Category Archives: General

1.9 million and 2.4 million-year-old artefacts and stone tool cutmarked bones from Ain Boucherit, Algeria

Until recently, most paleoanthropologists believed that early hominins dispersed into Northern Africa much later

The journal Science publish an article about this question and one of the authors is an IPHES researcher, Isabel Cáceres, the taphonomist of the project


Until this publication, the earliest archaeological evidence for the Oldowan and associated fossil bones with evidence of butchery is known from the 2.6 million-year deposits at Gona (Ethiopia). Until recently, most paleoanthropologists believed that early hominins dispersed into Northern Africa much later. Continued research at Ain Hanech (Sétif, Algeria) over the past two decades has expanded the geographic range of early hominin settlement in North Africa, also pushing back the evidence for ancestral hominin fashioning of stone tools and carnivore to 2.4 million years ago (Ma). During the previous decade, we have documented stone artefacts and stone tool cutmarked bones at Ain Hanech dated to circa 1.8 Ma, proving the potential of this area for yielding even much older archaeological materials.

Scientists from CENIEH (Spain), CNRPAH (Algeria), IPHES and URV (Spain), CSIC/MNCN (Spain), Griffith University (Australia), University of Sétif 2 and University of Algiers 2 (Algeria), and IPH-MNHN (France) conducting field excavations at the older nearby Ain Boucherit have discovered the oldest artefacts and stone tool cutmarked bones currently known in North Africa. The stone tools and associated fossil bones were excavated from two distinct archaeological levels at Ain Boucherit: The lower level (AB-Lw) and upper level (AB-Up) situated in a sedimentary outcrop exposed by a deep ravine. The archaeological materials were excavated at two levels within the Ain Hanech geological formation and are estimated to ~2.4 Ma and to ~1.9 (Ma), respectively.

The Ain Boucherit stone tools were made of locally available limestone and flint and include chopping tools, subspheroids, and sharp-edged cutting tools used for processing animal carcasses. The hominins collected the rocks used for making the stone tools from nearby ancient stream beds. The artefacts are typical of the Oldowan stone technology known from 2.6-1.9 million-year-old sites in East Africa, although those from Ain Boucherit show subtle variations.

Bovine radius with cut marks – Author: Isabel Cáceres/IPHES

Dr. M. Sahnouni, the lead author and director of the Ain Hanech project, said: “the Ain Boucherit archaeology, which is technologically similar to the Gona Oldowan, shows that our ancestors ventured into all corners of Africa, not just East Africa. The evidence from Algeria has changed earlier view regarding East Africa being the cradle of humankind. Actually, the entire Africa was the cradle of humankind”.

The fossilized bones associated with the archaeological materials include a variety of savanna type animals such as mastodons, elephants, horses, rhinos, hippos, wild antelopes, pigs, hyenas, crocodiles, etc. Currently such animals occupy a relatively open savanna type habitats with permanent body of water nearby. The fossilized bones preserving stone tool cutmarks are primarily composed of small and medium-sized bovids and equids, which are anatomically represented by upper and lower limbs, followed by cranial and axial elements.

The evidence from Ain Boucherit unambiguously shows that ancestral hominins exploited meat and marrow from all animal size categories and skeletal parts involving skinning, evisceration, and deflesh activities. Dr. Isabel Caceres, the project taphonomist, commented that: “the effective use of knife-like cutting stone tools at Ain Boucherit suggests that our ancestors were not mere scavengers. Not clear at this time whether or not they hunted, but the evidence clearly showed that they were successfully competing with carnivores for meat and enjoyed first access to animal carcasses”.

It can be argued that North Africa and the Sahara are a repository of troves of fossil and archaeological materials, but the inhospitable nature of this vast area has hindered systematic and intensive investigations. Despite its considerable geographical distance from East Africa, the evidence from Ain Boucherit clearly argues for rapid expansion of stone tool manufacture from East Africa or for possible multiple origin scenario of stone tool manufacture in both East and North Africa. Based on the potential of Ain Boucherit and the adjacent sedimentary basins, it can be suggested that hominin fossils and Oldowan artifacts as old as those documented in East Africa could be discovered in North Africa.




IPHES receives an original painting as its first donation

The painting is by the well-known international Canadian artist, Sacha Barrette, and it has been installed in the Institute

The IPHES (Institut Català de Paleoecologia Humana i Evolució Social) has recently received an original painting as its first donation. The work, entitled Homo urbanus, is by the well-known Canadian artist, Sacha Barrette. The painting has been installed in the research center, situated in the Sescelades campus of the Rovira i Virgili University of Tarragona (URV).

The artist, Sacha Barrette with Deborah Barsky (left) amb Robert sala with Maria Targa – IPHES

Homo urbanus reflects on the importance of studying the distant past to better understand the current condition of humanity, as well as its trajectory into the future. In this context, this donation is rooted in the on-going and transdisciplinary initiative between IPHES and Sacha Barrette, who use and integrate different facets of culture and patrimony to make them more accessible to the general public. Homo urbanus forms a part of a collection of paintings that will be exhibited in different Canadian cities in the upcoming months.

The donation ceremony took place at the IPHES and was attended by the artist, the director of the Institute, Robert Sala; its manager, Maria Targa, and a researcher from the center, Deborah Barsky, friend of Sacha Barrette and promoter of the initiative.

IPHES welcomes the XIII presentation of master thesis of the Erasmus Mundus in Quaternary Archaeology and Human Evolution

Students from many different countries as Spain, France, Italy, Chile, Ethiopia, Macedonia, Morocco and Algeria

Since 2006, twelve promotions of master students have been graduated and more than 183 research works have been completed


The IPHES (Institut Català de Paleoecologia Humana I Evolució Social) (Tarragona), will host the presentation of 22 Erasmus Mundus master’s thesis in Quaternary Archaeology and Human Evolution, 12 of these students started their studies at Rovira i Virgili University (URV), in Tarragona (Spain). Apart from European students of Spain, Italy, France, students from Chile, Ethiopia, Macedonia, Morocco and Algeria have defended their works. The defense will hold on 17th and 18th September.

This year one master thesis is about Abric Romaní site. IPHES

The Erasmus Mundus Master in Quaternary Archaeology and Human Evolution is given in partnership with other European institutions, particularly the University of Ferrara, (Italy), the National Museum of Natural History (Paris, France) and the Tomar Polytechnic Institute (in Portugal).


Since 2006, twelve promotions of master students have been graduated and more than 183 research works have been completed so far. Many of them are based on different projects in which the IPHES participates, in line with the center of uniting teaching with research, field work and socializing.

Indeed, the Erasmus Mundus Master in Quaternary Archaeology and Human Evolution began to teach at the URV in 2004-2005 academic year, thanks to the research carried out in the IPHES, participating in major global projects in its field. Last year, the European Commission renewed this academic offer within the new Erasmus + program for three more years, this award represents an important recognition of the quality and singularity to attract students and represents a key on the internationalization objectives of the URV.

Montane Pine Forests Reached the Northeastern Coast of the Iberian Peninsula 50,000 Years Ago

A study conducted by the UAB and the IPHES confirms a continuous presence of montane coniferous forests from the Pyrenees to the Mediterranean coast from 50,000 to 15,000 years ago

Carbon analysis of the Cova Gran de Santa Linya indicates that there were abundant Scots pine forests which were used as the main source of firewood by the Neanderthals and Homo sapiens inhabiting the area


The analysis of charcoal from the hearths of the Cova Gran settlement, located in Les Avellanes-Santa Linya, Lleida, at 385 metres above sea level, confirms that montane forests of the northeastern part of the Iberian Peninsula covered the Pyrenees and reached the Mediterranean coast some 50,000 to 15,000 years ago, with a large predominance of montane pine trees and most probably Scots pine.

The study also allowed researchers to obtain detailed information on the type of firewood preferred by Homo neanderthalensis and Homo sapiens, who successively inhabited the Pyrenean shelter during this period.

The research was conducted by Rafael Mora, Jorge Martínez-Moreno and Miquel Roy from the Centre for the Study of Prehistoric Archaeological Heritage, Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona (CEPAP-UAB), in collaboration with Ethel Allué, from the Catalan Institute of Human Paleoecology and Social Evolution (IPHES) and the Rovira i Virgili University (URV), and Alfonso Benito-Calvo, from the National Centre for Research on Human Evolution (CENIEH). It was published in the journal Review of Palaecobotany and Palynology.

Researchers analysed a total of more than 1,200 carbon fragments from the hearths of some fifteen archaeological units. “The anthracological analysis of such a compound used during so many years as is Cova Gran, together with data from other sites in the region, indicates a hegemonic presence of Scots pine in the northeast of the Iberian Peninsula and demonstrates that despite the occurrence of extreme climate changes, the montane coniferous forests cover was continuous”, says IPHES researcher Ethel Allué.

The range of periods covered by the study climatically corresponds to two marine isotope stages (MIS): the MIS 3, (between 59,000 and 29,000 years ago) with relatively short warm periods alternated with cold cycles, and the MIS 2 (from 29,000 to 15,000 years ago), with extremely cold conditions.

“The resilience of these pine trees allowed them to adapt to rigorous ecological and environmental conditions, colder and more arid than now, and be able to live in the plains and Mediterranean pre-coastal range”, the researcher affirms.

Scots pine wood is practically the only firewood identified in the different chronocultural phases recognized in the Cova Gran: Late Middle Paleolithic (LMP), Early Upper Paleolithic (EUP) and Magdalenian. The abundance of hearths located in this Pre-Pyrenean shelter and the fact that Neanderthals and modern humans used it, indicates that both species used these trees systematically for firewood.

A detail of a carbon identified in the Great Cave of Santa Linya corresponding to the Upper Paleolithic Superior – Foto: CEPAP-UAB

“The registries made at Cova Gran in Santa Linya allows us to delve deeper into the aspects of the site’s landscape and the biogeography of a tree which was essential to the survival of Ice Age hunter-gatherers”, indicates CEPAP-UAB Director Rafael Mora. “The continuity in choosing this type of firewood at this site must have been due to its abundance in the immediate surroundings, even though being easy to light and a high energy content also favored the intentional gathering of this type of wood. In consistency, this allows us to strengthen our hypothesis of the continuous presence in the region of these stable and resilient montane pine forests”, he concludes.

Scots pine can currently be found in the range of the northeastern region of the Pre-Pyrenees, at altitudes greater than 600 metres. Current climate conditions, which began to appear some 15,000 years ago, made them retrocede to higher and colder altitudes, while other species such as Aleppo pine, oak and holm oak began to populate the lower wooded areas.

The archaeological site of Cova Gran de Santa Linya, discovered in 2002, measures over 2,500 square metres and is considered to be essential for the study of human presence in the northeast of the Iberian Peninsula. Its wide chronological spectrum ranges from 50,000 to 7,000 years ago, which allows researchers to reconstruct the life of humans living in Catalonia’s pre-Pyrenees region.

It is one of the few sites in the Mediterranean in which moments of “transition” have been identified, such as that of the last Neanderthals and the appearance of the first modern humans, or the moment in which hunter-gatherers gave way to the first farmers and herders.

In 2016 engravings dating back to the Upper Paleolithic were discovered on the walls of the rock shelter and are considered to be the earliest artistic representations existing in Catalonia. This year, the head of a deer engraved in bone was found in the layer of the same time period.

Throughout these fifteen years numerous material remains have been recovered, including assegais, needles and bone ornaments such as a perforated deer tooth from the Upper Paleolithic’s Magdalenian epoch. Discoveries from the Neolithic period include several layers of livestock stabling, known as pen deposit.

With regard to hearths, it is one of the sites in the Iberian Peninsula in which the greatest number of hearths have been identified. This demonstrates the importance of fire and its management for the daily life of Neanderthals and Homo sapiens. This source of energy not only allowed them to obtain and process food and generate light and heat. It also actively contributed to cementing the relationships among components of the groups inhabiting Cova Gran.


Ethel Allué; Jorge Martínez-Moreno; Miquel Roy; Alfonso Benito Calvo, Rafael Mora. (2018). “Montane pine forests in NE Iberia during MIS 3 and MIS 2. A study based on new anthracological evidence from Cova Gran (Santa Linya, Iberian Pre-Pyrenees)”. Review of Palaeobotany and Palynology. DOI: 10.1016/j.revpalbo.2018.06.012

New clues about the everyday activities of the first humans

Research provides new data on the use of large tools, such as heavy-duty scrapers, documented onwards from 2.5 million years ago, while many of their uses are still unknown.

catalàespañol photos

osIt is recognized that more than 2.5 million years ago in Africa, hominins were already using large-sized stone tools, such as heavy-duty scrapers, but we still do not know the variety of uses they had. For this reason, a team from the IPHES (Institut Català de Paleoecologia Humana i Evolució Social) has carried out a comprehensive historical and archeological review of these tools, and has experimented to reproduce those found at Orce (Granada), with an age of over 1.3 million years.

Heavy-duty scrapers are tools with a convex and very abrupt extremity displaying traces of use, such as crush marks or irregular retouch. These large tools could have been used for butchery or other kinds of daily tasks that included materials such as wood, tendons or skins. This is explained in the article recently published in the International Journal Comptes Rendus Palevol: “Defining heavy-duty scrapers: their appearance and significance in ancient stone toolkits” by IPHES members Deborah Barsky, Josep Maria Vergès, Stefania Titton, Miquel Guardiola and Robert Sala, who have carried out the research in collaboration with Isidro Toro-Moyano of the Archaeological and Ethnological Museum of Granada.

In the 1960’s and 1970’s, heavy-duty scrapers were initially interpreted as intentionally manufactured tools. They were subsequently considered as summarily knapped cores. However, these tools have stigmas that show evidence of their subsequent use. The publication offers a global vision that helps to understand the functional meaning of heavy-duty scrapers, as well as important new archeological and experimental results on percussion technologies during the Lower and Middle Pleistocene, that is, between 2.5 and 100,000 years ago.

This work is the result of a broader research project, underway since 2010, exploring the meaning of the heavy-duty tools that are ubiquitous in ancient stone toolkits. The project specifically addresses questions relating to what these heavy percussion tools can tell us about the types of activities that ancient humans were performing in their daily lives.

The authors provide a wide-ranging review of the documentation available for heavy-duty scrapers, addressing the much-needed renovation of its definitions in accordance to their chrono-geographical representation in major archeological sites. They demonstrate that heavy-duty scraper morphologies appeared at the very onset of hominin toolmaking; during the Oldowan cultural period, which began in Africa some 2.5 million years ago.

Heavy-duty scrapers documented in Orce (Granada, Spain) – Foto: IPHES

The tool is characterized by its flat surface, oriented perpendicularly to an abrupt and convex edge displaying removals, steep retouch and crush marks.

Tools matching these special features are recognized in Oldowan sites in Africa, for example, in Bed I of Olduvai Gorge (Tanzania, 1.8 Ma) and Fejej FJ-1a (Ethiopia, 1.9 Ma), and also in Eurasian sites like, Dmanisi (1.8 Ma, Georgia) Barranco León and Fuente Nueva 3 (Spain, 1.4 and 1.2 Ma, respectively), amongst others.

Results show that the heavy-duty scraper morphotype persisted into the Developed Oldowan (ca. 1.6-1.5 Ma), for example at Koobi Fora, Kenya, and at Ubeidiya, Israel, and that it was later replaced, during the Large Flake Acheulian phase (1.5 – 0.8 Ma), by Massive Scrapers made on Large Flakes (examples: Lower Bed II at Olduvai Gorge and Gesher Benot Ya’akov, in Israel). Finally, during the Late Acheulian, smaller tools made on cores and regular flakes (French: Rabots) present similar characteristics that blend progressively into the group of end-scrapers.

Experimental archeology permitted the IPHES team to test the possible or probable uses of heavy-duty scrapers to perform different kinds of percussive activities; including working wood, bone, meat and tendons. This allows them to propose that heavy-duty scrapers could have served to work soft materials on stone anvils.


Deborah Barsky, Josep-Maria Vergès, StefaniaTitton, Miquel Guardiola, Robert Sala Ramos, Isidro Toro Moyano, 2018. “Defining heavy-duty scrapers: their appearance and significance in ancient stone toolkits”. Comptes Rendus Palevol 17 (3), 201-219.

Open the pre-enrollment for the Erasmus Mundus Master’s degree in Quaternary Archaeology and Human Evolution

There are many student who after obtaining the title have found work in their countries.

The link with the IPHES allows the students to learn from the best team that investigate human evolution and acquire knowledge of the best techniques

In the master there are students from countries as diverse as Algeria, India, Thailand, Morocco, Ethiopia, Eritrea, China, Chile, Georgia and Mexico


Until next July 20th, the pre-enrollment for the 2018-19 course of the Erasmus Mundus Master’s degree in Quaternary Archaeology and human Evolution, taught at the Rovira i Virgili University of Tarragona (URV) is open. In this master participates researchers of the Institute of Human Paleoecology and Social Evolution (IPHES).

This master’s degree is taught from the 2004-2005 academic year, in partnership with other European institutions: Università degli Studi di Ferrara (Italy), Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle (Paris, France), and the Tomar Polytechnic Institute.

Since the start of the course, at the URV every year, more than fifteen new students from all the regions of Spain and from many other places in the world, including Italy, Portugal, Algeria, India, Thailand, Morocco, Ethiopia, Eritrea, China, Indonesia, Armenia, Chile, Argentina, Georgia and Mexico. At the same time, teachers from places like Argentina, Chile, Georgia, Israel, Morocco and Mexico have come to Tarragona to teach their expertise, and experts from the URV and IPHES have traveled for educational purposes to these places. In these years, more than eighty students have obtained the master’s degree after presenting their final research work and after performing a mobility period in other center of the Erasmus Mundus consortium. We always look for resources to make this possible.

The research projects that are currently being developed in Eurasia, by the IPHES, such as Atapuerca and Orce in Spain, or Dmanisi in Georgia are some of the attractiveness to students

Carlos Lorenzo, professor of the URV and coordinator of the Teaching Area of ​​IPHES, declared: “All these reasons makes the master’s degree very attractive because, in addition, there are many who after obtaining the degree they have found work in the countries where they come from”. The archaeologist himself emphasize, “The link with the IPHES allows students to learn from the best teams that investigate human evolution in different European centers. Our consortium is a great school that allows them to learn the best techniques. “In this sense, Carlos Lorenzo pointed out that the aforementioned institutions are the hard core of this consortium, but there are other collaborations with others institutions from Germany, England, different parts of Spain, etc.

The attractiveness
The research projects that are currently being developed in Eurasia, by the IPHES, such as Atapuerca and Orce in Spain, or Dmanisi in Georgia are some of the attractiveness to students. They foresee the possibility to work in key sites to develop a research about important issues in the study of human evolution, such as the different aspects that explain the first dispersions, the routes followed, the species that carried them out, etc.


International publication on new methods for studying human behaviour

A special volume of the journal Quaternary International will be published by two IPHES members, a Japanese researcher and a UAM lecturer.

It includes the most significant results of a scientific session co-organised by IPHES researchers as part of a conference held in Japan in 2016.

New techniques such as the spatial analysis of refits (fitting pieces together) have revealed that Neanderthal communities recycled tools.


When a research project focusses on assemblages of remains recovered from an archaeological site, those remains should not be considered as a snapshot of a specific moment in life, but rather as the sum of different events that took place over time. Identifying each of these episodes and studying them in detail to understand what the populations that preceded us were like presents an enormous challenge. To discuss new methods to help achieve this goal, a scientific session was held in 2016, co-organised by researchers from IPHES (Catalan Institute of Human Paleoecology and Social Evolution) as part of the 8th World Archaeological Congress (WAC-8), which was attended by more than 1,000 specialists from five continents.

The journal Quaternary International has now published a volume titled Multidisciplinary approaches in the definition of high-resolution events to interpret past human behaviour: a new challenge in archaeology. The editors are Francesca Romagnoli, currently a lecturer at the Autonomous University of Madrid (UAM), but who at that time belonged to IPHES; Florent Rivals and Manuel Vaquero, who are associated with IPHES; and Yoshihiro Nishiaki from the University of Tokyo.

The volume contains eight articles on the characterisation of high-resolution events in the archaeological record, i.e. moments in human evolution that have been thoroughly documented at archaeological sites and that allow each of these episodes and their primary characteristics to be identified through studies involving wide variety of diverse disciplines. Like imprints, these places accumulate data that specialists then try to collect and interpret.

The articles cover the chronological period spanning from the Middle Palaeolithic (about 100,000 years ago) to the Bronze Age (about 2,000 years ago). A valuable contribution that can be gleaned from this is the observation that the approach taken to analysing events is not related to any specific problem or period but can be applied to any point in prehistory. One of the specific objectives of the publication and of the first conference was to illustrate that the difficulties in studying human behaviour are not specific to the Palaeolithic, but also apply to any subsequent period. As such, the texts compiled in this volume of Quaternary International address the Neolithic, the Bronze Age and the Palaeolithic.


Just as there are many different periods in prehistory, there are a wide variety of approaches, methods and records. For example, some studies focus on the lithic industry, such as that recovered at Abric Romaní in Capellades near Barcelona, a Neanderthal settlement dating to some 55,000 years ago, where new methods like GIS (Geographic Information System) analysis and statistical language software have been applied, the use of which has helped to identify areas where Neanderthals conducted specific activities and to locate common areas, which has shed light on the dynamics of these human groups.

Also at the Abric Romaní and as part of the project financed by MINECO (Ministry of Economy, Industry and Competitiveness) directed by Manuel Vaquero and Florent Rivals, new techniques like the spatial analysis of refits (fitting different pieces together) has revealed that Neanderthal communities recycled some of their tools, a very good indicator of their economic strategies.

Other approaches to studying the past covered in the volume address the study of a wide variety of archaeological materials. For example, Japanese researcher Y. Nishiaki’s study analyses Neolithic mud structures at a site in Azerbaijan to identify reconstruction events. Another article describing a study by Florent Rivals examines the analysis of dental microwear observed in animal fossil remains, which yields data on diet, and consequently, the seasonality of a site, in this case in the Upper Palaeolithic in Russia.

A particularly interesting contribution due to its novelty is the analysis of rock fragments from caves blackened by smoke. The origin of these remains is the result of the following sequence: human groups make a fire inside a cavity, the smoke from the fire permeates the ceiling in the form of soot, and each occupation (and fire) event deposits a new layer of soot. When a block falls from the ceiling to the ground, it remains in that archaeological level. Microscopic analyses of these layers of soot allow researchers to identify different occupational episodes in the cave. This study was conducted by Ségolène Vandevelde in two Upper Pleistocene sites, one in the south of France (Grotte Mandrin) and the other in Andorra (Balma de la Margineda).