Archaeobotany is a field of knowledge from archaeology that permits to understand past vegetation and climate as well as the use and management of plants such as human and animal food, firewood, building material or technology. This knowledge is acquired throughout different disciplines such as palynology that studies pollen; anthracology, charcoals; phytoliths studies, and carbonized seeds and fruits studies.
Since a few years ago, there has been an increase of the interest among students and researchers to use theses disciplines due to the good results that provide for the study of past societies and the environments in which they lived. That is the reason why, the Archaeobotany Unit of IPHES (Institut Català de Paleoecologia Humana i Evolució Social) carries out along 2017 the I Archaeobotany Seminar. It has been organized by Aitor Burguet-Coca, Fundación Atapuerca Fellow at IPHES, and Ethel Allué, researcher from this research center.
This seminar has the aim to share and debate the main archaeobotany issues and challenges, as well as to become a meeting spot for IPHES members working on this field. The organizers outline: “During the last year there’s been an increase of the interest in the different archaeobotany disciplines by students and researchers. This has led to have a critical mass at IPHES that at present is carrying out studies on archaeobotanical records, undertaking outstanding contributions based on these records”.
The seminar sessions are organized throughout the comment and debate of publications, excursions to places with a botanical interest and presentation of case studies. The two theoretical sessions were dedicated to the macro and microremains sampling and the quantification of archaeobotanical remains. The third session consisted on a botanical excursion to the Bosc de la Marquesa (Platja Llarga, Tarragona), that permitted to acknowledge the littoral forest communities, through the explanation by Francesc Burjachs ICREA researcher at IPHES. The last two sessions will take place in the fall and will be focused on the interpretation of archaeobotanical remains and the presentation of case studies.
PALEODEM, led by the archaeologist Javier Fernández, a researcher at IPHES (Institut Català de Paleoecologia Humana i Evolució Social) was one of the projects selected in the temporary exhibition hosted in Madrid by Museo Nacional de Ciencia y Tecnología (MUNCYT), as a part of the activities commemorating the 10 years of European Research Council (ERC).
PALEODEM is a project that was awarded a “ERC Consolidator Grant”, a European Research Council grant for the promotion of researchers in the intermediate state of their professional path (between 7 and 12 years after obtaining their doctorate), in order to consolidate its own line of research and its team.
Entitled Glacial and Postglacial Population History and Cultural Transmission in Iberia (c.15,000-8,000 cal BP), PALEODEM aims to reconstruct the population dynamics between 15,000 and 8,000 years ago, a period of great climatic changes and whose impact on human demography remains unknown.
The exhibition facilitated information on the main lines of the project, accompanied by some photographs. It was promoted by FECYT (Fundación Española para la Ciencia y la Tecnología).
An archaeological site is the result of a series of events that overlap at different levels through time. Archaeological remains generated by bone breaking and the sculpting of stone blocks are deposited in each of these strata. Refitting the pieces belonging to the same bone or block is an arduous task, but very useful for understanding an endless array of aspects related to human evolution.
With the aim of exchanging experiences, understanding the multidisciplinary applications of reassembly, and its reconstruction in 3D, as well as agreeing on criteria for its use, an international workshop is being held that will bring together the experts in this field. Entitled The Big Puzzle 30 Years After: A shared, multidisciplinary, Palaeolithic perspective, it will take place from 9 to 11 May, in Sala de Graus on Campus Catalunya at the Universitat Rovira i Virgili (URV), in Tarragona.
The title refers to the conference held three decades ago at the Monrepos Archaeological Research Centre and Museum in Neuwied, Germany. It was there that the importance of reassembly was first verified as a method for analysing the technical, economic and social behaviour of past populations. The publication from that conference and the data that has appeared since, have shown not only that reassembly is very useful for research, but have also led to new lines of investigative work.
The workshop is being organised by Francesca Romagnoli, a Marie Curie researcher at the IPHES (Institut Català de Paleoecologia Humana i Evolució Social), and Manuel Vaquero, an IPHES member and professor of Prehistory at the URV, as part of the EU’s H2020 Research and Innovation Program GA. 653667. It is being sponsored by the Wenner-Gren Foundation, a United States foundation that funds research of excellence in the field of anthropology, prehistory and the study of human evolution.
IPHES is deliberately linking this workshop to the symposium held in Germany in 1987, intending to reflect on the development of this technique over the last 30 years, and see whether the expectations generated at that time have been achieved. IPHES is a leader in the study of reassembly and has developed an analysis protocol that has enabled innovative work to be developed on the recycling, techno-economic, and social organisation of Neanderthal communities. At the workshop, IPHES will present new data from the Abric Romaní site (Capellades, Barcelona) in the workshop, a world reference for work on the social organisation of Homo neanderthalensis, as well as from the Gran Dolina site in the Sierra de Atapuerca.
Reassembly allows researchers to identify what types of actions were carried out at a site, as well as their number and frequency, in addition to detecting the temporal and spatial relationships between the different events. For example, how a certain material was introduced into the archaeological site and where it came from, how tools were made, and so on. In this way one can ascertain aspects of the economy of hominid groups, the length of time they remained in a place, and the size and organisation of the human population that lived there. It also reveals whether the materials have been reused, and the importance of recycling to these hominids.
In addition, reassembly can be applied when analysing wildlife. This allows us to understand, for example, how humans shared and distributed food in the past.
These are just some of the issues that will be discussed in the workshop. It will be attended by top-level experts who apply reassembly in an interdisciplinary way to better understand what life was like in the Palaeolithic era. The participants include scientists from leading research institutes, such as UCL (University College London), and reference centres in the study of Prehistory, such as the University of Tübingen in Germany, the Autonomous Universities of Madrid and Barcelona, the University of La Laguna, the University of Ferrara, the Anthropos Museum of Brno, and the Monrepos Museum where the original conference took place.
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.
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).
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”.
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.
“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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.