Category Archives: Research

An international congress brings together in Tarragona the best prehistorians about Africa

This is the 3rd Meeting of African Prehistory that will be held in the auditorium of the “Paraninfo Rectorado” of the Universitat Rovira i Virgili on 28 and 29 March

The opening ceremony will be on Tuesday at 9 am and will be attended by URV’s rector and the Morocco consul in Tarragona


An international congress organized by IPHES (Institut Català de Paleoecologia Humana i Evolució Social) will gather in Tarragona the best prehistorians about Africa on 28 and 29 March, in the auditorium of the “Paranimfo Rectorado” of the Universitat Rovira i Virgili of Tarragona. The opening ceremony will take place on Tuesday at 9 am and will be attended by Josep Anton Ferré, URV’s rector; Robert Sala, IPHES’director; Abdelaziz Jatim, General Consul of the Kingdom of Morocco in Tarragona, Lleida and Aragó, and Begoña Floría, deputy mayor of Tarragona’s town hall.


The 3rd Meeting of African Prehistory aims, as in the previous two editions (Madrid 2013 and Burgos 2015) to be a meeting point of African researchers (archaeologists, paleoanthropologists, palaeontologists, geologists…) with the aim of sharing and disseminate the results obtained in the field work and the subsequent study in the laboratory during the last years and share the main results obtained in this field. At the same time, this congress wants to foster contacts between scientists and students from different countries and promote spaces for collaborative research.

There will be 85 participants coming from different research centres both national and international universities (European and African). 28 oral communications and 11 posters will be presented. In addition, every day, the dissemination session will begin with an expert conference from important research projects in Africa. In this way, on Tuesday 28 will be the turn of Manuel Will (University of Cambridge – UK  & University of Tübingen – Germany) about “Sibudu Cave” in South Africa and on Wednesday 29 Sandrine Pratt (Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle de París – France) will introduce the “West Turkana Archaeological Project (ETAP)” and the Lomekwi’s archaeological site in Kenya.

The first occupations

During the Conference the results of the main research projects that IPHES and other Spanish institutions are developing in Africa will be presented, most of them on the first human occupations in this continent. In addition, a large number of themes will be debated in relation to prehistory and human Evolution during the Pleistocene and Holocene (last 2.5 million years to date) in Africa.

The Azokh Cave site in the Caucasus was an important passageway for the hominins during their migration from Africa to Europe and Asia

This is reflected in the first international and multidisciplinary monograph dedicated to the site where the members of the IPHES have big input

Students from this region complete their formation and scientific degree through different international programmes where the IPHES participates too


The study of migratory routs, used by different hominin groups during their migration from Africa to Europe and Asia, is one of the most important branches of investigation. There are different proposals and geographic points, which may have had particular importance. The Azokh Cave site, located in Nagorno Karabakh (Southern Caucasus) is now getting special prominence.

The first international and multidisciplinary monograph dedicated to the excavations and research of Azokh titled “Azokh Cave and the Transcaucasian Corridor” was published by Springer, an international editorial, specialised in science, medicine, and technology.

According to this study, the hominins and different animals inhabited Azokh Cave during their pass from Africa to Europe and Asia around 300 to 100 thousand years ago BP. Moreover, this cave was used by three different hominin species: Homo heidelbergensis, Homo neandertalensis and Homo sapiens, and has almost continuous register of lithic remains (from Middle to Upper Pleistocene) associated with fauna.

Homo heidelbergensis remains discovered at Azokh Cave – Fernández-Javo et al.

The monograph includes the results of detailed studies of all these remains (hominin, faunal, vegetal and technological) found in Azokh during the excavation seasons of 2002 – 2009. In addition, an important effort was made to contextualise the site in the Caucasus connecting the results obtained from Azokh Cave with other sites of the same chronology and from the same geographic area (e.g., Kudaro I, Kudaro III, Treugol’naya, Tsona, Djruchula, Mezmaiskaya etc.).

More than twenty institutions and research centres from different countries are involved in the monograph’s publication. The IPHES has a great input in it, as five out of fifteen chapters (those of lithic artefacts, macro and micro vertebrate remains, taphonomy and charcoals) are leaded by its researchers and collaborators such as Dr. Isabel Cáceres, Dr. Ethel Allué, Dr. Andreu Ollé, Dr. Hugues A. Blain and Dr. Lena Asryan.

The History

Azokh Cave was discovered by M. Huseinov in 1960’s and was excavated for around twenty years by Russian and Azerbaijani researchers. Almost all the sedimentary infill and fossil contents at the entrance of Azokh 1 was emptied during these excavations leaving a small part at the back of the entrance. During these excavations faunal and lithic remains were recovered together with a hominin mandible fragment in unit V, which was classified as Homo heidelbergensis.

In 2002, an international, multidisciplinary research team restarted the excavations at the site. During these excavations, from Unit V (300.000 years old) together with herbivore (Equus hydruntinus, Equus ferus, Stephanorhinus hemitoechus, Stephanorhinus kirchbergensis, Capreolus pygargus, Dama aff. peloponesiaca, Dama sp., Megaloceros solihacus, Cervus elaphus, Bison schoetensacki, Ovis ammon, Capra aegagrus, Saiga tatarica) and carnivore faunal remains (Canis cf. Lupus, Canis aureus, Meles meles, Martes cf. Foina, Crocuta crocuta, Lynx sp., Felis chaus, Panthera pardus, Ursus spelaeus, Ursus sp.), Middle Pleistocene lithic artefacts (it can be characterised as Late Acheulean or pre-Mousterian without bifaces) and fragments of charcoals were found.

Cave bear (Ursus spelaeus) is present in all the excavated archaeological units, but it is dominant particularly in Unit II with a chronology between 180 to 100 thousand years BP. The cave bear remains are associated with Levallois lithic assemblage in this unit. In addition, a hominin tooth was found at this unit determined as Homo neanderthalensis.

In one of the cave entrances (discovered during 2003 excavation season and named as Azokh 5) remains of Homo sapiens were found dated by 14C between 1.265 and 2.300 years.

Involvement of the IPHES

The IPHES was involved in the “Azokh Caves Project” in 2006 through researchers Ethel Allué and Isabel Cáceres. The participation of the institution was increasing since then, bringing not only experts to the project (they are more than twelve now) but also helping the local students to continue their formation and studies in the IPHES and URV (University Rovira i Virgili) through the international Master’s or pre-doctoral grants in Quaternary and Human Evolution under the supervision of the researchers from the IPHES.

The monograph includes the results of detailed studies of all these remains (hominin, faunal, vegetal and technological) found in Azokh during the excavation seasons of 2002 – 2009

Doctoral thesis

In this context, Lena Asryan is one of the examples, who studied first the IPHES-URV’s Masters of Erasmus Mundus and then continued the doctoral studies in Quaternary and Prehistory (funded by the Wenner-Gren foundation [WIF-212]) at the same university. In September of 2015 she defended her doctoral thesis titled “Azokh Cave lithic assemblages and its contextualization in the Middle and Upper Pleistocene of South-west Asia”.

This research study is focused on the lithic assemblages of Azokh Cave recovered during the excavations of 2002 to 2013. The study of these assemblages indicates that the human occupation of the cave was short and seasonal in character and that it was alternatively occupied by hominins and large carnivores.

These conclusions are supported also by other studies (geological and paleontological) presented in the monograph, which show occupation of the cave by Ursids for hibernation during the dry periods of the cave (autumn-winter) and opportunistic access of hominins to bear carcases after the hibernation, possibly for obtaining leftover meat, skin and ligaments.

The investigation in Azokh Cave is included within the working lines of the research group known as IPHES-URV “Evolució social, cultual i biológica al Plistocè inferior i Mitjà” (AGAUR, SGR 2014-899) and in the Research Development Programme of the URV (2014PFR-URV-B2-17 and 2015PFR-URV-B2-17).




Did Moianès witness Neanderthal extinction?

Researcher Sahra Talamo from the Max Planck Institute presents IPHES with new data on the archaeological dating of Moià’s Cova de les Teixoneres

The cave was not inhabited between 35,000 years ago, when Neanderthals went extinct and more than 5,000 years later, when it was re-inhabited by Homo sapiens


Nowadays, the international scientific community believes that the Neanderthal extinction took place in Western Europe between 38,000 and 35,000 years ago. The archaeological site at Cova de les Teixoneres in Moianès could have witnessed this disappearance. This is suggested by a study recently published in Radiocarbon written by members of Leipzig’s Max Planck Institute in Germany, IPHES (Institut Català de Paleoecologia Humana I Evolució Social) and CENIEH (Centro Nacional de Investigación sobre la Evolución Humana). According to the study the aforementioned cave registered the presence of the Homo neanderthalensis up until 35,000 years ago, which was followed by a 5,000 year period in which it was not inhabited by humans until 28,000 years ago when it was inhabited by Homo sapiens.

Animal bones that present cut marks made by the knives of humans that inhabited the Cova de les Teixoneres – IPHES

The authors of this study reached these conclusions concerning the archaeological dating of the site using a new ultrafiltration method (Abox), which allows for a more precise filtering of carbon-14 samples than with previous systems. Applying this technique, the Max Planck researcher Sahra Talamo obtained the chronology of 17 animal bones that present cut marks made by the knives of humans that inhabited the cave during the cave’s last two stratigraphic units: level II and level III, 35,000 and 40,000 years ago respectively. The various archaeological dating records that have been obtained have been very coherent, the oldest being obtained from the lower part of the stratigraphic sequence and the more recent ones from the upper part, indicating that the sediment was never disturbed by later processes such as the formation of holes made by carnivores. This also indicates that humans, up until 35,000 years ago, continuously inhabited the cave. ‘From there on, it seems that there was a 5,000-year gap and the cave was not used by Homo sapiens until 28,000 years ago during the Upper Paleolithic Period,’ said Jordi Rosell, a researcher for IPHES, the head of the excavation at Cova de les Teixoneires and one of the article’s authors, along with Florent Rivals of the same institution and Ruth Blasco from CENIEH.

The excavation at Cova de les Teixoneres 2015 – IPHES

‘Unfortunately, the lithic industry located in the Unit IIa (associated to the past 35,000 years) does not allow us to attribute the findings to either of the two inhabitants of the area during that time period: Neanderthals and Homo sapiens. However, there is enough evidence to conclude that there were human groups present in Moianès’, states Jordi Rosell.

‘We think that this does refer to the last groups of Neanderthals that were present in the area. Even though the lithic industry is not conclusive, there seems to be evident continuity between the preceding stratigraphic units and there is nothing to make us think that this changed. In any case, we will try to figure out this mystery with the next seasons of excavations.’

Coinciding with the publication of this study, researcher Sahra Talamo was in Tarragona to present her results to members of the IPHES as well as to discuss the strategy that should be followed when continuing to study the archaeological sites in the Toll Caves (Moià, Barcelona) where Teixoneres is located. This researcher is part of the Sharing the space: Interactions between hominids and carnivores in the peninsular north-east research project, directed by IPHES and co-financed by the Government of Catalonia.


Talamo, S., Blasco, R., Rivals, F., Picin, A., Chacón, G., Iriarte, E., López-García, J. M., Blain, H.-A., Arilla, M., Rufà, A., Sánchez-Hernández, C., Andrés, M., Camarós, E., Ballesteros, A., Cebrià, A., Rosell, J. and Hublin, J.-J., 2016. The Radiocarbon approach to Neanderthal in a carnivore den site: a well-defined chronology for Teixoneres Cave (Moià, Barcelona, Spain). Radiocarbon 58(2), 247-265.

Clarifying the origins of Sima de los Huesos hominins

Analysis of nuclear DNA isolated from hominins from the 430,000 year-old Sima de los Huesos locality in northern Spain, in Atapuerca (Burgos) provides more conclusive evidence of their evolutionary history. The findings are reported in Nature this week. Eudald Carbonell, researcher IPHES, is coauthor of the article.


Until now it has been unclear how the 28 hominin individuals found at the Middle Pleistocene Sima de los Huesos (‘pit of bones’) site were related to hominins who lived in the Late Pleistocene and, in particular, to Neanderthals and Denisovans. A previous report based on analyses of mitochondrial genomes (DNA from the mitochondria) from these specimens suggested a close relationship to Denisovans, which is in contrast to other archaeological evidence, including morphological features that the Sima de los Huesos hominins shared with Neanderthals living in the Late Pleistocene.

Bone powder removed from a thigh bone that yielded the first DNA sequences from the 430,000-year-old hominins from Sima de los Huesos, Spain – Javier Trueba, MADRID SCIENTIFIC FILMS

Using very sensitive sample isolation and genome sequencing technologies, Matthias Meyer (Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Leipzig, Germany) and colleagues extracted and analyzed nuclear DNA sequences from two specimens from Sima de los Huesos, as well as mitochondrial DNA from one of the two specimens. The nuclear DNA shows that these hominins belong to the Neanderthal evolutionary lineage and are more closely related to Neanderthals than to Denisovans. This finding indicates that population divergence between Denisovans and Neanderthals occurred prior to 430,000 years ago.

Matthias Meyer at work in the clean lab – Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology

Consistent with the previous study, analysis of the mitochondrial DNA supports a closer relationship to Denisovans than Neanderthals, leading the authors to speculate that the mitochondrial DNA seen in Late Pleistocene Neanderthals may have been acquired by them at a later stage, perhaps owing to gene flow from Africa. They propose that retrieval of further mitochondrial and nuclear DNA from Middle Pleistocene fossils could help to further clarify the evolutionary relationship between Middle and Late Pleistocene hominins in Eurasia.

Experts from around the world will be coming to Tarragona to discuss human responses to climate change through Prehistory

There are over 70 registered researchers from countries such as Croatia, Switzerland, America and Finland


Experts from many different countries of the world such as Finland, France, Italy, America, United Kingdom and South Africa will be participating in the conference MEDINES: ´Late Glacial to Early Holocene Socio-ecological responses to climatic instability within the Mediterranean Basin. MEDINES which has been organised by IPHES (Catalan Institutes of Human Palaeoecology and Social Evolution) and the Social work of the Caixa Bank will be held in the Caixa-Forum in Tarragona between the 3-5th of February.

There are over 70 registered researchers from countries such as Croatia, Switzerland, America and Finland and universities such as Cambridge, Arizona or Liverpool, presenting posters and / or communications.To highlight the presence of professors Graeme Barker (Cambridge University) and Michael Barton (Arizona State University), Dr. Eleni Asouti (University of Liverpool) and Dr. Jean Françoise Berger (University of Lyon2), who will conduct presentations on the impact of abrupt climate changes on the last populations of hunter-gatherers and farmers in the Mediterranean prehistory, with particular regards to the processes of resilience and adaptation. These two aspects will also be discussed by internationally renowned scientists in two round tables, which will then be open for audience participation.

Michael Barton

Other topics which will be discussed in MEDINES include the rise of sea level and aridity, as well as changes in the distribution of flora and fauna.

Point of reference

The aim of this international conference is to establish a new framework to investigate environmental interactions of humans in the Mediterranean since the end of the Upper Palaeolithic until the Neolithic (between 17,000 and 6,000 years ago). This unstable scenario witnessed some of the most significant changes in human prehistory, such as the disappearance of cultural traditions of the Upper Palaeolithic and changes in lifestyle of hunter-gatherers to make way for the expansion of agriculture.

IPHES organizes an international conference about human responses to climatic changes in Prehistory

This event is to be held at the University of Rovira i Virgili, in Tarragona, on the 3-5th February 2016. The abstracts submission is now open

Specific research topics covered within this congress would include the impact of sea level rise on coastal settlement areas, human responses to changes in land cover, distribution of resources, aridity and hydrological stress


The IPHES organizes the International Conference Late Glacial to Early Holocene Socio-ecological responses to climatic instability within the Mediterranean Basin that will be held at the CaixaForum Tarragona, in this city, on the 3-5th February 2016.

Medines 2016 Conference Logotype
Medines 2016 Conference Logotype – Samantha Elsie Jones

This International Congress aims to establish a new reference framework to investigate human environmental interactions in the Mediterranean basin from the Late Upper Palaeolithic to the Neolithic (c. 17,000-6,000 cal BP). This unstable scenario witnessed some of the most significant changes in human prehistory such as the vanishment of the Upper Palaeolithic cultural traditions, the disappearance of hunter-gatherer lifestyles and the spread of farming.


The Mediterranean basin - NASA
The Mediterranean basin – NASA

This meeting will bring together archaeologists, prehistorians, geologists, geographers and biologists to produce up-to date integrated studies about past human-environmental interactions in the Mediterranean basin. The papers will analyse local and regional environmental responses to climate deterioration, its effects on population dynamics and the vulnerability and resilience of past cultural systems. Specific research topics covered within this congress would include the impact of sea level changes on coastal settlement areas, human responses to aridity and hydrological stress, resilience of the first agricultural systems to climate instability

Calls are now open for the submission of abstracts until November the 15th. Abstracts should be no longer than 300 words and should include author’s affiliation and e-mail address. All abstracts should be sent to

For further information and registrationvisit the conference webpage



An extra molar is identified for the first time in an Atapuerca hominid

The presence of a fourth or extra molar in ancient populations is recognized for the first time by a scientific publication. This individual suffered dental decay, abscesses, pulpits, periodontal disease, severe dental wear and tooth picking marks


Human dentition is composed of 3 molars in each side of the mandible and maxilla. An extra tooth (supernumerary tooth) is something really weird. In present-day populations ranging from 0.1% to 3.4%. Instead this is an ancient phenomenon. A recent article on the journal HOMO – Journal of Comparative Human Biology discloses the presence of one individual of about 40 years old, probably a male, with a fourth molar and important dental pathologies. This individual was recovered from a collective burial known as Cueva de El Mirador in Burgos, Atapuerca, and dated around 4,760 and 4,200 years ago.

nivells calcolític. Sepulcre col·lectiu. ATA 2010 MIR202 T35 17
An extra molar is something really weird – IPHES

It is the first time a scientific journal published the existence of this phenomenon in ancient populations and is also the first case identified in Atapuerca. The research is the result of a work carried out in collaboration between IPHES (Institut Català de Paleoecologia Humana i Evolució Social), the URV (Universitat Rovira i Virgili in Tarragona) and researchers from the Faculty of Dentristy at the Universitat Internacional de Catalunya (UIC). Marina Lozano, IPHES researcher and professor at the URV, one of the authors of the article says: “In the case of archaeological populations there are very few studied and published examples of supernumerary teeth. Therefore, it is a novelty”.

This individual suffered severe dental wear and a variety of oral pathologies - IPHES
This individual suffered severe dental wear and a variety of oral pathologies – IPHES

Oral health from the Neolithic

This individual suffered severe dental wear and a variety of oral pathologies such as, dental decay, abscesses, pulpitis, periodontal disease, toothpicking marks in an upper molar, and  arthritis of the temporo mandibular joint (between the temporal bone and the mandible). “This diagnosis confirms that oral health from the Neolithic became worse in agriculture and livestock populations. An aggravated fact, by the lack of palliative treatments”, says Marina Lozano. This is because during this period the diet changes: it includes, for example, more cereals, foods that have more starches and carbohydrates, which increases the proportion of dental caries, disease that is result of carbohydrates consuming and a lack of dental hygiene. “For a better diagnosis the remains have been analyzed using Cone-Beam Computed Tomography (CBCT, acronym in English)”, says the same researcher. This technology, which provides 3D images, has helped to define the inner body structures of the fourth molar, and to determine the absence of other supernumerary teeth in this individual.


Ceperuelo, D., et al., “Supernumerary fourth molar and dental pathologies in a Chalcolithic individual from the El Mirador Cave site (Sierra de Atapuerca, Burgos, Spain)”,HOMO – Journal of Comparative Human Biology(2015)