Category Archives: General

IPHES takes part in a study about the genomic history of the Iberian Peninsula

Marina Lozano and Josep Maria Vergès, IPHES researchers and URV associate professors, contributed with the recovering and anatomical analysis of dental human remains

An international team led by researchers at Harvard Medical School and the Institute of Evolutionary Biology in Spain has conducted the largest-ever study of ancient DNA from the Iberian Peninsula, spanning 8,000 years.

Analyses suggest the Iberian Y chromosome was almost completely replaced between 4,000 and 4,500 years ago.

The largest study to date of ancient DNA from the Iberian Peninsula (modern-day Portugal and Spain) offers new insights into the populations that lived in this region over the last 8,000 years. The most startling discovery suggests that local Y chromosomes were almost completely replaced during the Bronze Age.

The work, published online in Science March 15 by a 111-person international team led by researchers at Harvard Medical School and the Institute of Evolutionary Biology in Barcelona, Spain, also details genetic variation among ancient hunter-gatherers, documents intermingling of ancient Iberians with people from North Africa and the Mediterranean, and provides an additional explanation for why present-day Basques, who have such a distinctive language and culture, are also ancestrally different from other Iberians.

Marina Lozano analyzing dental remains from the Cova de la Guineu

The team analyzed genomes from 403 ancient Iberians who lived between about 6000 B.C. and 1600 A.D., 975 ancient people from outside Iberia and about 2,900 present-day people.

271 of the ancient Iberian genomes had not been published before. Nearly two-thirds came from skeletons no older than 2000 B.C., boosting by 25 times the number of publicly available genomes from this relatively recent period.

Marina Lozano and Josep Maria Vergès, researchers at IPHES (Institut Català de Paleoecologia Humana i Evolució Social) and associate professors at URV (Universitat Rovira i Virgili), both in Tarragona, contributed with the recovery of human remains from different archaeological sites, the crono-cultural context of human remains and analyzing the anatomy of some of the dental remains from which DNA has been extracted. In particular, seven human teeth from Cova dels Galls Carboners (Mont-ral, Tarragona, Spain) dated on Chalcolithic and Bronze Age (3,500-4,300 years ago). Other 4 teeth from Mas Gassol roman site (3rd-Vth centuries CE).  Finally, Marina Lozano identified 13 teeth from Cova de la Guineu Late Neolithic site (Barcelona), excavated by a team coming from Seminari d’Estudis i Recerques Prehistòriques (SERP) of the Universitat de Barcelona (UB).

Josep Maria Vergès needs to climb to access the Cova dels Galls Carboners (Tarragona) – IPHES

The Institute for Evolutionary Biology is a joint institute of the Spanish National Research Council (CSIC) and Pompeu Fabra University in Barcelona.

Major funders of this research included Obra Social La Caixa, FEDER-MINECO (BFU2015-64699-1118P), the National Institutes of Health (grant GM100233), the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.

About Harvard Medical School

Harvard Medical School has more than 11,000 faculty working in the 11 basic and social science departments comprising the Blavatnik Institute and at the 15 Harvard-affiliated teaching hospitals and research institutes: Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Boston Children’s Hospital, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Cambridge Health Alliance, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Harvard Pilgrim Health Care Institute, Hebrew SeniorLife, Joslin Diabetes Center, Judge Baker Children’s Center, Massachusetts Eye and Ear/Schepens Eye Research Institute, Massachusetts General Hospital, McLean Hospital, Mount Auburn Hospital, Spaulding Rehabilitation Network and VA Boston Healthcare System.


Iñigo Olalde et al. The genomic history of the Iberian Peninsula over the past 8000 years. Science. DOI: 10.1126/science.aav1444


A new species of reptile: a lizard without legs that lived in Murcia one million years ago

The discoverers have dedicated the new species to the paleontologist Miguel Ángel Mancheño, first director of the excavations in the Murcian site of Quibas, where it has appeared

The findings shows that the southeast of the Iberian Peninsula was the last ecological refuge for subtropical species in Western Europe


Hugues-Alexandre Blain, researcher at IPHES (Institut Català de Paleoecologia Humana i Evolució Social), in collaboration with Salvador Bailon from the National Museum of Natural History in Paris (MNHN), have described a new species of lizard without legs of the genus Ophisaurus, family of the Anguidae as the slowworm, present today in the Iberian Peninsula. The remains found include: a maxilla, three jaws, two parietals, numerous vertebrae and an osteoderm. The find is dedicated to Miguel Ángel Mancheño, Professor and paleontologist from the University of Murcia and former director of the Quibas excavations (Abanilla, Murcia), where the fossil remains that gave rise to the new species are from. Thus, the new lizard has been named Ophisaurus manchenioi. Judging by the recovered fossil remains, and the knowledge of the current lizards of this type, it is thought to have about 40 centimeters length.

The genus Ophisaurus is currently represented by other species living in the tropical and subtropical environments of North Africa (Morocco and Algeria), North America and Southeast Asia. The paleobiogeographic analysis of the genus shows that it appeared in Europe during the Eocene (56 and 34 million years ago), and that it had its maximum extension during the Miocene (between 23 and 5.3 million years ago). During the Pliocene (between 5.3 and 2.6 million years ago), its distribution in Europe was restricted to the Mediterranean. It survived longer in the south of the Iberian Peninsula, which apparently acted as a refuge area. The species eventually became extinct one million years ago, with its last mention in the site of Quibas, in Murcia.


Fossil remains of the new species of lizard discovered in Murcia – Author: IPHES

During the Pliocene (between 5.3 and 2.6 million years ago), its distribution in Europe was restricted to the Mediterranean. It survived longer in the south of the Iberian Peninsula, which apparently acted as a refuge area. The species eventually became extinct one million years ago, with its last mention in the site of Quibas, in Murcia.

“Until now, the fossil presence of this genus was known in other Early Pleistocene sites of the Iberian Peninsula, such as, Barranco León and Fuente Nueva 3 (Granada, Spain), but its key defining element -the parietal, a bone from the skull -was not available to compare it with the other fossil species defined from: this bone”, points out Hugues-Alexandre Blain, IPHES researcher and co-author of the scientific article that published the finding. “Osteologically, this new species is more closely related to the fossil species Ophisaurus holeci from the Miocene of Germany and the Czech Republic than to its modern North African representative (Ophisaurus koellikeri)”, he adds. “That is why we can say that it is a European relict species and that it does not come from a landbridge between North Africa and the South of the Iberian Peninsula”, he points out.

By comparison with the other extant species of the genus, it can be inferred that this reptile had tropical or subtropical ecological requirements. Its extinction at the species level in the Iberian Peninsula and in Europe coincides with the progressive disappearance of certain subtropical arboreal taxa (Cathaya, Elaeagnus, Engelhardia, Eucommia, Liquidambar, Keteleeria, Nyssa, Sciadopitys, Symplocos, Pretoria, Parthenocissus, Pterocarya and Tsuga). “Consequently, the extinction of this reptile is contemporary with the disappearance of the last haven with subtropical conditions (warm and humid forests) in southern Europe around 1.2 million years ago, during a period of very important climatic changes known at the transition from the Early to Middle Pleistocene”, notes Hugues-Alexandre Blain.

The Quibas excavations (Abanilla, Murcia) – Author: IPHES

Since its discovery in 1994, the paleontological site of Quibas (Abanilla, Murcia) has yielded, the fossil remains from more than 70 species of the late Early Pleistocene, around 1 million years old. “It is a karstic site whose importance lies in the great diversity of fauna, excellent preservation of the remains and the possibility of finding human evidence”, says Pedro Piñero, current co-director of the excavations in Quibas and collaborator of IPHES.

Remarkable also is the presence of fossil bones from: macaques, large felids, lynxes, foxes, musk oxen, goats, rhinoceros, deer, porcupines, bearded vultures, eagles (or ibis), as well as a long taxonomic list of small vertebrates, including: hedgehogs, mice, dormice, shrews, bats, snakes, vipers, geckos and agàmid lizards. “Research concerning these remains highlights the importance of this site, now with the presence of a new species previously unknown to the scientific community, as is the case of this new lizard,” says Pedro Piñero.

The studied material from this new lizard species was revealed from excavation campaign dating to 2006. Revision of these fossils is part of the new project, inscribed in the research project CGL2016-80000-P “Climatic crises of the Early and Middle Pleistocene and its incidence in the evolution of the microvertebrate communities of the Spanish Levante” and in the research group of the IPHES Human Paleoecology of Plio-Pleistocene (PalHum). AGAUR-Generalitat de Catalunya, 2017SGR-859.

Bibliographic reference

Hugues-Alexandre Blain & Salvador Bailon. 2019. Extirpation of Ophisaurus (Anguimorpha, Anguidae) in Western Europe in the context of the disappearance of subtropical ecosystems at the Early-Middle Pleistocene transition. Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology.

The research stay of José Ramón Rabuñal at the Max Planck Institute

The objective was to learn new techniques to better understand how activities were organised in prehistoric settlements


The IPHES (Institut Català de Paleoecologia Humana i Evolució Social) predoctoral researcher, José Ramón Rabuñal, completed a three-month research stay at the Department of Human Evolution of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology (Leipzig, Germany), under the supervision of Dr. Shannon P. McPherron.

The purpose of the stay was to expand his training in intra-site spatial analysis techniques. This type of methodology is directed towards understanding how space is organised in settlements by studying the spatial distribution of occupation evidence.

The IPHES researcher, José Ramón Rabuñal, at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology (Leipzig, Germany),

His research aims to reconstruct, within the framework of his doctoral thesis, the formation processes and the spatial organisation of Mesolithic occupations in the open-air site of the Arenal de la Virgen (Villena, Alicante), between 9,200 and 8,300 years ago. This site was recently excavated in the framework of the ERC PALEODEM research project (Ref.683018), which focuses on the analysis of demographic dynamics and cultural transmission processes during the Pleistocene-Holocene transition in the Iberian Peninsula.

After three months learning and applying new spatial statistics techniques, he will join the rest of the PALEODEM team to prepare scientific publications and disseminate the European project’s research results.

José Ramón Rabuñal’s stay was financially supported by the URV (the University Rovira i Virgili in Tarragona) and the European Commission, through an Erasmus-Placement mobility grant within the Erasmus + program, as well as by the ERC PALEODEM project.

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