Category Archives: Research

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

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Research collaboration between the IPHES and the University of La Laguna to study how the last hunter-gatherers in the Iberian Peninsula used fire

The IPHES researcher, Ana Polo, recently carried out a research stay at the AMBI LAB Archaeological Micromorphology and Biomarker Lab of the University of La Laguna to promote scientific collaboration between the PALEODEM European project of this research centre in Tarragona and the PALEOCHAR project in the Canary Islands. Both projects include, among their main objectives, the microscopic study of sediments from archaeological hearths to provide information on human behaviour and climate changes during Prehistory.

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The IPHES postdoctoral researcher, Ana Polo Díaz, completed a three-week research stay at the Archaeological Micromorphology and Biomarker AMBI Lab of the University of La Laguna (Tenerife, Spain). The aim of the visit was to establish scientific collaboration between the interdisciplinary research teams of the ERC projects PALEODEM (Ref. 683018) and PALEOCHAR (Ref. 648871) led by Dr. Javier Fernández López de Pablo (IPHES) and Dr. Carolina Mallol (ULL), respectively.

Both projects include among their main objectives the study of sediments from archaeological hearths on a microscopic scale. The aim of these investigations is to understand how groups of prehistoric hunter-gatherer societies in Southwestern Europe used fire as well as associated domestic activities; the purpose is to offer a clearer picture of their ways of life, how they exploited natural resources and how they adapted to climate challenges.

In Tenerife, Ana Polo had the opportunity to discuss various aspects of the formation process of approximately 9,000-year-old Mesolithic hearth-pits documented in the site of El Arenal de la Virgen (Villena, Alicante) with AMBI Lab’s scientific staff. Similarly, she was able to consult the laboratory’s extensive reference collection of thin films from sites with evidence of occupation by hunter-gatherers who inhabited Europe over the last 50,000 years.

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The IPHES postdoctoral researcher, Ana Polo Díaz

Dissemination work was equally carried out during her stay to circulate the objectives, challenges and geoarchaeological research methods applied to the study of both archaeological sites excavated within the framework of the PALEODEM project: El Arenal de la Virgen and Casa Corona. As part of this task, the researcher shared the results of the sediments’ taphonomy (alterations) obtained from her study of both sites mentioned above and explained the role that human activities and natural processes had in accumulating and altering archaeological deposits. Ana Polo also highlighted the implications of these results: they allow us to better understand the impact of taphonomy on archaeological sites and, therefore, our ability to extract information from them and interpret the past.

This dissemination work included a didactic session in AMBI-LAB on microscopy and the presentation of results as well as a guest lecture, held on 21 November, called Integrative Geoarchaeological Approaches to the Investigation of Mesolithic Campsites in SE Iberia.

Ana Polo’s stay received financial support from the European Commission through the ERC PALEODEM project.

Tarragona will host the XI Jornadas de Jóvenes Investigadores en Arqueología

It will take place from 9th to 12th May, at campus Catalunya (URV)

This conference is focused on young non doctors researchers in archaeology and its related disciplines

Registration period is still available and can be formalized here

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Tarragona will host the XI Jornadas de Jóvenes Investigadores en Arqueología (JIA) from the 9th to 12th May and the main topic will be “Migrations, resources and new dynamics”. These conferences will take place at campus Catalunya from the Universitat Rovira i Virgili (URV), they are organized by the Associació de Joves Investigadors d’Arqueologia de Tarragona (AJIAT) and members of the Institut Català de Paleocologia Humana i Evolució Social (IPHES), Institut Català d’Arqueologia Clàssica (ICAC) and Institut Català de Recerca en Patrimoni Cultural (ICRPC) take part of it.

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There will be 23 sessions and more than 140 presentations in these conferences. They are focused on young non-doctors researches in archaeology and its related disciplines. The scientific results from their work will be presented and the actual situation of the archaeological discipline will be discussing along with others aspects such the archaeological heritage, its socialization and divulgation, the professional archaeology, gender archaeology, the interdisciplinary in archaeological research, social hierarchy, residential and funerary archaeology, epigraphy, restoration and conservation and the evolution of the landscape and wildlife in archaeology.

The last conferences took place in Burgos, June 2017. During this 10th edition it was noticed that the young archaeology in the Iberian Peninsula seems to be more alive than ever. An example of it is that the assistance for the last editions has been more than 120 young archaeologists coming from Spain, Portugal, Italy, France and South America.

These conferences are also sponsored by the Ajuntament de Tarragona, Tarragona Turisme, Beta Analytic, Strati-Arqueogal, CIEMAD and the Asssociació Catalana de Bioarqueologia (ACBA).

 

John Charles Willman, new Marie Curie researcher at IPHES to study the use of “teeth-as-tools”

The chronological focus, between 9,000 and 3,000 years ago, provides an ideal case study given the extensive socioeconomic reorganization that is attributable to the transition from foraging to food production including increases in social stratification and task specialization

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John Charles Willman, originally from the United States where he obtained his Ph.D.  in Anthropology at Washington University in Saint Louis, recently joined the research staff at IPHES (Institut Català de Paleoecologia Humana i Evolució Social) funded through a Marie Skłodowska-Curie Individual Fellowship (H2020-MSCA-IF-2016) awarded by the European Research Council. The fellowship funds postdoctoral research on the IDENTITIES project (Integrative Approaches to Dental Wear: Non-Masticatory Tooth-Use Across the Mesolithic-Neolithic Transition Among Iberian Foraging and Farming Societies), focusing on the cultural use of “teeth-as-tools”.

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John Charles Willman at IPHES

John will conduct postdoctoral research on the IDENTITIES project over the course of two years at IPHES. His research focuses on human dental wear related to the non-masticatory use of the dentition, or the use of “teeth-as-tools”, among human groups from Mesolithic, Neolithic, Copper and Bronze Age contexts across the Iberian Peninsula. Ultimately, the data generated will address how biocultural changes in non-masticatory tooth-use reflect changing social identities across archaeological groups. The chronological focus (~9,000-3,000 BP) provides an ideal case study given the extensive socioeconomic reorganization that is attributable to the transition from foraging to food production including increases in social stratification and task specialization.

A further research aim within the IDENTITIES project is to establish an integrative methodology to document non-masticatory dental wear. This will be accomplished with an interdisciplinary approach that brings together experts in microscopy, experimental methods, bio/archaeology, and paleoanthropology. Methods include recent advances in Gigapixel-like imaging strategies, confocal and scanning electron microscopy, and three-dimensional dental topographic methods to analyze experimentally-worn and bioarchaeological samples. A further benefit, and goal, of the integrative methodology is to cross-validate existing methodologies and advance the study of surface modification in bio/archaeology, paleoanthropology, and allied fields.

 

Discovered the earliest modern human out of Africa

It is a left side of an adult upper jawbone including most of the dentition was found at Misliya Cave in Israel

In this research, Carlos Lorenzo, IPHES researcher and professor at URV, has participated in the paleoanthropological study of the human remains

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The history of our own species – Homo sapiens – is longer and probably more complicated than scientists had previously believed. While Africa is widely accepted as the place of origin of the first modern humans, there was no evidence that these people moved out of Africa prior to between 120,000 and 90,000 years ago. Now an international team of researchers has described the earliest modern human fossil ever found outside of Africa. The left side of an adult upper jawbone including most of the dentition was found at Misliya Cave in Israel, one of a series of prehistoric cave sites located on Mount Carmel. In this research, Carlos Lorenzo, IPHES researcher and professor at Rovira i Virgili University (URV), has participated in the paleoanthropological study of the human fossil.

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The left hemi-maxilla with teeth

The team applied several dating techniques to archaeological materials from the site and the human fossil itself to obtain an age. The results suggest the fossil dates to between 177,000 and 194,000 years, pushing back the first modern human migration out of Africa by roughly 60,000 years. In addition, the Misliya fossil is about the same age as other early Homo sapiens fossils from two sites in East Africa.

To establish what species the Misliya fossil represents, the researchers relied on multiple approaches to analyze the fossil itself. The multidisciplinary team applied classic anthropological measurements on the jawbone and teeth, as well as micro-Computed Tomography scans to study the inner anatomy and compare the shape using 3D virtual models. The comparison with African, European and Asian hominin fossils and with recent human populations showed that the Misliya fossil is unequivocally an early modern human.

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Reconstructed maxilla

Luckily, the roof of Misliya Cave collapsed about 160,000 years ago and protected the human fossil and the archaeological artifacts buried in the sediments until the present day. The rich archaeological evidence reveals that the inhabitants of Misliya cave were capable hunters of large game species such as aurochs, persian fallow deer and gazelles, they controlled the production of fire in hearths, made a wide use of plants and produced an Early Middle Paleolithic stone tool kit, employing sophisticated innovative techniques, similar to those found with the earliest modern humans in Africa.

While older fossils related to modern humans have been found in Northwest Africa, the timing and routes of modern human migration out of Africa are key issues for understanding the evolution of our own species. The region of the Middle East represents a major corridor for hominin migrations during the Pleistocene and has been occupied at different times by modern humans, Neandertals, and even earlier human species. This new discovery from Misliya Cave opens the door to demographic replacement or genetic admixture between modern humans and other local populations much earlier than previously thought. Indeed, the evidence from Misliya is consistent with recent suggestions based on ancient DNA for an earlier migration, prior to 220,000 years ago, of modern humans out of Africa. Several recent archaeological and fossil discoveries in Asia are also pushing back the first appearance of modern humans in the region and, by implication, the migration out of Africa.

For further information:

Hershkovitz, I., Weber, G.W., Quam, R., Duval, M., Grün, R., Kinsley, L., Ayalon, A., Bar-Matthews, M., Valladas, H., Mercier, N., Arsuaga, J.L., Martinón-Torres, M., Bermúdez de Castro, J.M., Fornai, C., Martín-Francés, L., Sarig, R., May, H., Krenn, V.A., Slon, V., Rodríguez, L., García, R., Lrenzo, C., Carretero, J.M., Frumkin, A., Shahack-Gross, R., Bar-Yosef Mayer, D.E., Cui, Y., Wu, X., Peled, N., Groman-Yaroslavski, I., Weissbrod, L., Yeshurun, R., Tsatskin, A., Zaidner, Y. & Weinstein-Evron, M. (2018). “The earliest modern humans outside Africa”. Science, published online 26th January 2018.

 

 

The preferred use of the right hand is more ancient than it was thought and it is an ancestral characteristic of first hominins

It was considered that Neandertals were the first species with well-defined handedness, but a new international research led by IPHES goes back it to the first Homo species, Homo habilis.

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Homo sapiens are considered to be the only species with a predominance of a preferred use of the right hand, with a ratio of 9 right-handed to 1 left-handed people. However, when did the human handedness appeared in human evolution remains unknown. An international research recently published and led by Marina Lozano, researcher at IPHES (Institut Català de Paleoecologia Humana i Evolució Social), shows that this behaviour is more ancient than it was thought. At population level, Neandertal as far as 130,000 years ago, showed a well-stablished hand preference as our species. Nevertheless, this practice goes back to Homo habilis showing that handedness is an ancestral characteristic of our genus.

The scientific community has developed a huge amount of studies focused on handedness and brain laterality in hominins. However, in this work, a large sample has been analyzed, for the first time, following the same methodology. That is 120 individuals of five different human species (Homo habilis, Homo antecessor, preneandertals, European Neandertals and Homo sapiens), spanning almost 2 million years.

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A. An incisor of Homo antecessor (Gran Dolina, Atapuerca, Spain) and B. an incisor of pre-Neandertal (Sima de los Huesos, Atapuerca, Spain) – Marina Lozano/IPHES

The main research teams focused on the study of handedness in fossil hominins are involved in this work. So, this is the result of an international collaboration between researchers of Spain, USA and Italy. Thanks to this work “we can affirm that the trend to have a preferred hand is an intrinsic characteristic of our genus. The handedness was established slowly in each of the species who precede us. From this research, we can do some inferences because handedness implies brain laterality that is closely related to language”, mentions the researcher Marina Lozano.

This international team studied the cultural dental wear, specifically the striations (cut marks) that result from the use of the mouth as a third hand, when some material is held between the anterior teeth and cut with a lithic tool. These marks are analyzed with environmental scanning electron microscopy.

Reference:

Lozano M, Estalrrich A, Bondioli L, Fiore I, Bermúdez de Castro JM, Arsuaga JL, Carbonell E, Rosas A, Frayer DW. 2017. “Right-handed fossil humans”. Evolutionary Anthropology. 26:313–324. https://doi.org/10.1002/evan.21554

IPHES: The most important news from 2017

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27 January

NEW FIELD SEASON AT THE ENGEL ELA-RAMUD BASIN, ERITREA

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26 February

THE IPHES, AT THE MOBILE WORLD CONGRESS 2017

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27 February

NEW EVIDENCE ON THE DIET OF THE HOMO ANTECESSOR FROM ATAPUERCA

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3 March

AN INTERNATIONAL TEAM LEAD BY IPHES DISCOVERED SOME OF THE EARLIEST CULTURAL EVIDENCES FROM MODERN HUMANS OUT OF AFRICA

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Blades, bladelets and retouched pieces from layer 4 at Kaldar Cave – IPHES/B.Bazguir)

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14 March

TARRAGONA JOINS WITH ARCHAEOLOGY TO CELEBRATE A DECADE OF WORLD-CLASS EUROPEAN RESEARCH PROJECTS

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22 March

ATAPUERCA SITE WAS THE SCENE OF THE OLDEST CASE OF BISON COMMUNAL HUNTING

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27 March

AN INTERNATIONAL CONGRESS BRINGS TOGETHER IN TARRAGONA THE BEST PREHISTORIANS ABOUT AFRICA

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29 April

IPHES HAS BEEN PRESENT AT THE 86TH CONGRESS OF AMERICAN ASSOCIATION OF PHYSICAL ANTHROPOLOGISTS CELEBRATED IN NEW ORLEANS

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5 May

THE RABBIT, A VERY VALUED ANIMAL BY HOMINIDS THAT LIVED AT MOLÍ DEL SALT SITE, NEAR TARRAGONA, BETWEEN 8,000 AND 15,000 YEARS AGO

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8 May

THE CHALLENGE OF REASSEMBLING ARCHAEOLOGICAL REMAINS TO UNDERSTAND LIFE IN PREHISTORY

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22 May

IPHES, PARTICIPATES IN THE 10 YEARS COMMEMORATIVE EXHIBITION OF THE EUROPEAN RESEARCH COUNCIL

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

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29 May

EDITED AN INTERNATIONAL PUBLICATION ON THE ANALYSES OF FUEL FROM THE PALEOLITHIC TO THE ROMAN PERIOD

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19 June

INCREASES THE INTEREST OF ARCHAEOBOTANY AS A TOOL FOR THE UNDERSTANDING OF PAST SOCIETIES AND THEIR ENVIRONMENTAL SETTING

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4 June

RESIDENTIAL CAMPS FROM AROUND 9,000 YEARS B.P. AND NEW NEOLITHIC HUMAN OCCUPATION EVIDENCES, HAVE BEEN FOUND IN VILLENA

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28 August

THE NEANDERTHAL SITE OF ABRIC ROMANÍ BRINGS MORE THAN 12,000 REMAINS OF FAUNA AND STONE TOOLS DATED AT OVER 60,000 YEARS AGO

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21 September

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

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

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24 november

IPHES MAKES AVAILABLE TO EVERYONE THROUGH A BLOG THE POSTERS PRESENTED AT SCIENTIFIC CONFERENCES AROUND THE WORLD

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