Category Archives: Research

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.



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.

Edited an international publication on the analyses of fuel from the Paleolithic to the roman period

This publication confirms that since the firsts steps of humanity bio-fuels had an outstanding roll, specially wood. 

This is an special volume published in the journal Quaternary International and one of the persons in charge of the publication is Ethel Allué a researcher from IPHES. 

the publication includes a paper based on the evidences from Abric Romaní, a worldwide model site for the study of Neanderthal communities

Since prehistory humans have carried out a selective exploitation of ecological resources, which implies an optimal control of their quality.


At present energy resources that we use as fuel (petrol, gas o wood) are part of our daily live. From all of them, wood is still the most worthwhile in most of the world, due to its use to produce energy for heating, transform food and other materials, light, etc. Today, the most important question related to energy resources, and especially wood, is focused on the intensity of the exploitation and demand.  The study of the past permits to acknowledge that humans used different organic fuels that at present would be called bio-fuels, as could be dung, wood or agriculture by-products.

Ethel Allué, researcher at IPHES (Institut Català de Paleoecologia Humana i Evolució Social), Llorenç Picornell-Gelabert, postdoctoral researcher at the Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle (MNHN) at Paris, and Marie-Agnès Courty from the center Procédés, matériaux et énergie solaire (UPR 8521PROMES) at Perpignan. PHOTO: IPHES

From this we can deduce that from  prehistory to historical times, humans have carried out a selective and optimal exploitation of the ecological resources, which implies an optimal control of their quality. A special volume on this issue has been recently published , “An archaeology of fuels: Social and environmental factors in behavioral strategies of multi-resource management”, in the international journal Quaternary International that puts together the main contribution of the session held in the frame of the UISPP Congress (Union Internationale des Sciences Préhistoriques et Protohistoriques) in September 2014, at Burgos, with the support of REPSOL, Fundación Atapuerca sponsor. The editors are Ethel Allué, researcher at IPHES (Institut Català de Paleoecologia Humana i Evolució Social), Llorenç Picornell-Gelabert,  postdoctoral researcher at the Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle (MNHN) at Paris, and Marie-Agnès Courty from the center Procédés, matériaux et énergie solaire (UPR 8521PROMES) at Perpignan.

In the publication there are 11 paper that analyses fuel from different disciplines such as anthracology, phytolith analyses or dendrology. Moreover, this volume includes theoretical and methodological approaches. All in all, in a chronological frame that covers from the Paleolithic to the roman period with the aim of publishing, both from a transversal and multidisciplinary perspective, the relevance of the energy consumption from the social and economical organization of human groups along history and from  their relationship with the natural environment.

One of the papers published by Ethel Allué, Alex Solé and Aitor Burguet-Coca (Fundación Atapuerca Grantee) is focused on the use of fuel among Neanderthal communities that lived at the Abric Romaní (Capellades) between 40.000 and 60.000 years before present. In this site anthracological data (charcoal remains from the use of firewood used as fuel) shows that Neanderthals systematically selected Scots pine branches, an abundant species growing in the near area of the rock-shelter and that its wood is a good fuel to keep up hearths for different uses.

Bibliographic reference

Quaternary International

Volume 431, Part A, Pages 1-144 (28 February 2017)

An archaeology of fuels: Social and environmental factors in behavioural strategies of multi-resource management

Edited by Llorenç Picornell-Gelabert, Ethel Allué and Marie Agnès Courty

Allué, E., Solé, A., Burguet-Coca, A., 2017. Fuel exploitation among Neanderthals based on the anthracological record from Abric Romaní (Capellades, NE Spain). Quaternary International 431, Part A, 6-15.

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.

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

Their capture could have had other purposes beyond their food benefits, such the skin’s acquisition for different uses

This archaeological site is a good example to understand the subsistence strategies of human populations at the end of the Upper Palaeolithic and early Mesolithic

catalàespañolphotos – Article

The Molí del Salt is an archaeological site situated at Vimbodí and Poblet (Tarragona, Spain). It is a good example to understand the subsistence strategies of human populations at the end of the Upper Palaeolithic and early Mesolithic, that is, between 8,000 and 15,000 years ago, approximately. Although in this place humans were able to capture different taxa, they focused their attention on rabbits, according to an article published by the Historical Biology journal, headed by Anna Rufà, predoctoral researcher at IPHES (Institut Català de Paleoecologia Humana i Evolució Social), and co-authored by other members from the same institution and the CENIEH (Centro Nacional de Investigación sobre la Evolución Humana).

In Molí del Salt humans were able to capture different taxa, but they focused their attention on rabbits (Photo). This taxon presents cut-marks related to various processing activities. IPHES

Evidence registered at Molí del Salt are good examples of high exploitation capacity of fauna, since a wide range of activities have been documented, from the skinning of the animal to the bone marrow extraction. The high fragmentation observed on different faunal remains suggests an intensive use of the internal animal nutrients. In the case of rabbits, hominids could not only obtain food benefits, but also resources that were not destined for nutritional purposes, such as the acquisition of furs that could be used, for example, to protect their bodies.

The high presence of rabbits at Molí del Salt, which represents more than 90% of exploited fauna in all archaeological units, is due to the fact that they would be an abundant and rich resource in this area, a fact that could favour their capture. “The versatility of this species would have promoted their expansion through different environments, probably favoured by the environmental changes that took place at the end of Upper Pleistocene”, comments Anna Rufà.

In addition, the high reproductive rates of these animals allow them to be hunted without overexploitation. “This fact facilitates their success, since they can continue being an important resource for human populations over time without jeopardizing their survival”, says the same researcher. In the same way, despite that no conclusive evidence has been extracted in that sense, the large number of individuals represented in some of the units, could suggest the use of some capture techniques (traps, loops and nets). This could allow obtaining more than one individual for hunting performed.

Bibliographic reference

Rufà, A., Blasco, R., Rosell, J., Vaquero, M. (2017): “What is going on at the Molí del Salt site? A zooarchaeological approach to the last hunter-gatherers from South Catalonia”, Historical Biology. doi: 10.1080/08912963.2017.1315685

IPHES has been present at the 86th Congress of American Association of Physical Anthropologists celebrated in New Orleans

Marina Lozano, researcher at this centre,presented two posters about the dental wear observed in fossil hominids

This congress is one of the world specialists meeting places about Physical Anthropology and Human Evolution. 


Marina Lozano, researcher at Institut Català de Paleoecologia Humana i Evolució Social (IPHES) participated in the 86th Congress of American Association of Physical Anthropologists (AAPA), celebrated recently in New Orleans, in a city hotel even though Tulane University was the hostess. She did it with two posters about the fossil hominid’s dental wear, one of the research lines that IPHES develops and which Marina Lozano is the main researcher.

Marina Lozano presented two posters about the dental wear – IPHES

The diet of Homo antercessor, by Marina Lozano, Alejandro Romero, José Mª Bermúdez de Castro, Eudald Carbonell, Juan Luis Arsuaga and Alejandro Pérez-Pérez it was one of the two posters that came out, in this case, about the Homo antecessor diet. The other one, Behavioral traces on dental wear in Pleistocene fossil humans, by Almudena Estalrrich, Marina Lozano, Luca Bondioli, Ivana Fiore, José Mª Bermúdez de Castro, Juan Luis Arsuaga, Eudald Carbonell, Antonio Rosas, Ottmar Kullmer and David Frayer was about the non-masticatory uses of the dentition, that is, use the teeth as a third hand.

This congress, along with which it organizes the European Society of Human Evolution (ESHE) is one of the world specialists meeting places about Physical Anthropology and Human Evolution.