PALEODEM, led by the archaeologist Javier Fernández, a researcher at IPHES (Institut Català de Paleoecologia Humana i Evolució Social) was one of the projects selected in the temporary exhibition hosted in Madrid by Museo Nacional de Ciencia y Tecnología (MUNCYT), as a part of the activities commemorating the 10 years of European Research Council (ERC).
PALEODEM is a project that was awarded a “ERC Consolidator Grant”, a European Research Council grant for the promotion of researchers in the intermediate state of their professional path (between 7 and 12 years after obtaining their doctorate), in order to consolidate its own line of research and its team.
Entitled Glacial and Postglacial Population History and Cultural Transmission in Iberia (c.15,000-8,000 cal BP), PALEODEM aims to reconstruct the population dynamics between 15,000 and 8,000 years ago, a period of great climatic changes and whose impact on human demography remains unknown.
The exhibition facilitated information on the main lines of the project, accompanied by some photographs. It was promoted by FECYT (Fundación Española para la Ciencia y la Tecnología).
An archaeological site is the result of a series of events that overlap at different levels through time. Archaeological remains generated by bone breaking and the sculpting of stone blocks are deposited in each of these strata. Refitting the pieces belonging to the same bone or block is an arduous task, but very useful for understanding an endless array of aspects related to human evolution.
With the aim of exchanging experiences, understanding the multidisciplinary applications of reassembly, and its reconstruction in 3D, as well as agreeing on criteria for its use, an international workshop is being held that will bring together the experts in this field. Entitled The Big Puzzle 30 Years After: A shared, multidisciplinary, Palaeolithic perspective, it will take place from 9 to 11 May, in Sala de Graus on Campus Catalunya at the Universitat Rovira i Virgili (URV), in Tarragona.
The title refers to the conference held three decades ago at the Monrepos Archaeological Research Centre and Museum in Neuwied, Germany. It was there that the importance of reassembly was first verified as a method for analysing the technical, economic and social behaviour of past populations. The publication from that conference and the data that has appeared since, have shown not only that reassembly is very useful for research, but have also led to new lines of investigative work.
The workshop is being organised by Francesca Romagnoli, a Marie Curie researcher at the IPHES (Institut Català de Paleoecologia Humana i Evolució Social), and Manuel Vaquero, an IPHES member and professor of Prehistory at the URV, as part of the EU’s H2020 Research and Innovation Program GA. 653667. It is being sponsored by the Wenner-Gren Foundation, a United States foundation that funds research of excellence in the field of anthropology, prehistory and the study of human evolution.
IPHES is deliberately linking this workshop to the symposium held in Germany in 1987, intending to reflect on the development of this technique over the last 30 years, and see whether the expectations generated at that time have been achieved. IPHES is a leader in the study of reassembly and has developed an analysis protocol that has enabled innovative work to be developed on the recycling, techno-economic, and social organisation of Neanderthal communities. At the workshop, IPHES will present new data from the Abric Romaní site (Capellades, Barcelona) in the workshop, a world reference for work on the social organisation of Homo neanderthalensis, as well as from the Gran Dolina site in the Sierra de Atapuerca.
Reassembly allows researchers to identify what types of actions were carried out at a site, as well as their number and frequency, in addition to detecting the temporal and spatial relationships between the different events. For example, how a certain material was introduced into the archaeological site and where it came from, how tools were made, and so on. In this way one can ascertain aspects of the economy of hominid groups, the length of time they remained in a place, and the size and organisation of the human population that lived there. It also reveals whether the materials have been reused, and the importance of recycling to these hominids.
In addition, reassembly can be applied when analysing wildlife. This allows us to understand, for example, how humans shared and distributed food in the past.
These are just some of the issues that will be discussed in the workshop. It will be attended by top-level experts who apply reassembly in an interdisciplinary way to better understand what life was like in the Palaeolithic era. The participants include scientists from leading research institutes, such as UCL (University College London), and reference centres in the study of Prehistory, such as the University of Tübingen in Germany, the Autonomous Universities of Madrid and Barcelona, the University of La Laguna, the University of Ferrara, the Anthropos Museum of Brno, and the Monrepos Museum where the original conference took place.
The Molí del Salt is an archaeological site situated at Vimbodí and Poblet (Tarragona, Spain). It is a good example to understand the subsistence strategies of human populations at the end of the Upper Palaeolithic and early Mesolithic, that is, between 8,000 and 15,000 years ago, approximately. Although in this place humans were able to capture different taxa, they focused their attention on rabbits, according to an article published by the Historical Biology journal, headed by Anna Rufà, predoctoral researcher at IPHES (Institut Català de Paleoecologia Humana i Evolució Social), and co-authored by other members from the same institution and the CENIEH (Centro Nacional de Investigación sobre la Evolución Humana).
Evidence registered at Molí del Salt are good examples of high exploitation capacity of fauna, since a wide range of activities have been documented, from the skinning of the animal to the bone marrow extraction. The high fragmentation observed on different faunal remains suggests an intensive use of the internal animal nutrients. In the case of rabbits, hominids could not only obtain food benefits, but also resources that were not destined for nutritional purposes, such as the acquisition of furs that could be used, for example, to protect their bodies.
The high presence of rabbits at Molí del Salt, which represents more than 90% of exploited fauna in all archaeological units, is due to the fact that they would be an abundant and rich resource in this area, a fact that could favour their capture. “The versatility of this species would have promoted their expansion through different environments, probably favoured by the environmental changes that took place at the end of Upper Pleistocene”, comments Anna Rufà.
In addition, the high reproductive rates of these animals allow them to be hunted without overexploitation. “This fact facilitates their success, since they can continue being an important resource for human populations over time without jeopardizing their survival”, says the same researcher. In the same way, despite that no conclusive evidence has been extracted in that sense, the large number of individuals represented in some of the units, could suggest the use of some capture techniques (traps, loops and nets). This could allow obtaining more than one individual for hunting performed.
Rufà, A., Blasco, R., Rosell, J., Vaquero, M. (2017): “What is going on at the Molí del Salt site? A zooarchaeological approach to the last hunter-gatherers from South Catalonia”, Historical Biology. doi: 10.1080/08912963.2017.1315685