranco León and Fuente Nueva 3 have yielded an exceptionally rich collection of lithic industries including light-duty flint flakes and cores and heavy-duty limestone tools”. This conference provided an ideal opportunity to present recent advancements in the ongoing study of the limestone percussion tools from these two sites. New quantitative and qualitative data obtained from the macro industries from Barranco León and Fuente Nueva 3 was presented, as well details concerning the new methodology developed to highlight their morphometric features”, adds the same archaeologist.
The methodology includes an experimental program, still in progress, designed to reproduce the wide range of percussion marks observed in the collection of limestone industries at the Orce sites. It also has opened new perspectives for understanding how the raw materials were introduced into the sites and the role of expediency in its exploitation“.
The conference proceedings are set to be published in an International Peer Reviewed Journal in the upcoming year.
As if it were the clarification of the actors involved in a crime and the environment that hosted it, find out how remains are accumulated in an archaeological site, the modifications and alterations suffered since they were abandoned and which agents had taken part of it, is the key to understand the context where human evolution has been developed over time. Taphonomy is the science that deals with it. Sometimes is not easy to identify the actors. Therefore, the study of the marks on the fossil remains and customs of those who produced them can be useful to recognize much better if a bone accumulation has an anthropogenic origin or to which species can be attached it.
In this frame we have to mention one research just published online in the journal Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology entitled “Expansion of the referential framework for rabbits fossil accumulations generated by the Iberian lynx”, whose lead author is Antonio Rodríguez-Hidalgo, researcher at IPHES, and two other co-authors of the same institute, Palmira Saladié and Antoni Canals, which are also scientist at the Universitat Rovira i Virgili in Tarragona, and Juan Marín (Equipo Primeros Pobladores de Extremadura – EPPEX).
It was known that adult lynxes are important rabbit bones modifiers, as the same team published in the Journal of Archaeological Science, but now it is also shown that their cubs, when they are in or near to their dens, also modify the remains in the same way as their parents do, although leaving different tooth marks on bones. This new data increase the knowledge of the Iberian lynx as a taphonomic agent and serves to deepen the variability of their feeding behavior.
Actualism and analogies
The study has its conceptual base on actualism. It is considered that the modifications generated by the lynx today are very similar or identical to those made in the Prehistory. Following this principle, the data which is experimentally obtained is used to establish analogies with the information from archeopaleontological record.
This way, has been conducted a taphonomical study of the rabbit remains consumed by a female lynx and her cubs during the breeding season at the captive breeding center of Granadilla in Zarza de Granadilla (Cáceres, Spain), one of the four centers of Spain included in the Lynxexsitu program, which aims focus on the preservation of this species. Antonio Rodríguez says: “In previous works we have studied modified rabbit remains by adult lynxes and now our hypothesis was that the cubs could produce different modifications from adults”.
In this new research it has been found that when female lynxes breed their cubs, “they hide them in dens (in tree trunks or caves) to protect them from predators. In these times of breeding, the mother carries the rabbits into the den, where the young ones are safe. In this context, lynxes can be large accumulators and modifiers of rabbit remains and, therefore, important taphonomical agents that could generate a recognizable impact in the sites”, says Antonio Rodriguez.
“With this information we extend the framework on how lynxes modify the bones of their prey, and therefore to increase the knowledge of taphonomic signatures of the lynxes. At the same time, we obtain empirical data to acknowledge their participation in the fossils accumulations”, says the same archaeologist.
“Right now -says Rodriguez- we are experimentally working with the modifications made by the lynxes on other preys such as birds, this research was presented at the last meeting of the UISPP (Unión Internacional de Ciencias Prehistóricas y Protohistóricas) held in Burgos in September. In this analysis we apply the results of two archaeological sites: La Cueva de Maltravieso (Cáceres, Spain) and Cova Foradada (Calafell, Tarragona, Spain).
This IPHES´s research project is possible thanks to the collaboration of the Doñana Biological Station (EBD-CSIC) and especially the iberian lynx research and conservation program, Lynxexsitu.
Rodríguez-Hidalgo, A., Saladié, P., Marín, J., and Canals, A.; ‘Expansion of the Referential Framework for the Rabbit Fossil Accumulations Generated by Iberian Lynx’, Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology, 418 (2015), 1-11. doi:10.1016/j.palaeo.2014.11.010