The Catalan Institute of Human Paleoecology and Social Evolution (IPHES) has obtained the ‘HR Excellence in Research’ logo awarded by the European Commission. The Human Resources Strategy for Researchers (HRS4R) proves that IPHES endorses the general principles of the European Charter for Researchers and a Code of Conduct for the Recruitment of Researchers (Charter & Code), and firmly supports its commitment in improving internal policies and procedures.
This recognition of excellence is an opportunity to establish a comprehensive and coherent Human Resources Strategy, that should allow to achieve international visibility by providing favorable working environment for research with equal opportunities, ethical integrity and work life balance.
Our Human Resources Strategy for Researchers Action Plan (HRS4R Action Plan) was drawn up by a working group in a participative and open process involving this the representatives of the whole IPHES research areas through a general survey. The 2016- 2020 Action Plan comprises actions related to 4 pillars: ethical and professional aspects, recruitment, working conditions and Social Security, and training.
The history of our own species – Homo sapiens – is longer and probably more complicated than scientists had previously believed. While Africa is widely accepted as the place of origin of the first modern humans, there was no evidence that these people moved out of Africa prior to between 120,000 and 90,000 years ago. Now an international team of researchers has described the earliest modern human fossil ever found outside of Africa. The left side of an adult upper jawbone including most of the dentition was found at Misliya Cave in Israel, one of a series of prehistoric cave sites located on Mount Carmel. In this research, Carlos Lorenzo, IPHES researcher and professor at Rovira i Virgili University (URV), has participated in the paleoanthropological study of the human fossil.
The team applied several dating techniques to archaeological materials from the site and the human fossil itself to obtain an age. The results suggest the fossil dates to between 177,000 and 194,000 years, pushing back the first modern human migration out of Africa by roughly 60,000 years. In addition, the Misliya fossil is about the same age as other early Homo sapiens fossils from two sites in East Africa.
To establish what species the Misliya fossil represents, the researchers relied on multiple approaches to analyze the fossil itself. The multidisciplinary team applied classic anthropological measurements on the jawbone and teeth, as well as micro-Computed Tomography scans to study the inner anatomy and compare the shape using 3D virtual models. The comparison with African, European and Asian hominin fossils and with recent human populations showed that the Misliya fossil is unequivocally an early modern human.
Luckily, the roof of Misliya Cave collapsed about 160,000 years ago and protected the human fossil and the archaeological artifacts buried in the sediments until the present day. The rich archaeological evidence reveals that the inhabitants of Misliya cave were capable hunters of large game species such as aurochs, persian fallow deer and gazelles, they controlled the production of fire in hearths, made a wide use of plants and produced an Early Middle Paleolithic stone tool kit, employing sophisticated innovative techniques, similar to those found with the earliest modern humans in Africa.
While older fossils related to modern humans have been found in Northwest Africa, the timing and routes of modern human migration out of Africa are key issues for understanding the evolution of our own species. The region of the Middle East represents a major corridor for hominin migrations during the Pleistocene and has been occupied at different times by modern humans, Neandertals, and even earlier human species. This new discovery from Misliya Cave opens the door to demographic replacement or genetic admixture between modern humans and other local populations much earlier than previously thought. Indeed, the evidence from Misliya is consistent with recent suggestions based on ancient DNA for an earlier migration, prior to 220,000 years ago, of modern humans out of Africa. Several recent archaeological and fossil discoveries in Asia are also pushing back the first appearance of modern humans in the region and, by implication, the migration out of Africa.
For further information:
Hershkovitz, I., Weber, G.W., Quam, R., Duval, M., Grün, R., Kinsley, L., Ayalon, A., Bar-Matthews, M., Valladas, H., Mercier, N., Arsuaga, J.L., Martinón-Torres, M., Bermúdez de Castro, J.M., Fornai, C., Martín-Francés, L., Sarig, R., May, H., Krenn, V.A., Slon, V., Rodríguez, L., García, R., Lrenzo, C., Carretero, J.M., Frumkin, A., Shahack-Gross, R., Bar-Yosef Mayer, D.E., Cui, Y., Wu, X., Peled, N., Groman-Yaroslavski, I., Weissbrod, L., Yeshurun, R., Tsatskin, A., Zaidner, Y. & Weinstein-Evron, M. (2018). “The earliest modern humans outside Africa”. Science, published online 26th January 2018.
Homo sapiens are considered to be the only species with a predominance of a preferred use of the right hand, with a ratio of 9 right-handed to 1 left-handed people. However, when did the human handedness appeared in human evolution remains unknown. An international research recently published and led by Marina Lozano, researcher at IPHES (Institut Català de Paleoecologia Humana i Evolució Social), shows that this behaviour is more ancient than it was thought. At population level, Neandertal as far as 130,000 years ago, showed a well-stablished hand preference as our species. Nevertheless, this practice goes back to Homo habilis showing that handedness is an ancestral characteristic of our genus.
The scientific community has developed a huge amount of studies focused on handedness and brain laterality in hominins. However, in this work, a large sample has been analyzed, for the first time, following the same methodology. That is 120 individuals of five different human species (Homo habilis, Homo antecessor, preneandertals, European Neandertals and Homo sapiens), spanning almost 2 million years.
The main research teams focused on the study of handedness in fossil hominins are involved in this work. So, this is the result of an international collaboration between researchers of Spain, USA and Italy. Thanks to this work “we can affirm that the trend to have a preferred hand is an intrinsic characteristic of our genus. The handedness was established slowly in each of the species who precede us. From this research, we can do some inferences because handedness implies brain laterality that is closely related to language”, mentions the researcher Marina Lozano.
This international team studied the cultural dental wear, specifically the striations (cut marks) that result from the use of the mouth as a third hand, when some material is held between the anterior teeth and cut with a lithic tool. These marks are analyzed with environmental scanning electron microscopy.