International meeting on the study of microvertebrates in archaeological sites

Promoted by IPHES, the 3rd Congress of the Microvertebrate Working Group (MVWG), which belongs to the ICAZ, was recently held in virtual mode

With more than 35 papers presented, the broad focus of the congress was on the role of microvertebrate fossils in reconstructing past environments

Interactions between hominids and wildlife, as well as the effects of climate change, were also the focus of much of the discussion


Promoted by members of the IPHES (Catalan Institute of Human Paleoeoclogy and Social Evolution), the 3rd Congress of the Microvertebrate Working Group (MVWG), which belongs to the International Council for Archaeozoology (ICAZ), was recently held in virtual mode. With 60 people registered and more than 35 papers presented, the role of these fossils in studies related to climate change, taphonomy, commensalism, taxonomy, evolution, palaeoenvironmental reconstruction, biostratigraphy, biochronology and new methodologies and techniques (such as the analysis of ancient DNA) was discussed.

The topics addressed covered a geographic range including South America and the Caribbean (Argentina, French Antilles) to Southeast Asia (Thailand and Cambodia) through Europe, the Middle East (Iran) and South Africa.

The Microvertebrate Working Group (MVWG) was created in 2016 by Angel Blanco Lapaz (Senckenberg Centre for Human Evolution) and Sara E. Rhodes (University of Tübingen) in the framework of ICAZ, as a forum for the exchange of data and information related to the study of insectivorous, rodent, bat, reptile and amphibian remains from archaeological contexts. Its main objective is to provide a platform for the exchange of ideas and increase communication among academics, professionals and, in particular, graduate students with research interests related to microvertebrates. To this end, this Working Group organizes a meeting every two years, the first two taking place in Alcalá de Henares (Spain, 2016) and in Ankara (Turkey, 2018). This year meeting was to be held at the IPHES, in Tarragona, but the Covid-19 pandemic forced the event to become virtual. Despite this shift in venue, it received financial support from the AGAUR (Agència de Gestió d’Ajuts Universitaris i de Recerca) (groups 2017-SGR-859 and 2017-SGR-836).

IPHES was chosen to host the meeting due to the fact that the institute includes a large number of research personnel (senior, postdoctoral and predoctoral) dedicated to the study of small mammals, reptiles and amphibians. This international group, under the coordination of doctors Juan Manuel López-García (IPHES) and Hugues-Alexandre Blain (IPHES-URV), virtually organized this third congress of the MVWG from Tarragona.

In the first session (“Human and small vertebrate interactions”), the communications were “Statistics, taphonomy and representativeness: Making the most out of archaeological micromammal assemblages”, by Andrzej Romaniuk (University of Edinburgh, Scotland); “On the dispersal of the Etruscan shrew (Suncus etruscus) across the Mediterranean Basin”, by Ángel Carmelo Domínguez García (Universidad Complutense de Madrid); “Reconstructing the context of the earlier human occupation of Europe. New results from the small mammals of Pirro Nord 13 (Early Pleistocene, Apricena, southern Italy)”, by Claudio Berto (University of Warsaw, Poland); “Zooarchaeology of reptiles in tropical areas: the beginning of a long story?”, by Corentin Bochaton (University of Bordeaux, France); “Palaeobiogeographic analysis of the amphibians and reptiles from the mid-late Holocene transition of El Mirador cave (Atapuerca, Spain) in the North-Iberian post-glacial context”, by Josep Francesc Bisbal-Chinesta (IPHES-URV); and “Human meets Woodmouse: An assemblage of anthropophilous Apodemus in Middle Neolithic wells from the site Les Bagnoles, SE-France”, by Simone Häberle (University of Basel, Switzerland).

In the second session (“Paleoenvironmental and paleoclimatic reconstruction using small vertebrates”), the papers were: “One million years of diversity shifts in amphibians and reptiles in a Mediterranean landscape: Resilience rules the Quaternary”, by Almudena Martínez-Monzón (IPHES-URV); “The Microvertebrate Assemblage of Ghar-e Boof (Iran): New data for the Late Pleistocene Paleoenvironmental Reconstruction of the Southern Zagros Mountains”, by Ángel Blanco-Lapaz (Senckenberg Centre for Human Evolution, Germany); “Stratigraphically constrained paleoenvironmental reconstructions for the Early Pleistocene site of Barranco León (Granada, SE Spain)”, by Christian Sánchez-Bandera (IPHES-URV); “Late Pleistocene paleoenvironmental and paleoclimatic reconstructions in Northern Balkan Peninsula based on small vertebrates”, by Mihailo Jovanovic (IPHES-URV); “Magdalenian and Mesolithic climatic change in the Ach Valley, SW-Germany: the micromammal evidence from Helga-Abri rockshelter”, by Sara E. Rhodes (University of Tübingen, Germany); “The Howiesons Poort micromammal assemblage at Klipdrift Shelter, South Africa, – local palaeoenvironmental implications”, by Turid Hillestad Nel (University of Bergen, Norway); and “Climatic and environmental transition from latest Pleistocene to earliest Holocene in northeastern Iberia: Balma del Gai (Moià, Barcelona)”, by Sandra Bañuls-Cardona (IPHES-URV).

Small vertebrate remains from Portalon site (Atapuerca)

In the third session (“New and/or improved methods applied to small vertebrates”), the papers were: “Systematic and geometric morphometrics analysis applied to the current and fossil genus Ellobius (Fischer, 1814) from the Middle East”, by Iván Rey-Rodríguez (Muséum national d’Histoire naturelle de Paris, France); “Deep population history of common vole (Microtus arvalis) populations reconstructed using ancient DNA”, by Mateusz Baca (University of Warsaw, Poland); “Evolutionary history of narrow-headed vole from the Late Pleistocene Europe”, by Danijela Popovic (University of Warsaw, Poland); “The environment in NE Iberia during MIS 3, combining taxonomy, taphonomy and geochemistry on small-mammal assemblages”, by Mónica Fernández-García (IPHES-URV); and “Cryptic speciation in the fossil record? The case of Cova Eirós (Lugo, NW Iberian Peninsula)”, by Elisa Luzi (University of Tübingen, Germany).

Sieving-washing residues from Gran Dolina (Atapuerca) containing remains of small vertebrates

Finally, during the fourth session, participants had the chance to present their posters which included: “Palimpsest of micromammal deposits in an archaeological rockshelter (Álvarez 4) from Northwestern Patagonia. Taphonomy, palaeoenvironments and human subsistence”, by Fernando J. Fernández (University of Buenos Aires, Argentina); “Micromammals in carnivore scats: an actualistic taphonomic study of the rodents digested by the Achala culpeo fox (Lycalopex culpaeus smithersi) in Córdoba, Argentina”, by Daiana Coll (CONICET, Argentina); “First record of Hyla meridionalis from north-eastern Iberia (Cova Bonica, Barcelona) and evidence for African anuran translocation during the middle-late Holocene”, by Josep Francesc Bisbal-Chinesta (IPHES-URV); “Bat remains in barn-owl pellets: a case study with applications in taphonomy”, by Julia Galán-García (Museo de Ciencias Naturales de Zaragoza); “Decoding the microvertebrate record in Alero Los Viscos (Catamarca, Argentina): a taphonomic investigation of the surface bone assemblage”, by Mariana Mondini (CONICET, Argentina); “Evidencing hominin ecological shifts using herpetofaunal assemblages: the MIS 11 threshold in Europe”, by Hugues-Alexandre BLAIN (IPHES-URV); “Modelling of climate, ecological and biodiversity changes in the glacial – interglacial and stadial – interstadial cycles based on rodent communities”, by Paweł Socha (University of Wroclaw, Poland); “A genetic study of the European populations of tundra vole (Alexandromys oeconomus) based on ancient DNA”, by Aleksandra Zeromska (University of Wroclaw, Poland); “New approach in palaeoclimatic reconstructions of Cova dels Xaragalls (Tarragona, Spain) through UDA-ODA discrimination methodology. Comparing methods to discern climatic scenario for north-eastern Iberian Peninsula”, by Ana Fagoaga (University of Valencia); “Morphological and morphometric variations of tundra vole (Alexandromys oeconomus) in late Middle and Late Pleistocene”, by Anna Lemanik (Institute of Systematics and Evolution of Animals, Polish Academy of Sciences, Poland); “Conservation of fossil microfauna at Camp dels Ninots site (Caldes de Malvella, Girona, Spain)”, by Elena Moreno-Ribas (IPHES-URV); and “Applying the UDA-ODA discrimination method to a herpetological assemblage from Subunit Xb of El Salt Middle Palaeolithic site (Alcoi, Spain): Preliminary results”, by Rafael Marquina-Blasco (University of Valencia).