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Atapuerca site was the scene of the oldest case of bison communal hunting

A 400,000-year-old site in northern Spain provides evidence of ancient bison kill

Cooperating the hominids were organized and drive the animals to Gran Dolina cave site, place where the bison were trapped, slaughtered and butchered

This is confirmed in a report published in Journal of Human Evolution and there are who considered it one of the most relevant discoveries of the decade

Photoscatalà español – paper

It could be an ordinary journey 400,000 years ago, in Sierra de Atapuerca (Burgos, Spain), when the meals was not regulated by schedules like today and people had to get the food almost daily, taking what was found around them. As the hominids behaviour become more complex they also learned to organize themselves so as not lose opportunities and if it turned out well, they were reoffending.

In Gran Dolina archaeological site, specifically in TD10.2 layer, the IPHES (Institut Català de Paleoecologia Humana i Evolució Social) had already identified a large bison bones concentration (a truly bone bed), but now they can understand the source of this accumulation. The latest investigations have made it possible to find out that this phenomenon happened by the reiteration of certain events in the same place, specifically communal hunting episodes of these animals’ herds.

The hominids cooperation process was fundamental because they were coordinated to drive the bison to Dolina where they were trapped, killed and, afterwards, butchered for bring the meat, the bones and the skins to the campsite. The location of the camp site is still unknown, but probably, they should not far from the kill site.

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Bison bone bed at Gran Dolina (Atapuerca, Spain) – IPHES

This is confirmed in a just published paper in Journal of Human Evolution (JHE) whose main author is the archaeologist Dr. Antonio Rodríguez-Hidalgo, postdoctoral researcher at Universidad Complutense de Madrid and associated researcher in IPHES. “Until now it was thought that this behaviour was exclusive of anatomically modern humans, but we demonstrated that 400,000 years ago, it was fully developed. The pre-neanderthal from Sima de los Huesos (another archaeological site located a few meters from Gran Dolina), probable protagonist of this accumulation, they have the cognitive ability and the social development needed to applicate this type of hunting strategy”, claim Antonio Rodríguez-Hidalgo.

In words of Dr. John Speth, emeritus Professor of Anthropology in Ann Arbor University (in Michigan), this discovery can be considered one most important for Eurasia prehistory of the decade. “The communal hunting of big, nimble and potentially dangerous preys like bison implies that hunters were able to cooperate with each other and effectively coordinate their activities on a scale not previously demonstrated for pre-modern humans about 400,000 years ago”, he says.

In addition, the researcher adds: “the cooperative efforts to kill a multiple individual of an animal as large as the bison implies that the hunters may have shared flesh among the participants, again insinuating a level of social complexity that had not been previously demonstrated for such a remote period”.

All this has been known applying the zooarchaeology, an important tool for the subsistence reconstruction and to infer relevant aspects of social behaviour in the past. The taxonomic composition and the anatomical profile observed in approximately 23,000 bison bones (of a species yet to be identified, a close relative form of Bison priscus) extracted in the TD10.2 level of Gran Dolina indicates a monospecific assemblage strongly dominated by elements of the axial skeleton (heads, ribs and vertebrae).

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Palmira Saladié and Antonio Rodríguez-HIdalgo at IPHES

According to realized studies it should be noted that the area of the archaeological site where the bison remains, may have been used as a kill site and first point of carcasses processing. The bones show a very skewed skeleton representation and at the same time uncommon in the prehistoric sites, considering that the axial elements dominate. “Due to  the large number of prey involved in each communal kill, the hominids could select the richest parts in meat and grease, such as limbs, and they bring it to the campsites, leaving the axial zone at the mercy of scavengers, wolves and hyenas”, observe Rodríguez-Hidalgo.

Hominids consumed the bison tongue as snack

“Together with these remains there was an unusual large number of hyoid bones (located under the tongue), some of them showing cut marks, which means that during the prey butchering, hominids consumed the bison tongue as snack for being rich in fat and protein discarding the hyoid bones at the site”, add the same researcher.

The abundance of anthropogenic modifications allows to observe primary and immediate access to the carcasses, as well as the development of a systematic butchering processed aimed at the exploitation of meat and fat, and the preparation for the transport of high utility elements to some place outside the cave (at the moment it is the assemblage with a greater number cut marks of the Palaeolithic record). “Ethnographic, ethnohistorical and archaeological analogies have made it possible to interpret the ‘bison bone bed’ as a kill site used during several seasonal communal hunting events in which whole bison herds were slaughtered to be intensely exploited by the hominids who occupied the cave”, specify Antonio Rodríguez-Hidalgo.

According to the same research, this hunting events was repeated seasonally, that is, in a timely manner at a few moments of the year. They used Dolina for bison capture and slaughter, late spring and early autumn, probably following the migrations of these animals.

“Through the study of eruption, replacement and dental wear pattern we have been able to infer that the TD10.2 bison died synchronously in two narrow seasonal windows, which together with the catastrophic mortality pattern that the population presents (that is, a decrease in the frequency of dead individuals as the age advances), support mass hunting or communal hunting as a predatory technique”, says the same IPHES archaeologist.

Antonio Rodríguez-Hidalgo added: “the communal hunting early existence as a depredatory tactic informs us about the cognitive, technological, and social skills emergence similar to those exhibited by other modern communal hunters at a time as early as the middle Pleistocene”. In addition, the archaeologist has specified: “a large number of coordinated individuals are needed and working cooperatively with the same objective to carry out this type of hunt, which until now was thought to be a modern human’s monopoly and perhaps the last Neanderthals”.

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Gran Dolina site – IPHES

From the Dolina finding it has been shown that the action of those hominids was similar to the events that were generated about 10,000 years ago, in the Paleo-Indian groups in America. Likewise, there are several similarities between the communal hunting of bison used by the Native Americans in the Great Plains before the eighteenth century and the practices applied by the Gran Dolina hominids, who also had a high foresight capacity and knew the animals’ behaviour and the environment.

For these reason the events organisation could have been structured in a similar way since under these circumstances it was necessary for all members to take part in the process development, some as hunters and others as beaters. On the other hand, researchers have been able to document that there were other prey in the area to hunt, but the hominids deliberately decided to opt only for the bison and the communal hunting technique during a period that could last several generations.

Reference

“Human predatory behavior and the social implications of communal hunting based on evidence from the TD10.2 bison bone bed at Gran Dolina (Atapuerca, Spain)”. Antonio Rodríguez-Hidalgo, Palmira Saladié, Andreu Ollé, Juan Luis Arsuaga, José María Bermúdez de Castro,  Eudald Carbonell. Journal of Human Evolution. DOI http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jhevol.2017.01.007

Tarragona joins with archaeology to celebrate a decade of world-class European research projects

On March 15th we will meet Spanish Principal Investigators who have obtained an ERC Grant, the most prestigious funding from the European Research Council.

This event co-organized by ICRPC, IPHES and ICAC as a part of the European ERC Week, will take place at the ICAC headquarters.

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Tarragona will host a dissemination session on archaeology on 15 March in order to disseminate the experience of the Spanish leaders groups who have obtained funded projects by the ERC (European Research Council) during the 10 years of program, as well as encourage the participation of young archaeological scientists in future calls.

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To this aim, the different presentations will address aspects related to the evolution in the participation of Spanish groups in the ERC, the general scientific approach of the granted projects, as well as the contribution of this program in the scientific career from the members of the participating research groups.

The event will be attended by the National Contact Point of ERC in Spain, Esther Rodríguez; the Sistema Cerca’s director, Lluís Rovira, and the Principal Investigators who have directed or are directing ERC projects related to archaeology from Spanish institutions.

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The meeting will take place at the headquarters of the Institut Català d’Arqueologia Clàssica, in Tarragona

This event belongs to ERC Week to celebrate at European level the 10th anniversary of the European Research Council. Created by the European Commission, it mission is to finance high-quality scientific research through the denominated ERC-Grants, an ambitious program that funds research projects of up to 5 years with economic allocations ranging from 1,5 to 2,5 million €. Since its creation 10 years ago, the ERC has granted only 5 archaeological research projects in Spain.

The meeting will take place at the headquarters of the Institut Català d’Arqueologia Clàssica, in Tarragona, with the participation of Institut Català de Paleoecologia Humana i Evolució Social (IPHES) and Institut Català de Recerca en Patrimoni Cultural (ICRPC). These three centres are currently involved in an agreement within the SUMA framework, a Generalitat de Catalunya initiative, which, in this case, seeks to combine synergies in excellence research in the field of archaeology.

 

An International team lead by IPHES discovered some of the earliest cultural evidences from modern humans out of Africa

These consist of a set of stone tools, dated up to 54,000 years, found in Kaldar Cave, Iran. This discovery has been recently published in Scientific Reports, one of the top-ten multidisciplinary science journals.

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The recent research and archaeological excavation at Kaldar Cave (Iran), conducted by an Iranian and Spanish team and led by Behrouz Bazgir and Andreu Ollé, both from IPHES (Institut Català de Paleoecologia Humana i Evolució Social) have led to the identification of the first cultural evidences outside Africa attributed to Anatomically Modern Humans (AMH’s). The discovery consists of stone tools associated with faunal remains, recovered in a layer dated by Carbon 14 between 36,000 and 54,000 years ago. This discovery has been recently published in Scientific Reports, one of the top-ten multidisciplinary science journals.

Dating results of this archaeological site put Iran among the first birthplaces of modern humans that, along with Levantine hominin groups, for the first time managed to disperse from western Asia into Europe. In this way, Kaldar Cave strengthens Iran’s position in the world Palaeolithic archaeology.

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Blades, bladelets and retouched pieces from layer 4 at Kaldar Cave – IPHES/B.Bazguir)

Furthermore, the newly excavated sequence in Kaldar contains older levels with Mousterian industry, usually associated with Neanderthals. This provides evidence for its replacing by Baradostian industry, similar to the Aurignacian, which is unique to anatomically modern humans. Thus, this represents a unique opportunity to study the Middle to Upper Palaeolithic transition at the Zagros Mountains.

Kaldar Cave provides one of the oldest examples of modern human presence in this part of the world, and offers information on how these populations coped with the Palearctic climatic and environmental situations which were new to them.

19 international scientists have collaborated as co-authors in the article presenting these results. Among them, there are eminent specialists as Eudald Carbonell (IPHES and Universitat Rovira i Virgili, Spain), Jan van der Made (Museo Nacional de Ciencias Naturales, Madrid, Spain), Marcel Otte (University of Liège, Belgium) and Thomas Higham (University of Oxford, UK).The research counts also with Faranak Bahrololomi and Moloudsadat Azimi, collaborators from Research Center of Iranian Cultural Heritage, Handicrafts and Tourism Organization (RICHT), in the framework of an ongoing collaboration agreement signed with IPHES.

Reference:

Bazgir, B., Ollé, A., Tumung, L., Becerra-Valdivia, L., Douka, K., Higham, T.F.G., Made, J.v.d., Picin, A., Saladié, P., López-García, J.M., Blain, H.-A., Allué, E., Fernández-García, M., Rey-Rodríguez, I., Arceredillo, D., Bahrololoumi, F., Azimi, M., Otte, M., Carbonell, E., 2017. “Understanding the emergence of modern humans and the disappearance of Neanderthals: Insights from Kaldar Cave (Khorramabad Valley, Western Iran)“, Scientific Reports 7, 43460. doi: 10.1038/srep43460.

The IPHES, at the Mobile World Congress 2017

It does so within the framework of the initiative “La Ciència al teu Món” (Science in your World) at the YoMo Barcelona Festival, directed to ESO and baccalaureate students

It will introduce young people in a research project carried out at Eritrea, and will offer some educational and practical workshop on the main hominid’ species

During March1 and 2, between 11 and 14 hours, some practical activities with fossils hominids

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The Institut Català de Paleoecologia Humana i Evolució Social (IPHES) will be, from 27 February to 2 March, in the Youth Mobile Festival Barcelona (YoMo Barcelona). It will be celebrated within the framework of the Mobile World Congres 2017, in Fira de Barcelona, Montjuïc Hall 1. It does it through “La Ciéncia al teu Món” (Science in your World), an initiative promoted by important research centres and communication professionals, collaborating with educators and technology experts. In this context, Bienvenido Martínez-Navarro, ICREA researcher at the IPHES, will present the research project that this institute carries out in Eritrea, and the archaeologist Lluís Batista, responsible from socialization area of the same centre, will teach some educational workshop on the main hominid’ species.

By YoMo Barcelona will pass more than 20,000 students from ESO and baccalaureate, from Catalonia and all over Spain, who want to be witnesses and enjoy this science and technology international Congress. The research project that will release the IPHES at the “Science in your World” stand takes title “Cuna de la Humanidad: Eritrea-Valle del Rift” (Cradle of the Humankind: Eritrea-Rift Valley), sponsored by Palarq Foundation and managed from Atapuerca Foundation.

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Bienvenido Martínez-Navarro and Eudald Carbonell in Eritrea

Of paleontological and archaeological character, it is geographically developed at the Engel Ela-Ramud’s basin, located in Danakil’s depression of Eritrea, close to Red Sea, which is one of the most arid and inhospitable regions of the world, and where the fifth field work season has just finished.  The project is co-directed by Bienvenido Martínez-Navarro and Eudald Carbonell, full Professor  of Prehistory at the Universitat Rovira i Virgili, assigned to IPHES.

This research project will be used to introduce the students in the adventure of prehistoric and palaeontological science, explaining the importance of fossil finding to evaluate the ecologic scenerio where the first hominid populations appeared, and how they progressed until become in anatomic modern humans. There will be also showed how were the earliest stone tools (stone knifes) that used our ancestors, helping them to access the carcasses of large animals with the aim of feeding themselves. In this way they became omnivorous consumers of much more energetic foods, which allowed them to develop a larger brain and greater intelligence.

During March1 and 2, between 11 and 14 hours, some practical activities with fossils hominids will be realized by Lluís Batista, while Bienvenido Martínez-Navarro will give a brief speech on the Engel Ela-Ramud researches and he will answer any questions from students related to this project.

New evidence on the diet of the Homo antecessor from Atapuerca

A team led by experts of the University of Barcelona, the Catalan Institute of Human Paleoecology and Social Evolution (IPHES) and the University of Alicante, analyzes for the first time the diet of the Homo antecessor with the study of the microscopic traces left by abrasive particles of food on dental enamel surfaces

According to the new study, published in the scientific journal Scientific Reports, the Homo antecessor processed and consumed food differently from Lower Pleistocene hominines

The dietary pattern of the Homo antecessor could be related to an environment with significant fluctuations in climate and food availability

catalàespañol – paper

The Homo antecessor, a hominin species that inhabited the Iberian Peninsula around 800,000 years ago, would have a mechanically more demanding diet than other hominin species in Europe and the African continent. This unique pattern, which would be characterized by the consumption of hard and abrasive foods, may be explained by the differences in food processing in a very demanding environment with fluctuations in climate and food resources, according to a study published in the journal Scientific Reports and led by a team from the Faculty of Biology of the University of Barcelona, the Catalan Institute of Human Paleoecology and Social Evolution (IPHES) and the University of Alicante.

This new research, which reveals for the first time the evidence on the diet of these hominines with the study of the microscopic traces left by food in the dental enamel, counts with the participation of the researchers Alejandro Pérez-Pérez and his team, formed by the doctors Laura Martínez, Ferrán Estebaranz, and Beatriz Pinilla (UB), Marina Lozano (Catalan Institute of Human Paleoecology and Social Evolution, IPHES), Alejandro Romero (University of Alicante), Jordi Galbany (George Washington University, United States) and the co-directors of Atapuerca, José María Bermúdez de Castro (National Research Centre on Human Evolution, CENIEH), Eudald Carbonell (IPHES) and Juan Luís Arsuaga (Universidad Complutense de Madrid).

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There are two examples of dental microwear. The image of the left shows a low abrasive diet with few scratches on dental enamel. The image of the right shows a high abrasive diet with a high number of scratches. The Homo antecessor’s diet is very abrasive as are indicated in the graphics.

Before  to this research, the diet of the hominines of the Lower Pleistocene of Atapuerca (Burgos, Spain), our most remote European ancestors, had been inferred from animal remains –a great variety of large mammals and even turtles– found in the same levels in which the human remains were found. Evidence of cannibalism has also been suggested in some of these fossils.

Foods that leave a mark on the enamel

The study is based on the analysis of the buccal microwear pattern of the fossils from Trinchera  Elefante and Gran Dolina in the Atapuerca site. The examined microwear features are small marks on the buccal teeth enamel surface , whose density and length depend on the types of chewed food. “The usefulness of this methodology has been proved by the study of the microwear patterns of present populations, both hunter-gatherer and agricultural, showing that different feeding patterns correlate with specific microwear patterns in the vestibular surface of the dental crown”, explains Professor Alejandro Pérez-Pérez, professor at the Zoology and Biological Anthropology Unit of theof the Department of Evolutionary Biology, Ecology and Environmental Sciences at the University of Barcelona.

In the new study, the Atapuerca fossils have been compared with samples from other Lower Pleistocene populations: with fossils of the African Homo ergaster, ancestors of all Europeans dated from 1.8 million years ago; and also with Homo heidelbergensis, which appeared more than 500,000 years ago in Europe and lasted until at least 200,000 years ago, and finally with Homo neanderthalensis, specimens from the Iberian Peninsula that lived between 200,000 and 40,000 years ago.

Higher striation densities in Homo antecessor

The results of the study show that the teeth of H. antecessor show higher striation densities than the rest of the analyzed species. “Our findings do not allow us to say exactly what foods they ate, since the abrasive materials that cause the marks on the teeth may have different origins, but they do allow us to point out that H. antecessor would have had a diet largely based on hard and abrasive foods, such as plants containing phytoliths (which are silica particles produced by plants that are as hard as enamel), tubers with traces of soil particles, collagen or connective tissue and bone or raw meat”, says the researcher.

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Marina Lozano is analizing images of dental microwear of Homo antecessor.

The researchers suggest that differences in the Gran Dolina microwear patterns among the compared samples could reflect cultural differences in the way food was processed. “Hunting and gathering activities are consistent with the highly-abrasive wear pattern we have encountered, but it is very difficult to think that the available food in the Atapuerca area was very different from that available to other hunter-gatherer hominins. Therefore, it would be the different ways of processing the food that would give rise to these differences in the dental microwear patterns. That is to say, they obtained, processed and consumed the food in different ways”, explains Alejandro Pérez-Pérez, who leads a team that has also applied this methodology in the study of feeding behaviors of the hominins of the Pleistocene of East Africa, including the species Paranthropus boisei and Homo habilis.

A more primitive lithic industry

This pattern of great abrasiveness, observed on the enamel teeth surfaces in Gran Dolina contrasts with what has been observed in the compared species in the study. “Unlike H. neanderthalensis, which had a more advanced lithic industry (called Mode 3 or Mousterian), the tools that have been found related to Homo antecessor are primitive (Mode 1). These industries would not facilitate food processing, as also suggested by evidence that they used teeth to chew bones. In addition, the lack of evidence of the use of fire in Atapuerca suggests that they would surely eat everything raw, causing more dental wear, including plant foods, meat, tendons or skin.

For the researchers, a diet with a high meat consumption could have evolutionary implications. “Meat in the diet could have contributed to the necessary energy gain to sustain a large brain like that of H. antecessor, with a brain volume of approximately 1,000 cubic centimeters, compared to the 764 of H. ergaster, but it would also represent a significant source of food in a highly demanding environment where preferred foods, such as ripe fruits and tender vegetables, would vary seasonally”.

The research contributes significantly to the better understanding of the dietary adaptations of our ancestors and highlights the importance of the ecological and cultural factors that have conditioned our biological evolution.

Paper reference:

Pérez-Pérez, M. Lozano, A. Romero, L. M. Martínez, J. Galbany, B. Pinilla, F. Estebaranz-Sánchez, J. M. Bermúdez de Castro, E. Carbonell y J. L. Arsuaga. «The diet of the first Europeans from Atapuerca». Scientific Reports, February, 2017.

New field season at the Engel Ela-Ramud basin, Eritrea

Between February 27th and March 2nd, the research project of Engel Ela-Ramud will be presented at the Youth Mobile Festival Barcelona (YoMo Barcelona) that will be held within the framework of Mobile World Congress 2017, in the Monjuïc Fair

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The coming January 28th, a research team from IPHES will leave to Eritrea, to develop a new field season at the Engel Ela-Ramud basin, in the Danakil depression, next to the Ethiopian border. This research project, entitled “Cuna de la humanidad: Eritrea-Valle del Rift” (Cradle of humankind: Eritrea-Rift Valley), is directed by Bienvenido Martínez-Navarro (ICREA Research professor) and Eudald Carbonell (Full Professor of Prehistory at Universitat Rovira i Virgili of Tarragona), two attached to IPHES.

The Danakill depression is one of the most inhospitable regions of the world. It is a rocky desert where practically every day of the year reaches the 50ºC, in some occasions even the 55ºC, and it is very rare to going below the 20ºC at night. It is inhabited by the Afar tribe, that still lives in a very precarious conditions, in stone and log huts, with a very water scarcity, and with an economy based in goat, donkey and camel grazing, animals that can hold the heat and the thirst well.

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Tsegai Medin and Sergio Ros in Eritrea

In this basin, during the last four field seasons (held on 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2016), the research team has located a very complete stratigraphic series that embraces the period from more than 6 million years ago to practically nowadays, and therein the team has found a good record of fossil large mammals (elephants, hippos, pigs, large bovids, gazelles, horses, hyenas, and others) and other vertebrates like crocodiles and turtles, in addition to abundant lytic artifacts, some of them very old, from the Early Pleistocene,  in the process of datation, that can be more than two-million-years-old.

The work and research team also includes the archeologist Xosé-Pedro Rodríguez Álvarez (Research Director of IPHES), the paleontologists Tsegai Medin (an Eritrean researcher attached to IPHES, through a postdoctoral scholarship supported by the Atapuerca and Palarq foundations, equally divided), Sergio Ros-Montoya (University of Málaga), the Andalusian aid worker Francisco Pérez-Benitez, the director of the National Museum of Eritrea, Dr. Yousief Libsekal, and Mr. Dawit Araia, from the same institution.

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The project is directed by Bienvenido Martínez-Navarro (ICREA Research professor) and Eudald Carbonell (Full Professor of Prehistory at Universitat Rovira i Virgili of Tarragona), two attached to IPHES.

Also, between February 27th and March 2nd, the research project of Engel Ela-Ramud will be presented at the Youth Mobile Festival Barcelona (YoMo Barcelona) that will be held within the framework of Mobile World Congress 2017, in the Monjuïc Fair, where more than 20.000 students of ESO and Baccalaureate, from Catalonia and the rest of Spain, will be moved to Barcelona during the four days to participate in this Science and Technology international event.

The Engel Ela-Ramud project will be presented in YO MO, through “La ciència al teu mòn”, an enterprise from scientists of important research centers and communication experts, in collaboration with education and technology experts. That lets to give a realistic vision of science and scientific community.

The Engel Ela-Ramud research Project is supported by the Palarq Foundation, and managed from the Atapuerca Foundation.

IPHES: The most important news from 2016

25 January 2016

The IPHES catalan research center and the Iranian RICHT Institute started a regular cooperation in the field of archaeology and human evolution

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1 February 2016

Experts from around the world will be coming to Tarragona to discuss human responses to climate change through prehistory

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4 February 2016

The 2016 Tübingen prize for early prehistory and quaternary ecology goes to Antonio Rodríguez-Hidalgo of the IPHES

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1 March 2016

Javier Fernández-López de Pablo, researcher of the IPHES, awarded an ERC Consolidator Grant 2015

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14 March 2016

Clarifying the origins of Sima de los Huesos hominins

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Bone powder removed from a thigh bone that yielded the first DNA sequences from the 430,000-year-old hominins from Sima de los Huesos, Spain – Javier Trueba, MADRID SCIENTIFIC FILMS

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28 March 2016

The first Europeans: leading roles in a special issue of Quaternary International

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17 June 2016

Did moianès witness Neanderthal extinction?

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29 June 2016

IPHES presents two new informative videos about stone tools production

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20 August 2016

The tooth and the parietal of a Neanderthal child 7-9 years old who lived in Teixoneres Cave 50,000 years ago have been discovered

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The parietal and the tooth Neanderthal – IPHES

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29 August 2016

The IPHES co-organise a scientific symposium in japan on novel methods for the study of past human behavior

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21 September 2016

Maçao welcomes the XI presentation of master thesis of the Erasmus Mundus in Quaternary Archaeology and human evolution

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28 October 2016

Upper paleolithic humans may have hunted cave lions for their pelts

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6 December 2016

The Azokh Cave site in the Caucasus was an important passageway for the hominins during their migration from Africa to Europe and Asia

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21 December 2016

A new app for android that lets to evaluate the museums reception wins a Pioner Prize

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