History Degree students from the URV made a one day practical course at IPHES

This visit allows students to appreciate from first-hand the research activities related to Prehistory and Human Evolution


A group of 37 students from the History Degree from the Rovira i Virgili University of Tarragona (URV) have recently made a one day practical course at IPHES (Institut Català de Paleoecologia Humana i Evolució Social), within Prehistory and Prehistory of the Iberian Peninsula courses, conducted by Isabel Cáceres and Ethel Allué, both researchers at this center.

“This visit allows students to appreciate from first-hand the research activities related to Prehistory and Human Evolution”, says Ethel Allué. For this purpose, first archaeologist Marta Fontanals from the Projects Unit and Transferences of the IPHES, gave a brief presentation of the center in the Abric Romaní room followed by a guided tour. During a short pause, in the break room, students had the opportunity to enjoy a conversation with the paleontologist Jordi Agustí, ICREA researcher at the IPHES and head of the Research Department of the institute, who especially talked about his knowledge on the Dmanisi site (Georgia), where early hominids up to 1.8 million years old have been found.

During the rest of the day three workshops focused on various areas of Prehistory were performed: sediments sorting, zooarchaeology and lithic technology, by Isabel Cáceres, Ethel Allué and Esther López (grant holder at the Unit of Lithic Technology of the IPHES). “The objective was that the students got insights of the process of the study of the archaeological materials from the moment they arrived to the center until they are studied and stored, including the restoration (if required), identification, interpretation and archaeological experimentation”, says Isabel Cáceres .


The new IPHES website

The consolidation of certain areas of research and the addition of new branches are now fully reflected on the website.

català – español

The IPHES (Institut Catalá de Paleoecologia Humana i Evolució Social) has renovated its website to include the new goals of the Institute, while maintaining the same URL, www.iphes.cat


Recently, the IPHES opened a new building on the Sescelades campus of the Universitat Rovira i Virgili in Tarragona. The new facilities favour new strategies and further international projection. Furthermore, the consolidation of certain areas of research and the addition of new branches are now fully reflected on the website.

Additionally, the website reflects IPHES’s academic offer and commitment to socialization activities and technology transfer services.

The website also emphasizes the news generated by the institute itself and gives direct access to communication channels in different languages, such as blogs and/or social media.

Birds of prey and small mammalian carnivores shared space with Neanderthals at Teixoneres Cave during the Middle Palaeolithic

These animals, as hominids, consumed rabbit and hare within the cavity

This reveals that Homo neanderthalensis was able to exploit a wide spectrum of fauna

This is revealed in an article recently published in the journal Comptes Rendus Palevol by Anna Rufa, IPHES archaeologist, as principal author


Up to now, previous investigations established that Teixoneres Cave, located in Moià (Barcelona), was occupied during the Middle Palaeolithic by Neanderthals and large carnivores. Two new studies that have just been published, and which origin are on two master theses from the Erasmus Mundus Master in Quaternary Archaeology and Human Evolution presented in 2013 at the Rovira i Virgili University of Tarragona, provide more information about the occupational dynamics in the cave and expands the faunal range that used the cave.

An article that has just been published in the scientific journal Comptes Rendus Palevol with Anna Rufà, predoctoral fellow in the IPHES (Institut Català de Paleoecologia Humana i Evolució Social), as principal author, states that nocturnal raptors and small mammalian carnivores -such as foxes- shared space with Neanderthals in the Teixoneres Cave during the Middle Palaeolithic, between 40,000 and 50,000 years ago, approximately. These animals, as hominids, consumed rabbits and hares (leporids) within the cavity. “This reveals that Homo neanderthalensis was able to exploit a wide range of fauna”, says Anna Rufà.

Marks on the bones

“The zooarchaeological and taphonomic study of these leporids has identified the presence of nocturnal birds of prey, and small mammalian carnivores – such as fox- as accumulators agents of leporids in Teixoneres”, says the same researcher. “We’ve noted this because predators left consumption traces on bones, such as tooth marks (depressions and grooves) or slight digestive corrosions. In addition, although with lower degree, human groups intervene on leporids remains, and it’s possible to identify cut marks, burned bones and intentional fractures on some remains.

“This behavior allows -says Anna Rufà- to find that Neanderthals were able to exploit a wide range of fauna (from large ungulates to rabbits). In the case of leporids, sex and age profiles of individuals suggest hunting by encounter rates, which could be associated with short-term human occupations”.

Microwear dental studies

Moreover, in a new article published in the Journal of Archaeological Science, leaded by Carlos Sanchez-Hernandez, an ex-student of the Master in Quaternary Archaeology and Human Evolution at the URV, reaffirms that the occupation of Teixoneres Cave by Neanderthals were short, and located near to the entrance.

This conclusion has been suggested by analyzing the patterns of dental microwear and dental eruption of the most abundant large herbivores (ungulates) in the archaeological record of Teixoneres: deer and horse.

Dental microwear studies analyze the microscopic marks related to feeding, which are replaced by new ones in a relatively short period of time, gradually erasing the previous marks. This phenomenon is used as an indicator of the diet of the last days of an animal life. The study of microwear pattern variability allows makes easier to propose an estimation of the occupation dynamics in a site.

The study of the sequence of eruption and tooth replacement also allows to define the period of occupation of the site. In Teixoneres Cave some differences have been identified between levels. In one of the levels (IIIa) occupations are usually short, but developed thorough the year. In contrast, there is a level below (IIIb) whose occupations are mainly in summer, and occasionally, in winter.


Rufà, A.; Blasco, R.; Rivals, F.; Rosell, J.; 2014. “Leporids as a potential resource for predators (hominins, mammalian carnivores, raptors): An example of mixed contribution from level III of Teixoneres Cave (MIS 3; Barcelona, Spain)”. Comptes Rendus Palevol 13 (8), 665-680.

Sánchez-Hernández, C.; Rivals, F.; Blasco, R., Rosell, J.; (2014). “Short, but repeated Neanderthal visits to Teixoneres Cave (MIS 3, Barcelona, Spain): a combined analysis of tooth microwear pattern sand seasonality”, Journal of Archaeological Science 49, 317-325.

In the site La Boella, different species that have not appeared before were recently found: turtle, saber-tooth cat and abundant hyena coprolites

This year the excavation was focused on the area known as La Mina, where it is expected that in future campaigns more than a million years fossils may appear


The excavation works have been carried out during October in the gully of La Boella in La Canonja (Tarragona), under the IPHES (Institut Català de Paleoecologia Humana i Evolució Social) direction, which succeeded increasing the list of new species found at the site, as is the case of the skeletal elements of turtle, saber-tooth cat and the abundant hyena coprolites. Also the remains of lithic industry, with an age over a million years have been found, are of great importance to explain the origin of the earliest human populations in Eurasia. These findings have taken place in La Mina, the nearly 25 square meters area where this year an excavation has focused.

The documental field work at the site of La Mina offers the opportunity to characterize the paleoecology of analogous streambeds of the Francoli basin, a nearby million years environments. “Until now, the most systematic knowledge came from the archaeological excavations in the Cala 1 of El Forn, located about 200 meters below La Mina, this year we started a systematic study in this site, where we have allready caved a test pit years before”.


“Despite is the least explored -specified Josep Vallverdú, the excavations Director-, its analysis is very important because of the significant geological, paleontological and archaeological differences from other sites of the Boella, as the Forn and the Cala 1. It has the most significant faunal list. The 10 identified taxa conforms the largest list of all of those obtained in other areas of the ravine La Boella where we have intervened”.

The same archaeologist said: “The intervention in La Mina is preliminary in the sense that it is not yet known its potential, therefore, we can still find oldest archaeological levels. The site is affected by the moisture of the stream and the paleontological remains are difficult to recover. Thanks to La Canonja council this problem is about to be solved, as it is intended to do everything possible to protect all the intervention areas”.

Lithic industry

In respect to the lithic industry, “this year we have found a few remains of flint flakes, which increase the set of stone tools that we already had. However, are of great interest, as there are very few sites in Europe with about a million years with well-preserved lithic sets”,  says Josep Vallverdú.

The archaeological work was carried out by a research team from the IPHES, Museo Nacional de Ciencias Naturales de Madrid, Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas (MNCN – CSIC), History students and from the Master in Quaternary Archaeology and Human Evolution degree, both taught at the Rovira i Virgili University of Tarragona (URV). Also some students from the Universitat de Barcelona (UB) and the Universitat Oberta de Catalunya (UOC) participated. In the latter case they are from Anthropology and Human Evolution degree, taught along with the URV and that has the IPHES researchers as teachers.

Vallverdú noted that the objective of the IPHES is “to continue the survey started in La Mina to find deeper layers, where paleontological and prehistoric industry could be the oldest in the gully of La Boella, over a million years”.

What do teeth hide?

Contributions of the IPHES to the international congress ICAZ

It is one of the most prestigious events in the Natural and Social Sciences field, this time in Argentina thousands of scientists  gather from all around the world.

An IPHES collaborator won one of the awards with his doctoral thesis prepared at the Universitat Rovira i Virgili in Tarragona.

video Florent Rivals – web ICAZen catalàen castellano

In recent years the study of dental remains discovered at the archaeological sites has become an important issue to obtain knowledge that allows us to understand past societies. This potential is related to the application of new methods or improving the existing ones to provide a better understanding of human paleoecology, subsistence and social behavior.

With this objective the IPHES (Institut Català de Paleoeoclogia Humana i Evolució Social) has organized the session: “Written stories on teeth”, under the XII International Congress ICAZ 2014 (International Council for Archaeozoology) held between the 22th and 27th September 2014 in San Rafael (Mendoza, Argentina). Archaeologists that study the relationship between hominids and animals over the time and all around the world have met there. This meeting is one of the most prestigious scientific events in the Natural and Social Sciences field worldwide, and was the  first to be developed in the southern hemisphere.

The objective of this session, coordinated by the IPHES members Florent Rivals and Edgard Camarós along with Carlos Sánchez, a doctoral student at the URV, have shared the latest advances in the methods to analyze the evidence related to teeth in the archaeological record, from the point of view of the palaeoecology and zooarchaeology. There have been provided 9 oral presentations and 6 posters about a chronological period from Neanderthals to medieval times.

Among the issues discussed we find the stable isotopes, analysis of dental cement, microwear, the microstructure of enamel, dental calculus, the teeth marks on bones, or even teeth ornaments. Priority was given to research that combine different methodologies and disciplines applied to large mammals and clear archaeological implications.

The study of animal teeth is very interesting because it provides very valuable information of their behavior (diet, seasonality, mobility) and its relationship to human groups (use of animal materials, taming, etc.).

In this context, Edgard Camarós presented a poster on the evolution of the interaction between hominids and carnivores during Palaeolithic in the region of  the Swabian Alb (Germany) from related studies of teeth and bites. This work was done in the frame work of a six-month academic stay at the University of Tübingen where he analyzed arqueopaleontological remains of the HohleFels, Geissenklösterle and Vogelherd deposits.

Carlos Sánchez Hernández, who last year finished the Erasmus Mundus Master in Quaternary Archaeology and Human Evolution at the University Rovira i Virgili in Tarragona, in his oral communication, highlighted the potential of the tooth wear observation (micro and macro-scales ) to establish seasonal patterns in human occupations. He has also won one of the two awards given by the ICAZ to the best thesis project entitled “Neanderthal Paleoecology in the Middle Palaeolithic of northern Spain: a set of dental micro-wear and cement-timing analysis”, which prepares the URV directed by Florent Rivals.

Meanwhile, Paloma Fernández Díaz-Maroto, also Ex-student of the aforementioned masters, collaborator IPHES and now makes his doctoral thesis in Chile, won another award for his poster entitled Carnivores of Gran Dolina site (Sierra de Atapuerca, Burgos, Spain) A study of zooarchaeological and taphonomical TD6-3 lower Pleistocene. This research analyzes the interaction between hominids and carnivores; highlights the alternating occupations of the two agents who used the cave. The poster is signed also for Palmira Saladié, Antonio Rodríguez, Eudald Carbonell, Isabel Cáceres and Rosa Huguet, personal researcher IPHES.

The contributions of the meeting will be shortly published in a special issue of the Journal of Archaeological Science Reports, published by the organizers of the session.

Twelve students from the URV present their Erasmus Mundus Master thesis in Quaternary Archaeology and Human Evolution

Students from many different countries defend their work on 16th and 17th September at the Universita ‘degli Studi di Ferrara (Italy)

Among the studied topics are the Barranc de la Boella, Abric Romani, Atapuerca, occupations in Tunisia or the rock art of Tanzania

Coinciding with the beginning of the course, a total of 26 theses of the Erasmus Mundus Master in Quaternary Archaeology and Human Evolution offered at the Rovira i Virgili (URV), twelve of which have been realized ​​by students of this university from diverse countries as: Algeria, Eritrea, Tanzania, Tunisia, Cuba, Italy, Spain, France and Portugal. The defense is presented on 16th and 17th September at the Universita’ degli Studi di Ferrara (Italy).

Among the topics that focus the interest of these research is the hominid paleodiet at the Cueva Mirador de Atapuerca (Burgos) 5,000 years ago, new applications of computed tomography applied to paleoanthropology, competition between hominins and carnivores during the Pleistocene based on the Barranco de la Boella (La Canonja, Tarragona); paleontological study of the large Quaternary mammals at Oued Sarrat (Northwest Tunisia), the ecological environment of the human occupations in Level O at Abric Romani (Capellades, Barcelona) from micromammals and their accumulation process, rock art of Tanzania, retouched artifacts analysis of level III at Cova de Teixoneres (Moià, Barcelona) or the production and distribution of flint industry in the Abric Romani P level.

The Erasmus Mundus Master in Quaternary Archaeology and Human Evolution is done in partnership with other European institutions, as the Universita’ degli Studi di Ferrara (Italy), Muséum National de Historia Natural (Paris, France), Instituto Politécnico de Tomar and Universidade de Trás-os-Montes y Alto Duero (both in Portugal) and the University of Diliman (Philippines), but the students are from many different countries.


The first thesis of this Master were read in 2006 and more than 100 research papers have been completed until now, many of which are based on different projects where the Institut Català de Paleoecologia Humana i Evolució Social (IPHES) participates, in the commitment of this center to link teaching with research, field work and socialization.

The Erasmus Mundus Master in Quaternary Archaeology and Human Evolution began in the 2004-2005 academic URV course, thanks to the research carried out by the IPHES, that participates in the main worldwide projects of its field. This year, the European Commission notified the renewal under the new Erasmus+ program for three more years, ensuring the continuity of the guarantee and quality that represents being part of the Erasmus Mundus program for the students training and the internationalization of the URV.

A 1.3 million years old phalanx discovered in Atapuerca shows that the morphology of the modern human hand was already defined at that time

The features observed on it confirm that those hominids were capable of producing and using stone tools in a complex way

This human fossil, along with the mandible found in the same site and the Orce teeth, is one of the oldest in Europe

As it is revealed in an article now published by the Journal Human Evolution, being an IPHES researcher, Carlos Lorenzo, the main author

fotoscatalà – españolarticle

The Equipo de Investigación de Atapuerca (EIA) has recently published in the Journal of Human Evolution, a study based on the analysis of a human phalanx found in 2008 in the Sima del Elefante, Atapuerca (Burgos), 1.3 million years old, it shows that our hands morphology was already defined at the time.

The main author of the article is Carlos Lorenzo, a researcher of the IPHES (Institut Català de Paleoecologia Humana i Evolució Social) and URV (Universitat Rovira i Virgili of Tarragona), who has led this work along with Adrián Pablos, a postdoctoral researcher of  the Universidad de Burgos (UBU) and the Centro Nacional de Investigación sobre la Evolución Humana (CENIEH), in collaboration with other scientists of these institutions and the Centro Mixto UCM-ISCIII de Evolución y Comportamiento Humanos. Also as authors of the IPHES and the URV had participated Rosa Huguet, Josep Vallverdú and Eudald Carbonell.

The analyzed fossil, scientifically identified as ATE9-2, is the first (proximal) phalanx of the left fifth finger of an adult and was found at the same level as the mandible published in the Nature journal as the oldest hominid in Europe, 1.2-1.3 million years old.

Comparisons that have been established with the lacking fossil global record for this anatomical part, and two samples of modern humans, indicate that the fossil ATE9-2 don´t greatly differ from these or the neanderthals, in morphologic terms. “It means, that the phalanx, and therefore the hand, has changed little in morphology over 1.3 million years to the present”, explains Carlos Lorenzo.

“The only observed differences -he continues- have to do with the robustness of the fossil, which shared with neandertals and the Sima de los Huesos homind bones. This robustness, or width of the distal joint, seems like a primitive character already detected in other skeletal parts and the oldest hominids. This confirms the fact that the species Homo sapiens differs from other fossil species in its graceful body”

Until the appearance of this phalanx, there is no fossil record of the genus Homo for this anatomical element older than neanderthals and Sima de los Huesos hominid remains. There are only proximal phalanges of the hand of an Australopithecus fifth finger, and some other fragmentary remains but is still unknown if they belong to the genus Homo or Australopithecus.

“The phalanges of Australopithecus are curved, a fact that some researchers have linked to the difficulty or impossibility of producing and using stone tools”, says Carlos Lorenzo. “The fossil of the Sima del Elefante is straight as in modern humans”. However, “The procedure of manufacturing stone tools has changed a lot from 1.3 million years ago”. This fact led the researchers to conclude that the phalanges (and thus the hand) of the hominids had every morphological characteristics to produce very advanced stone tools at least 1.3 million years ago”.

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