Category Archives: Research

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.

 

 

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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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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.

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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).

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

Article

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

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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