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.

Internationalization

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.

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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

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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”.

The first rock engraving attributed to a neanderthal was found in Gibraltar

This evidence confirms the ability of this species to abstract expression

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The study on the identified rock engraving in Gorham’s Cave in Gibraltar  has confirmed that the imprint of the artistic lines observed was most probably made intentionally ​​by neanderthals, which confirms the ability of this species to abstract expression. The finding is presented in a scientific article on Monday September 1st by the journal PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences). Among the signatories is the archaeologist Jordi Rosell, IPHES (Institut Català de Paleoecologia Humana i Evolució Social) researcher.

Until now, the discoveries of rock art had been attributed only to modern humans, who arrived in Western Europe around 40,000 years ago. Instead, the team of Gibraltar, which works with the IPHES, has found an engraving covered by a sediments where previously artifacts, made ​​by neanderthals around 39,000 years ago, have been discovered (mousterian flakes and cores), what suggest that is prior to this date.

The engraving is covered by a mineral crust, whose chemical analysis demonstrate that was formed before the burial. Researchers took microphotographs of the grooves edges and after comparing them with those obtained with experimental techniques, determined that were made with stone tools, confirming the intentionality of these artistic lines.

Thus, these results suggest that the abstract model adds another evidence, such as the use of pigments and an intentional burial, whereby perhaps before the intellectual capacity of neanderthals was underestimated, according to the authors.

Bibliographic reference

Article # 14-11529: “A rock engraving made ​​by Neanderthals in Gibraltar,” by Joaquín Rodríguez-Vidal et al.

IPHES massive participation in the most important world congress on Prehistory

A total of 16 sessions are coordinated by the center, which has received 265 communications, more than the 16.5% of the total that fill up the Congress.

Although their contributions are mainly focused in Atapuerca and Orce, IPHES members present almost all the topics covered at this meeting.

The work in China, the archaeology of fuel or the neanderthal behavior observed in the Abric Romani are other issues to highlight

In total, 1,653 communications by 3,032 different authors from the five continents will be presented

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From September 1st to 7th the XVII World UISPP Congress (Internationale des Sciences Préhistoriques et Protohistoriques) is celebrated in the city of Burgos, association that brings together thousands of scientists, researchers and academics related to these disciplines around the world. The congress, organized this time by the Fundación Atapuerca has 115 scientific sessions, both of Prehistory and Protohistory, in which 1,653 communications by 3,032 different authors from the five continents are presented. These sessions are presented simultaneously in 24 classrooms of the Law and Economics Faculties of the Burgos University.

In this framework, the IPHES (Institut Català de Paleoecología Humana i Evolució Social) is involved in the organization of sixteen sessions, which has received a total of 265 communication proposals, of which 32 are posters and the rest oral presentations, representing more than the 16.5% of the total Congress communications. Some of them are dedicated to present the current research in archaeopaleontological ensembles led by members of the center, as in the case of Atapuerca and Orce. In general, however, reproduce the thematic offer of the congress itself, as the IPHES is one of the most productive in its field and also in all Quaternary periods research and in much part of the problem. 40 of the 60 members form the institue will attend, between researchers and technical personnel; the latter has also an important role in the organization of the UISPP.

To the two scientific sessions mentioned above must be added a third one dedicated to the regional record issues, about prehistoric archaeology in China. This session is part of the cooperation project with the Pekin Institute of Paleontology that will developed a variety of themes related to technology, cognition, culture and environment.

A group of four sessions will focus on hot issues about the world of human behavior over the time. One of them about the technological changes during the Low and Middle Pleistocene transition will be discussed. A second, perhaps the most original, present the research in archeology of fuels, with an emphasis on social and environmental factors that influence the decisions of human behavior in this area. The third deals with the economic behavior of groups of hunter-gatherer-fishers of coastal resources. Finally, a fourth is dedicated to the neanderthals; the only session of the whole Congress which aims to analyze this species. It will highlight the Abric Romani site (Capellades, Barcelona), one of the most important records of the neanderthal behavior.

The peopling of the continents

Two more sessions are dedicated to assess the macroregional peopling of the continents. One is only related to Europe and the first European settlements, addresses to discuss the assumptions and records recently brought to light. Obviously, it will be complementary to those dedicated to the specific record of Orce and Atapuerca. The second wants to be dedicated in a wide manner to the statistical and virtual models to explain the Pleistocene human dispersals. As in the session of China archeology, this is also part of an international cooperation project with the IPHES, in this case with the Consejo Nacional de Investigaciones Científicas y Técnicas (CONICET) and the Instituto de Investigaciones en Diversidad Cultural y Procesos de Cambio (IIDyPCa), both from Argentina. Obviously, the American record will be specially treated.

Cultural Change

The IPHES also participates in the organization of two sessions that have as research axis the chronostratigraphic models. They are two very different proposals. A biochronological and paleoecological issues of the European Quaternary as a whole, although focusing on the more ancient times. This session will review the reconstruction of biostratigraphic models with the records of anthropic presence while the second will present the chronological and stratigraphical data concerning to the cultural change behind the Middle and Upper Paleolithic transition in western Europe.

During the Congress there will be a single session dedicated to paleoanthropology, and will be coordinated by the members of the Atapuerca Research Team (EIA), among them there is a researcher from IPHES. Being, as we say, the only one dedicated to this discipline, will address diverse topics of current debate, without focusing on a specific issue.

Rock sheters and shepherds

The IPHES is also involved in a single session in the field of recent Prehistory with a discussion on the proposed use of the caves by shepherds communities from the Neolithic. It is intended to define the use patterns of these spaces and, in particular, the methodological issues and archaeological record associated with the pens. Of course, the record of the Mirador cave in Atapuerca will be analyzed.

As a research institute with significant analytical vocation, IPHES organized three sessions on analysis methodologies. One will deal with the study of quartz industries throughout the archaeological record, highlighting common problems and ways to address them. Finally, of the three sessions of the commission on the use-wear traces study, IPHES members are involved in the organization of two of them, one dedicated to the current trends and modernization of this discipline and the other to the wear determination associated to the handles use. Here sickles and projectiles will be particularly discussed. This field of study has been always entirely transverse, so all periods of Prehistory and Protohistory have place.

Opening act and magistral conferences

The opening act for the XVII World UISPP Congress will take place on Monday September 1st at 11 am at the Hospital del Rey auditorium of the Burgos University.

Six major keynotes are expected. One of them, which is on Wednesday September 3th, at 20 hrs at the Auditorio Fórum Evolución, open to general public, is entitled “La evolución humana en las Américas. Paralelismos globales y particularidades desde el último continente colonizado” and imparted by José Luis Lanata, world’s leading authority on prehistoric human migrations”, Director of the Instituto de Investigaciones en Diversidad Cultural y Procesos de Cambio de la Universidad Nacional Río Negro (Argentina) and member of the Red Orígenes impulsed by the IPHES to create synergies with the Latin American centers.

The 700 new prehistoric remains found in Cova Eiros this summer will help to the better understanding of some aspects of the neanderthal life

Cave bear remains that used the rock shelter to hibernate are notable

Anthropic action is confirmed through the cutmarks on the animal bones consumed by the hominids

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This summer the work has been developed by an 11 members team which have excavated in the Cova Eiros (Lugo, Galicia, Spain), resulted in over 700 new prehistoric remains, including fauna and lithic tools that will help to better understand some aspects of the daily life of the neanderthal communities that inhabited that area between 84,000 and 118,000 years ago.

The excavation has been co-directed by Xosé-Pedro Rodriguez and Arturo de Lombera, member and collaborator of the IPHES (Institut Català de Paleoecologia Humana i Evolució Social) respectively, under the research project directed by Ramón Fábregas form the Grupo de Estudos para a Prehistoria do Noroeste (GEPN) of the Universidade de Santiago de Compostela (USC). The team was made up of people from both institutions, experts and students from the Erasmus Mundus Master in Quaternary Archaeology and Human Evolution imparted at the Universitat Rovira i Virgili of Tarragona, thanks to the top-level research projects developed by the IPHES.

Arturo de Lombera said that this year the findings in Cova Eiros “provide good information about some aspects of neanderthal communities, for example, their technology or the environmental context they knew, as we have very few evidence in the peninsular northwest for this period”.

One of the objectives for this year excavation has been to reach level 3 on the entire surface of Cova Eiros, dating 84,000 years ago, that corresponds to the latest occupation of the neanderthal populations identified in this cave. It has been also developed a 4 square meters intervention, in level 4, with an older chronology, about 118,000 years, also assigned to the Middle Paleolithic.

“At both levels we have found many faunal remains, especially cave bears who used the place to hibernate, animal fossils with cutmarks, which confirm anthropic action, specifically its consumption by neanderthals. There is great a remains diversity, highlighting deer and horses, which are strongly fragmented and with evident anthropic intervention marks (cutting, fracturing bones, etc.).

Moreover, the traceology studies indicate the presence of related hunting activities (projectile points), fleshing and furs work activities, as well as the animals processing and their products (furswork).

Pieces mainly made in quartz and quartzite

Respect to the lithic industry, “We found pieces mainly made in quartz and quartzite, of local origin within 3 km in radius, although some of these second mentioned might have a more distant origin, possibly from shores and channels located more than 10 kilometers away”, says Arturo de Lombera. These materials are made of a much higher quality, and moved to the site. Mostly produced with Levallois technology (a complex flaking procedure), which is preferably carried out on this material because of its higher quality, whereas in the local quartzites and quartz, expeditious exploitation methods were mainly applied. This differential management strategy of the raw materials based on the quality is typical of neanderthal communities and indicates the high degree of knowledge they had about the lithological offer in the environment, and the existence of planning strategies for their activities.

Funerary activity

Furthermore, a ceramic piece with printed decoration, waiting for the laboratory studies, is probably dated around 4,700 years ago, as it has been found at the same level where in 2011 a few remains from the same vessel were recovered, and that are probably related to the funerary activity identified in the cave, inferred from the human remains found in the cavity with that age; the ceramic could have been part of the grave goods of the burial that took place during the recent Prehistory. In addition, this style corresponds to the stylistic modes from that period (cardial impressed decoration).

In Cova Eiros the systematic excavation has been developed since 2008, under the project of the Middle Pleistoce/Holocene of the eastern regions of Galicia  (MINECO-HAR2010-21786). The work that has been carried out shows the importance of the Middle Paleolithic in Galicia, which is still an unknown period. There are just a few sites and this is the only cave, where the preservation of the organic remains it’s very important, the rest of the sites are mainly outdoor, with acid soils that makes the materials preservation more vulnerable and where most of the time are not preserved.

The Cova Eiros sequence is also very complete, since it has preserved both, tools and faunal remains (lion, deer, horses, chamois, etc.) both hunted by neandethals and sapiens. “This brings a lot of information where we can compare subsistence patterns and technology of both species, as well as to characterize the paleoenvironmental setting in the eastern of Sierras de Galicia”.

Public presentation in Tunisia of the oldest urus skull ever found and new excavation campaigns in Oued Sarrat

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Recently in the Pleistocene site of Oued Sarrat (Tunisia), with an approximately age of 700,000 years, it has been developed a new exploration and excavation campaign under the direction of Professor Narjess Karoui-Yaakoub, of the Cartage University, and the ICREA (Institució Catalana de Recerca i Estudis Avançats) research Professor, assigned to IPHES (Institut Català de Paleoecologia Humana i Evolució Social), Bienvenido Martínez-Navarro. Coinciding with the end of this campaign a public presentation was conducted, in the City of Sciences of Tunis (Cité des Sciences), of the site and the oldest urus skull finding (primitive bull and the actual ancestor) about 700,000 years old, as was announced a few months ago in the Quaternary Science Reviews journal.

“In this campaign it was carried out a small systematic excavation and continued the survey work and the recording of new fossils along the Sarrat River basin, with a continuous outcrop over 5 km”, says Bienvenido Martínez-Navarro. Work has been done in the lower swampy black levels, corresponding to the base of the Middle Pleistocene (about 700,000 years old), mainly composed by clays very hard to erode, through which the river runs intensely forming large meanders, raising and revealing every year a very good fossil record of large mammals, including: bulls (Bos primigenius), horses (Equus sp.) rhinoceros (Ceratotherium simum), gazelles (Gazella sp.) orjackals (Canis sp.), as well as a great amount of microvertebrates (micromammals, amphibians, reptiles and fish), associated with the presence of the Acheulean type lithic industry, as in the Upper Pleistocene gray-brown fluvial terraces, overlapping the black basal levels, where an abundant fauna of large mammals also dominated by the presence of bulls (Bos primigenius), gazelles (Gazella sp.), elephant remains, and large carnivores such as lions and large size (Panthera leo) associated with the Aterian type lithic industry, dated between 30,000 and 70,000 years, chronologically equivalent to the European Middle Palaeolithic (Mousterian).

Also, a small excavation was carried out at the lower levels, finding Bos primigenius and more acheulean industries. To this we must add that during the survey, numerous remains of other large mammals were found from both, the Middle Pleistocene and the upper levels.

Is notable the presence of a complete camel metatarsal discovered in the levels of the Late Pleistocene, first record of this species in the site. It is also the first time that fossil wood residues were found in the lower black levels.

“These data will expand the paleobiological information of the site and promote the better understanding of the environment in which the acheulean hunters, 700,000 years ago, and aterian industry between the 30,000 and 70,000 years were developing in northern Africa” says Martínez-Navarro.

On the other hand, it was presented in a crowded public event organized at the Cité des Sciences of Tunis, the oldest bull skull ever found (Bos primigenius). It was in the lower level of Oued Sarrat, dated at 700,000 years. To the event assisted: numerous tunisian academic authorities and scientists from the universities of Carthage, Tunis and Sfax, as from the National Office of Mines (all involved institutions in the research), several parliamentarians from Kef, province where the deposit of Oued Sarrat is located, and the Ambassador of Spain in Tunisia, Juan López-Dóriga.

The IPHES is a new research institute of the Rovira i Virgili in Tarragona

One of the main objectives is to provide added value to the academics

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The IPHES (Institut Català de Paleoecologia Humana i Evolució Social), created in 2006 and directed by the archaeologist Eudald Carbonell, is already a new Institute of the Universitat Rovira i Virgili de Tarragona (URV), after the approval of the Conselleria d’ Economia i Coneixement de la Generalitat de Catalunya, dated on 8 July and published in the Diari Oficial de la Generalitat (DOGC) the last August 4th.

Thereby concludes the formalization of a process that began in May 2013 with the signing of an agreement between such counseling and the URV to achieve this recognition, which once published in the DOGC is already fully effective.

The IPHES, located at the campus of the URV Sescelades, whose main objective is to become a center of international reference in the development of research, teaching and transference in the different branches of the study of evolution and human behavior. In this context, from now on it will enhance the teaching area, ensuring the scientific quality and providing added value.

The approval gives a new context to a rich activity that takes place since 2004 in which IPHES researchers elaborate the program to develop the first URV masters Erasmus Mundus in cooperation with three more European universities. Since 2013 it has been also added the Erasmus Mundus doctorate in Quaternary and Prehistory. The expedition of the degree corresponds to the URV.

With regard to the faculty, teaching will be carry out by the researchers from both institutes, IPHES and URV.

The agreement also provides that the IPHES, and in particular, its teaching staff have access to the support services to help in the study and teaching, research and university extension of the URV.

Its origins

Although IPHES was born 8 years ago, its origins go back to 1988, when the archaeologist Eudald Carbonell, co-director of the Equipo de Investigación de Atapuerca (EIA), arrived to Tarragona to join as a Prehistory Professor in the Universitat de Barcelona delegation (UB). Since then, he has worked hard to promote a transdisciplinary team with international projection on the study of human evolution. The first steps were taken with the Grupo de Autoecología Humana when the Universitat Rovira i Virgili de Tarragona was created in 1991, where he is a Prehistory Professor. Currently, IPHES is among the three best research centers in the world in its field.

Research, Academics, Education