Category Archives: General

Experimenting to reconstruct the past

Tarragona host the V International Congress of Experimental Archaeology, organized by three Catalan Research Centers (IPHES, ICAC and ICRPC), together with the EXPERIMENTA association, and with the collaboration of the Port of Tarragona and the University Rovira i Virgili (URV).

The Congress will gather researchers who use the experimental archaeology for solving problems derived from the study of ancient cultures. Within this forum, they will present their last results regarding didactics, dissemination and value-added of heritage.

There will be also a practical day where the specialist will make reproductions of prehistoric hafting, ropes or basketry, between others. The afternoon session will be open to the general public.


In the last decades, the archaeology has produced a higher interest in the experimental methodology used to validate hypothesis about the archaeological formation processes, the technology and the ways of living of past communities. Thus, the main specialists use the experimental reproduction as the way to reconstruct the environmental conditions and the behavioural patterns of the past human groups.

Within this context, Tarragona will host the V International Congress of Experimental Archaeology, between the 25th and 27th of October. This is co-organized by three Catalan Research Centres, IPHES (Institut Català de Paleoecologia Humana i Evolució Social), ICAC (Institut Català d’Arqueologia Clàssica), ICRPC (Institut Català de Recerca en Patrimoni Cultural) and the EXPERIMENTA association. These conferences count also with the collaboration of the Port of Tarragona and the University Rovira i Virgili (URV).


The Congress will attend two days to theoretical presentations, both oral and poster communications, and discussion (25th and 26th October) and a day for the presentation of experiments, demonstrations and workshops (27th October). The theoretical sessions will be held in the Aula Magna of Facultade Lletres of the University Rovira i Virgili (Av. Catalunya, 35. 43002 Tarragona). The practical day will take place in the facilities of the Port of Tarragona, Refugi 4 and in the Port of Tarragona Museum (Moll de Costa, s/n).

The theoretical sessions will be organized by large thematic blocks: From hunter-gatherers to producer societies; from the beginning of complex societies to the present; and didactics, dissemination and value-added of heritage.

The practical day will be divided into two parts. The morning will be devoted to the live experiments, workshops and demonstrations to generate a proactive discussion within the participants to the congress. Some of these activities will be related with the action of tying, from the first hunter-gatherers to nowadays. So, the specialists will reproduce prehistoric hafting, ropes and basketry, looms, fishing nets, etc… During the afternoon, these activities will be open to the general public in an attempt to bring experimental archaeology to the society.



New research provides knowledge, for the first time, about the skeleton of the Pyrenean frog and its adaptation to mountain streams with fast-running water

Descending from a more terrestrial ancestor it has opted instead for a more aquatic life

It is in danger of extinction and it is an endemic species from the Pyrenees mountain range, living in the Ordesa and Monte Perdido National Park


When faunal remains are discovered in an archeological site it is not always clear to which species they belong and providing a correct determination is often complex work. Finding a referent in the scientific literature is complicated and sometimes one simply does not exist. In this sense, describing osteologically endemic species from the Iberian Peninsula in order to facilitate their identification in archeological sites or in the diet of other species (pellets) is an essential task that constitutes one of the lines of research of the Institut Català de Paleoecologia Humana i Evolució Social (IPHES).

While it is a species that had been previously identified, all the parts of the skeleton of the Pyrenean frog (Rana pyrenaica) were never described.  It is catalogued as an endangered species in the 2007 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. The fragility of the environments where this frog lives, characterized by pure waters and virgin streams, is the cause of this situation.

Rana pirenaica 1
R. pyrenaica was compared with other Iberian brown frogs for a correct osteological identification

The Rana pyrenaica (genus and subgenus Rana), is the smallest European brown frog, belonging to the Rana temporaria group, with adults reaching a maximum size of 5.5 cm and a robust morphology. Its ancestor was certainly more terrestrial, related to the common frog (Rana temporaria). However, the species described here became more aquatic, occupying high mountain streams. In its adaptation to this new environment the species developed longer legs and feet (in particular the third digit), some cranial bones (nasal and fronto-parietal) became longer and thinner and the articulation between the atlas and the skull tends to be more flexible. At the same time, the Pyrenean frog retained from its more terrestrial ancestor its generally robust skeletal morphology (despite its small size), the skull proportions, the overall morphology of the maxilla and the sphenetmoid, the degree of fusion between the fronto-parietals, and the lower dorsal crest on the ilium, attachment area of muscles important for locomotion.

The Rana pyrenaica is endemic to the Pyrenean mountain range where it is usually found in cool, well-oxygenated mountain streams with fast-running water, especially during snowmelt in late spring. The R. pyrenaica lives at altitudes ranging from 780 m to 2100 m, being more abundant between 1200 and 1800 m. Its distribution is mainly restricted to the central and western parts of the southern Pyrenean slopes (Aragón and Navarra), from the Ordesa and Monte Perdido National Park in the east, to the Irati area in the west. Some populations have been found as low as 780 m in the Irati forest area, where they also enter into French territory along small ravines belonging to the Ebro watershed.

Rana Pyrenaica by Óscar Arribas

Despite being described in 1993, the skeleton of R. pyrenaica was never been fully investigated. The recent publication by Blain & Arribas thus represents the first description of the osteology of this spring-dwelling Pyrenean small brown frog. In addition to increasing knowledge about R. pyrenaica, this study also aims to render easier the correct diagnosis of the species in fossil assemblages and its osteological identification in the diet of other vertebrates in trophic studies.

Long jumps to enter water and swimming

Brown frogs have several modes of life: some, such as R. temporaria and R. dalmatina, are very terrestrial and only enter still waters for reproduction, but R. pyrenaica only lives on the shores of running waters, and its escape behavior consists of long jumps to enter water and then swim. This mode of life involves swimming against fast-flowing waters, fitting into narrow crevices and anchoring itself among stones to avoid being dragged along by the currents.


Blain H.-A. & Arribas O. (2017). A description of the skeletal morphology of Rana pyrenaica (Anura: Ranidae), with comments on functional morphology, ecological adaptation and relationships with other Iberian ranids. Zootaxa, 4319 (3): 510-530.



The Neanderthal site of Abric Romaní brings more than 12,000 remains of fauna and stone tools dated at over 60,000 years ago

The team that has worked since August 8th has discovered more than thirty hearths

 On wednesday, August 30th, the 35th field work campaign in this site will finalise


Neanderthal groups occupied the Abric Romaní Q level (Capellades, Barcelona) over 60,000 years and left there important demonstrations of their daily activities. This is showed by the remains found during the excavation that IPHES (Catalan Institute of Human Paleoecology and Social Evolution) has developed since August 8th.   This field campaign was the 35th at the site and was directed by Dr Eudald Carbonell, Dr Palmira Saladié and Dr Gema Chacón. These years in the Q level, on an area of 250 square meters, more than 12,000 archaeological remains have been found including fauna and stone tools, and more than thirty hearths. .

“We have excavated the remains of a human occupation about 60,000 years ago”, points out Dr Palmira Saladié, “It was probably a campsite used by Neanderthals”.  The count of the archaeological remains yielded in this season, as well as the vestiges found in the last two years during investigation in level Q, is of about 5,000 stone tools and 7,000 faunal remains. Stone tools were produced in different materials such as flint, quartz and limestone. “This year many artefacts related to different domestic activities carried out by the Neanderthals in the campsite have been identified,” comments Dr Gema Chacón.”The fauna recovered results from Neanderthal hunting tactics regarding its subsistence and is made up of bones of horses, deer and goats”, says Dr Palmira Saladié.

This year many artefacts related to different domestic activities carried out by the Neanderthals in the campsite have been identified – Palmira Saladié / IPHES

Abric Romaní is a site that stands out due to the presence of well-preserved hearths throughout its sequence. “More than 30 hearths have been excavated this season. They will allow us to reconstruct the domestic space of  the Neanderthal group that lived here”, says Dr Gema Chacón. The inner part of the rockshelter located close to the wall was used as a sleeping area as showed by many small fireplaces. In the central part of the site we found large domestic areas were Neanderthals developed different activities, such as the tools production and food cooking.  Finally, the external part of the campsite was used  as waste dump.  There abundant fauna, stone tools and charcoals remains have been recovered.

The excavation of these domestic spaces presents excellent conditions of preservation. “In the coming years it will allow us to carry out studies on the technology, the hunting, the social organisation and, finally be able to understand the lifestyle of these human groups of Middle Palaeolithic”, says Dr Palmira Saladié. The scientific aim of researches at Abric Romaní site is the palaeoethnographic reconstruction, from a social perspective, of the Middle Palaeolithic hunter societies. During next year’s campaign the next layer R will be excavated. It is expected to be dated at approximately 62,000 years old.

The excavations at Abric Romaní are part of the research project under the name Abric Romani – Cinglera de Capelló archaeologial site funded by the Department of Culture of  Generalitat de Catalunya (Ref. 2014/100576).

Residential camps from around 9,000 years B.P. and new Neolithic human occupation evidences, have been found in Villena

This has been confirmed by fieldwork conducted at Arenal de la Virgen and Casa Corona archaeological sites. These actions are framed in the development of the ERC project PALEODEM, aimed at investigate the relationship between population dynamics and climate change and conducted by Javier Fernández López de Pablo from IPHES


A team of 15 archaeologists and 20 volunteers has worked at the Arenal de la Virgen and Casa Corona archaeological sites in Villena (Alicante, Spain). This fieldwork campaign represents a first excavation phase and have provided relevant data for the research that is being carried out in the scope of the European research project PALEODEM, on climatic and demographic changes developed from the IPHES (Institut Català de Paleoecología Humana i Evolució Social). At both sites, the excavation has yielded evidences of human occupations during the Mesolithic and Neolithic periods, between 9,000 and 5,000 years ago.

The group at Arenal de la Virgen, Villena (Alicante, Spain)

This first excavation phase included in this project began on 1 March and ended on 30 June, taken place during 4 months of uninterrupted fiekdwork on these sites.

Hearths, small stone-pavings and post-holes have been documented among the  habitat structures. In the Arenal de la Virgen, abundant remains of lithic industry, land snails and some ornaments, have been recovered. In Casa Corona, besides lithic and malacological remains, numerous Neolithic sherds have been found. In addition, large numbers of sediment samples have been collected for paleobotanical, geoarchaeological and micromorphological analyzes in both sites. This information will allow the reconstruction of the landscape and their dynamic variations in which the last hunter-gatherer populations and the first farmers lived at this zone of the Mediterranean façade.

Casa Corona Site

“Altogether, the ensemble of evidences obtained in this excavation will contribute in a very significant way to enhance our understandingof the demographic and socio-economic dynamics that took place during Mesolithic and Neolithic times, in its paleoclimatic and paleoenvironmental context, “commented Javier Fernández López de Pablo, archaeologist and director of the PALEODEM project (ERC Co-Grant No. 683018), funded by the European Research Council under the Horizon 2020 program.

Villena City Council, within the framework of the collaboration agreement signed in 2016 with IPHES, has provided logistical support by providing technical resources and municipal infrastructures.

Increases the interest of archaeobotany as a tool for the understanding of past societies and their environmental setting

As a consequence IPHES has organized a seminar for exchanging knowledge among students and researchers 

Through a combination of theoretical sessions and practical activities to acknowledge in situ some of the Tarragona coastal landscapes  


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.

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

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.

IPHES, participates in the 10 years commemorative exhibition of the European Research Council

Their contribution was that of the PALEODEM project, of reconstruction of the populations of between 15,000 and 8,000 years ago a period of great climatic and environmental transformations


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).

The exhibition facilitated information on the main lines of the project, accompanied by some photographs – 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).

The challenge of reassembling archaeological remains to understand life in Prehistory

From around the world, Tarragona is bringing together experts in reassembly, in a workshop that will take place from 9 to 11 May at URV’s Campus Catalunya

This technique allows us to understand what the economy was like, whether hominid groups recycled, and their social organisation

The IPHES will provide new information from Neanderthal communities that lived in Abric Romaní and around Sierra de Atapuerca

The event is sponsored by the Wenner-Gren Foundation, which funds research of excellence


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.

Reassembly with pieces from the Abric Romaní – IPHES

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.