Category Archives: General

Brazilian capuchin monkeys stone use may show similarities with earlier hominin activities

An international team investigate primates looking for clues about hominin technological development and to learn more about the use of pounding stones by Homo antecessor (dated ca. 1 Ma). These primates have been observed using stones to crack open nuts or dig holes looking for spiders or roots.

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Fossils and stone tools are key findings unearthed at any archaeological site focused on human evolution studies, however, behavior does not fossilize, and it is not possible to observe hominins using their tools. Thus, primatology plays an important role, as the study of modern primates can help us to understand the behavior of the earliest human populations. In this context, an international research team is focused on the analysis of capuchin monkeys from Serra da Capivara, in Brazil. The main goal is to investigate the use-wear marks developed on the stone tools used by these monkeys and build a theoretical model that could help to understand the emergence of hominin behavior.

“There are around 30 individuals (capuchin monkeys) that live in the wild across the Oitenta area at Serra da Capivara”, explain Adrián Arroyo, a Juan de la Cierva fellow at IPHES (Institut Català de Paleoecologia Humana i Evolució Social) and specialised in functional studies of prehistoric tools through the analysis of the marks left on them. Dr Arroyo, who compared on his PhD pounding tools from African sites (Olduvai Gorge and West Turkana) and stones used by chimpanzees, is currently applying this methodological approach to the objects found at Gran Dolina (Atapuerca, Burgos), used by Homo antecessor, species that was discovered here for the first time and is dated to ca. 1 Ma.

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Brazilian capuchin monkeys at Serra da Capivara, in Brazil – Tomos Proffitt (UCL)

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“The study of capuchin monkeys can help us to understand those activities that our ancestors could do by comparing the stone tools used by these primates and the ones identified in archaeological places like Atapuerca, although this methodology can also be applied to the earliest stages of human evolution. In fact, this is one research field with a great potential, as it can be used to interpret the beginning of the technology, how did it emerge as well as investigate if before stone flaking, the use of stones was already assumed by hominins, and how they began knapping stone tools”, explain Adrián Arroyo.

Hominin activities are investigated through the use of microscopic and functional studies, a discipline that allows researchers to observe the traces developed on the stones tools after being used and compare them to the ones identified on other experimental reference collections. Thus, continuing the functional studies developed at IPHES, a group of stone used by capuchin monkeys from Serra da Capivara will be studied, allowing the researchers to understand their tools and will help to understand potential activities carried out within the earliest stages of Atapuerca.

This study is part of an international project funded by the Leakey Foundation and led by Dr Tomos Proffitt, British Academy Fellow at the Institute of Archaeology (University College London). Team members are Dr Adrián Arroyo (IPHES), Dr Lydia Luncz (Oxford University) and Dr Tiago Falótico (Sao Paulo University). As well as collaborators, Prof Ignacio de la Torre (UCL), Prof Sonia Harmand and Dr Nicholas Taylor (Stoney Book University).

“At Serra da Capivara we re-visit those places where the monkeys have done their activities. They use stones to crack nuts, dig holes to search for spiders or roots, they also hit others stones to pulverize the surface and lick the dust produced, in fact, this activity is still investigated to determine why they do it”.

During the field season, the team map the stones that have been used by the monkeys and document their position as it is done in an archaeological site. The main difference is that in this case, the tool users are present. “It is quite a new research line within human evolution studies, especially because till now there were no systematic studies of the stones used by primates from an archaeological perspective. There were quite a number of behavioral studies, but very few about their lithic technology”, detail Adrián Arroyo.

The systematic research of capuchin monkeys from an archaeological perspective began in 2012 in Oxford. Before then, archaeologist did not have access to the archaeological signature made by capuchin monkeys in order to identify similarities and differences with the hominin record. Thus, thanks to the collaboration with this international team, functional studies of hominin stones tools developed at IPHES are increased now with stones used by primates.

 

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Abundant molds of wooden remains were found in the Abric Romaní site evidences from 60,000 years old Neanderthal communities

They were discovered during the excavation, conducted since August 5th and will end next Wednesday

This fieldwork season celebrate the 110 years of the discovery of prehistoric remains, in this site. Since then, 36 annual campaigns have been held

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Abric Romaní preserves traces of some plants remains, including wood, thanks to the precipitation of carbonates over them. After the decay of the wood or vegetal materials, only its footprints remain as negatives. Author: Palmira saladié/IPHES

From the 5th of August to the 28th, the annual archaeological excavation is being carried out at the Abric Romaní site in Capellades (Barcelona, Spain). A group of 35 people have been collaborating in the excavation tasks under the coordination of Dr. M. Gema Chacón, Dr. Josep Vallverdú and the Dra. Palmira Saladié, three researchers from the IPHES (Catalan Institute of Human Paleoecology and Social Evolution). The other doctors and participating students come from this research center, from the URV (Rovira i Virgili University of Tarragona, including the Erasmus Mundus Master in Quaternary and Human Evolution Archeology) and other Spanish and international institutions.

The continuation of the level R excavation will allow the analysis of the whole archaeological assemblage and especially the hearths preserved on the surface of the shelter. Author: Palmira Saladié

Abric Romaní is an important site with archaeological remains, evidence of Neanderthal life. Sixteen archaeological levels have been fully excavated until nowadays, in an area of 300 m2. We have documented different types of occupations, suggesting societies with high mobility and with complex social structures. The mainly hunted species are reed deer, horse, aurochs and rhinoceros. The tools associated were mostly made of flint and limestone, and probably on wood.

Reed deer (Cervus elaphus), one of the mainly hunted species – Palmira Saladié/IPHES

This season is the 110 anniversary of the discovery of prehistoric remains in this site and since then 36 annual campaigns have been held. This year, the works were focused on the excavation of level R dated to 60,000 years old. Although it is the beginning of the level excavation, and the remains of fauna and the stone tools have not already been studied, we can document a very important amount of wood negatives or molds. Abric Romaní preserves traces of some plants remains, including wood, thanks to the precipitation of carbonates over them. After the decay of the wood or vegetal materials, only its footprints remain as negatives.

If the presence of some wood tool can be attested, the knowledge of wooden tools productions during the Middle Paleolithic could by implemented, given the perishable nature of wood. The continuation of the level R excavation will allow the analysis of the whole archaeological assemblage and especially the hearths preserved on the surface of the shelter. All this data will permit a better knowledge about the Neanderthal lifestyle.

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.

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Until next July 19th, the pre-enrollment for the 2019-20 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 since 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.

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Students in a practical class at IPHES

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, Ethiopia, Eritrea, China, Indonesia, Armenia, Chile, Argentina, Georgia and Mexico. At the same time, teachers from France, Italy, 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 one hundred fifty 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. This mobility period has been financed with Erasmus+ mobility grants.

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 ins 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, 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.

The population history of the last hunter-gatherers of the Iberian Peninsula

Between 18.000 to 8.000 years ago, when significant climatic changes which impacted population dynamics

Human populations have an inherent capacity for rapid growth checked by the constraints of the environment, during episodes of climate change

This study in published today in Nature Communications

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The scientific journal Nature communications is publishing a new study today about the demographic dynamics of the last populations of hunter-gatherers that inhabited the Iberian Peninsula between 18.000 to 8.000 years ago. This period, known as the Pleistocene-Holocene Transition, is characterised by extreme changes in climatic and environmental conditions whose impact on prehistoric societies has been debated for decades.

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Distribution of archaeological sites with radiocarbon dates analyzed in this study. The colours represent the different regional subsets analyzed.

The paper analyses the whole radiocarbon record of the Iberian Peninsula for this period, conducting thousands of computational simulations to compare the goodness of fit of different demographic models. Therefore, three different demographic phases have been identified for this period. First, during the end of the last glacial cycle, between 16.600 and 12.700 years ago, the population grew exponentially. In contrast, between 12.700 and 10.200 years ago, during the cold episode of the Younger Dryas and the rapid warming of Early Holocene onset, authors find a sustained phase of population contraction and stabilisation. Finally, at third demographic phase is identified between 10.200 and 8.000 years ago, during the Mesolithic period, with a rapid population increase followed by stabilisation under a new demographic threshold.

The results show that prehistoric foragers had an inherent capacity for rapid demographic growth, but this was checked by the constraints of the environment, especially during periods of climate change.

This research has been lead by a research team of IPHES (Institut Català de Paleoecologia Humana i Evolució Social) and Universitat Rovira i VIrgili (URV) in the context of the ERC project PALEODEM (Late Glacial and Postglacial Population History and Cultural Transmission in Iberia), supported by the European Research Council. Researchers from the Department of Archaeology, Anthropology & Forensic Science of the Bournemouth University and the School of Business at the Warwick University have also taken part in the investigation.

Bibliographic reference

Fernández-López de Pablo, J., Gutiérrez-Roig, M., Gómez-Puche, M., McLaughlin, R., Silva, F., Lozano, S. “Palaeodemographic modelling supports a population bottleneck during the Pleistocene-Holocene transition in Iberia”, Nature Communications (2019) DOI: 10.1038/s41467-019-09833-3,

IPHES participates in the I International Congress of Science, Feminism and New Masculinities

The researcher Magda Gómez presented the communication “Gender equality policies in Humanities research: the IPHES as a case study” with which she made known the “Equal opportunities Plan between men and women” and the progressive incorporation of the Responsible Research and Innovation perspective in the future research projects of this center.

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Magda Gómez, researcher at IPHES (Catalan Institute of Human Paleoecology and Social Evolution), participated in the international congress “Science, Feminism and New Masculinities (CICFEM), recently held in Valencia, organized by the University Association Science, Feminism and Masculinities (AUCFEM) , in collaboration with the INGENIO Institute (CSIC-UPV), the Universitat Politècnica de València and various feminist associations. Specifically, he presented the oral communication “Gender equality policies in Humanities research: the IPHES as a case study”.

The goal of CICFEM, as expressed by the organizers of this event, is to offer a space for dialogue and research linked to the lines of work set out in the 2030 United Nations Agenda for Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), from a perspective of gender, equality and overcoming violence. Attended by specialists from various scientific fields, such as Humanities, Social Sciences, Engineering or Technological Sciences, in order to deepen and provide evidence specifically dealing with feminism and masculinities, but also about the actions that women undertake to improve society and that promote their presence in the present and future scientific story.

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It was within the framework of the sessions dedicated to Quality Education, where Magda Gómez presented her communication. On the one hand, she presented various actions carried out by IPHES to reduce gender inequalities at an institutional and structural level and, on the other hand, she explained the steps that this institute is conducting to include a gender perspective in the investigations and projects that are carried out.

In this regard, in the context of a strategic scientific policy, Magda Gómez explained how IPHES has signed the “European Charter for Researchers” and the “Code of Conduct for the Recruitment of Researchers”, which has resulted in the “Equal opportunities Plan between men and women” in the workplace. Likewise, the IPHES also advocates for the explicit and conscious incorporation of the so-called RRI (Responsible Research and Innovation) perspective in future research projects.

Currently, Magda Gómez works as a postdoctoral researcher in the European project PALEODEM ((ERC Co-Grant 683018), in the scope of chronological modeling and paleodemographic dynamics analysis of the last hunter-gatherers groups of the Iberian Peninsula (between 15,000 ago and 8,000 years before the present.). This project includes the gender perspective in paleodemography, in the line of recent works that claim the important role of women in the demography of small-scale societies.

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.

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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).

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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.

Reference

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

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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.

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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.

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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. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.palaeo.2019.01.023