All posts by cbellmunt

Humans were present in the Philippine islands as early as 700,000 years ago

An international team of prehistorians led by Dr Thomas Ingicco from the Museum National d’Histoire Naturelle, France, and M. Clyde Shago, from the National Museum of the Philippines discovered the oldest evidences for the peopling of the Philippines by Hominins. Dated to 709,000 years old, the archaeological site of Kalinga (Rizal Municipality, Kalinga Province, Luzon Island) is described in a publication in Nature journal on march 2

All along the Quaternary era (since 2.6 Million years ago), the Philippines have always formed a string of islands isolated from mainland Southeast Asia by deep sea straits. The oldest human presence in the Philippines up to now was 67,000 years old by Homo aff. sapiens (2010). The Kalinga site, excavated since 2014 and dated to 709,000 years by several physico-chemical methods (Electro-spin resonance, disequilibrium in the argon family and in the uranium family, palaeomagnetism), proves that the first colonization was actually ten times older, dating back to the early Middle Pleistocene about 800,000 years before present.

Rhino bones from the archaeological site of Kalinga on which butchery marks have been recovered (©MARCHE, MNHN & National Museum of the Philippines)

The archaeological excavation has delivered several animal remains among which are the monitor lizard, the box turtle, the Philippine brown deer, the Stegodon (a cousin of the elephant) and the rhinoceros which is now extinct in the Philippines since at least 100,000 years. For this latter species, Rhinoceros philippinensis, an almost complete individual was recovered in association with tens of prehistoric stone tools made on anvil. The rhino carcass further shows several butchery marks such as cut marks on the ribs and on the foot bones, and percussion marks to break the arm bones allowing extraction of the marrow. All these archaeological findings are so many indirect proofs for a very old presence of early humans also known as Hominins on the island of Luzon.

The way of arrival of this fauna and these Hominins on the islands at these old times is still under question. While herbivores are known to be excellent long distance swimmers and could have arrived that way to the Philippines during one of the low sea level period, such a hypothesis is impossible for humans. Did another species than Homo sapiens ever mastered sailing skills or was this colonization accidental thanks to natural rafts such as floating mangrove that typhoons occasionally break off, a rare but well documented phenomenon?

The archaeological investigations of the Kalinga site were mainly funded by the French Department for Foreign Affairs, the National Museum of the Philippines, the University of the Philippines and the National Geographic Society.


Ingicco, T., et al., “Earliest known hominin activity in The Philippines by 709 thousand years ago”, Nature (2018).


Tarragona will host the XI Jornadas de Jóvenes Investigadores en Arqueología

It will take place from 9th to 12th May, at campus Catalunya (URV)

This conference is focused on young non doctors researchers in archaeology and its related disciplines

Registration period is still available and can be formalized here


Tarragona will host the XI Jornadas de Jóvenes Investigadores en Arqueología (JIA) from the 9th to 12th May and the main topic will be “Migrations, resources and new dynamics”. These conferences will take place at campus Catalunya from the Universitat Rovira i Virgili (URV), they are organized by the Associació de Joves Investigadors d’Arqueologia de Tarragona (AJIAT) and members of the Institut Català de Paleocologia Humana i Evolució Social (IPHES), Institut Català d’Arqueologia Clàssica (ICAC) and Institut Català de Recerca en Patrimoni Cultural (ICRPC) take part of it.


There will be 23 sessions and more than 140 presentations in these conferences. They are focused on young non-doctors researches in archaeology and its related disciplines. The scientific results from their work will be presented and the actual situation of the archaeological discipline will be discussing along with others aspects such the archaeological heritage, its socialization and divulgation, the professional archaeology, gender archaeology, the interdisciplinary in archaeological research, social hierarchy, residential and funerary archaeology, epigraphy, restoration and conservation and the evolution of the landscape and wildlife in archaeology.

The last conferences took place in Burgos, June 2017. During this 10th edition it was noticed that the young archaeology in the Iberian Peninsula seems to be more alive than ever. An example of it is that the assistance for the last editions has been more than 120 young archaeologists coming from Spain, Portugal, Italy, France and South America.

These conferences are also sponsored by the Ajuntament de Tarragona, Tarragona Turisme, Beta Analytic, Strati-Arqueogal, CIEMAD and the Asssociació Catalana de Bioarqueologia (ACBA).


John Charles Willman, new Marie Curie researcher at IPHES to study the use of “teeth-as-tools”

The chronological focus, between 9,000 and 3,000 years ago, provides an ideal case study given the extensive socioeconomic reorganization that is attributable to the transition from foraging to food production including increases in social stratification and task specialization


John Charles Willman, originally from the United States where he obtained his Ph.D.  in Anthropology at Washington University in Saint Louis, recently joined the research staff at IPHES (Institut Català de Paleoecologia Humana i Evolució Social) funded through a Marie Skłodowska-Curie Individual Fellowship (H2020-MSCA-IF-2016) awarded by the European Research Council. The fellowship funds postdoctoral research on the IDENTITIES project (Integrative Approaches to Dental Wear: Non-Masticatory Tooth-Use Across the Mesolithic-Neolithic Transition Among Iberian Foraging and Farming Societies), focusing on the cultural use of “teeth-as-tools”.

John Charles Willman at IPHES

John will conduct postdoctoral research on the IDENTITIES project over the course of two years at IPHES. His research focuses on human dental wear related to the non-masticatory use of the dentition, or the use of “teeth-as-tools”, among human groups from Mesolithic, Neolithic, Copper and Bronze Age contexts across the Iberian Peninsula. Ultimately, the data generated will address how biocultural changes in non-masticatory tooth-use reflect changing social identities across archaeological groups. The chronological focus (~9,000-3,000 BP) provides an ideal case study given the extensive socioeconomic reorganization that is attributable to the transition from foraging to food production including increases in social stratification and task specialization.

A further research aim within the IDENTITIES project is to establish an integrative methodology to document non-masticatory dental wear. This will be accomplished with an interdisciplinary approach that brings together experts in microscopy, experimental methods, bio/archaeology, and paleoanthropology. Methods include recent advances in Gigapixel-like imaging strategies, confocal and scanning electron microscopy, and three-dimensional dental topographic methods to analyze experimentally-worn and bioarchaeological samples. A further benefit, and goal, of the integrative methodology is to cross-validate existing methodologies and advance the study of surface modification in bio/archaeology, paleoanthropology, and allied fields.


IPHES is inspired by the Smithsonian Natural History Museum to apply innovative conservation techniques to the fossils of large mammals found in the Barranc de la Boella site


The conservation of the fossils recovered in archeopaleontological sites is an accurate work that demands specialized techniques. In order to improve the conservation of the 1 million year-old large mammals remains from the Barranc de la Boella site (Tarragona, Spain), Lucía López-Polín, conservator at IPHES (the Institut Català de Paleoecologia Humana i Evolució Social) has benefit from fellowship grant to conduct her research at the at the National Museum of Natural History in Washington DC.

The aim of this research was to study the packaging and storage systems for fossil vertebrates that are used in the above-mentioned Smithsonian museum. The study seek to assess if their methods would be useful for the fossils of proboscides and other large mammals from Barranc de la Boella, which have a unique problem due to their large dimensions and weights.

Lucía López-Polín at Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History (Washington D.C.) – S. Jabo.

The work has been developed in the Conservation department headed by Catharine Hawks who is in charge of the conservation of the museum’s enormous collections. There, Lucía López-Polin has reviewed the different packaging systems of fossil vertebrates and she also carried out a series of quantitative analyzes on the protection that different packaging systems provide to the fossils. The experimental work that has been carried out along with Steven Jabo, preparator at the  Paleobiology department.

Biographical profile

Lucía López-Polín is a conservator-restorer specialized in the treatment of quaternary remains. Member of the Atapuerca Research Team since 1997, she joined the scientific team led by Eudald Carbonell at the Universitat Rovira i Virgili as a fellow in 2003. Since 2008 she has been a conservator at IPHES. She is an expert in field work and in the treatment of archaeopaleontological material from Paleolithic sites up to 1 million.

The IPHES obtains the ‘HR Excellence in Research’ logo awarded by the European Commission

The HRS4R Action Plan comprises actions related to 4 pillars: ethical and professional aspects, recruitment, working conditions and Social Security, and training


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.

Discovered the earliest modern human out of Africa

It is a left side of an adult upper jawbone including most of the dentition was found at Misliya Cave in Israel

In this research, Carlos Lorenzo, IPHES researcher and professor at URV, has participated in the paleoanthropological study of the human remains

catalàespañol photos

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 left hemi-maxilla with teeth

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.

Reconstructed maxilla

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.



The preferred use of the right hand is more ancient than it was thought and it is an ancestral characteristic of first hominins

It was considered that Neandertals were the first species with well-defined handedness, but a new international research led by IPHES goes back it to the first Homo species, Homo habilis.


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.

A. An incisor of Homo antecessor (Gran Dolina, Atapuerca, Spain) and B. an incisor of pre-Neandertal (Sima de los Huesos, Atapuerca, Spain) – Marina Lozano/IPHES

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.


Lozano M, Estalrrich A, Bondioli L, Fiore I, Bermúdez de Castro JM, Arsuaga JL, Carbonell E, Rosas A, Frayer DW. 2017. “Right-handed fossil humans”. Evolutionary Anthropology. 26:313–324.