Category Archives: Research

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/journal/10406182/431/supp/PA

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.

http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.quaint.2015.12.046

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

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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.

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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.

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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

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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).

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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. 

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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).