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


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

PHOTOS – castellano – català

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

photos – spanish – catalan

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.

Thousands of new remains found in the Abric Romani support the organizational capacity of the neanderthal communities

This year has been excavated a new rich level of fossil and with an antiquity over 58,000 years


58,000 years ago the neanderthal populations that lived in the Abric Romani in Capellades (Barcelona), a key site for the study of this species, left thousands of archaeological remains during their occupation. This has been found during the excavation campaign that has taken place this month and ends the 24th, directed by the archaeologist Eudald Carbonell, director of IPHES (Institut Català de Paleoecologia Humana i Evolució Social). The results support the organizational skills that these prehistoric communities had.

The new fossils, localized, but which have not been removed or fully documented, have been obtained thanks to the work of a team of about 50 people, including researchers of IPHES, centers in other countries and also students from all around the world, who have been dedicated to discover the Q level of the Abric Romani, spending all efforts to reach the surface in an area of ​​about 140m2.

“It should be noted that only in the ceiling level, basically localized, but unexcavated until the depth, have been recovered thousands of lithic pieces and fauna remains. Moreover abundant hearths of rooms were detected next to the wall, as from other types also, biggers and in association with the abundant presence of burnt bones, which it seems that those hominids began to move through the central part of the site”, says Eudald Carbonell. “This distribution or space specialization is the clear evidence of the organizational capacity of the neanderthal populations, in the context of complex behavior that we have always defended,” he added.

One possible room

Eudald Carbonell has advanced: “The evidence available today seems to indicate that we are dealing with the remains of what was a neanderthal room, where different daily life activities were developed reiteratively, such as tools processing”.

It is also a referential site or a central camp where the remains of the hunted animals for the consumption of the whole group were transported. Both, the amount of faunal remains and the diversity of raw materials found indicate that the Abric Romani was more or less occupied for longer periods of time and repeatedly.

A new type of employment

This feature represents a new shift in the type of occupation of this rock shelter, because the level excavated during the last year’s campaign was the product of short occupations. However, we should expect the excavation of the next year to see if the new hypothesis is valid. At least, we can say that the Q level is included among the richest of those which have been intervened until now in the Abric Romani.

With regard to the lithic tools discovered this year, are produced on a wide range of raw materials, including chert, limestone and quartz, as the most exploited types of rocks. In this assemblage there have been a lot of denticulates  and other types of retouched pieces.

Both, these and the already recovered remains for more than thirty years of excavation at the Abric Romani, “clearly show that neanderthals were active hunters”, stated Eudald Carbonell. “The subsistence strategies at this site were intended for hunting large ungulates, mainly horses and deer”, he points out.

Paleolithic inhabitants of Mediterranean Spain may have included snails in their diet 10,000 years earlier than previously thought


Paleolithic inhabitants of the Iberian Mediterranean region may have eaten snails 10,000 years earlier than their Mediterranean neighbors, according to a study published August 20, 2014 in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by Javier Fernández-López de Pablo from Institut Català de Paleoecologia Humana i Evolució Social (IPHES) and colleagues.

Snails were widespread in the Late Pleistocene and Holocene, but it is still unknown when and how they were incorporated into human diets. The authors of this study found land snail shell remains from ~30,000 years ago at a recently discovered site of Cova de la Barriada (Benidorm, Spain). To better understand if the inhabitants may have eaten snails, the researchers investigated patterns of land snail selection, consumption, and accumulation at the site, and then analyzed the shells decay, fossilization process, composition, and age at death by measuring the shell size.

Stone tools and other animal

Scientists found groupings of complete shells from a large land snail species at three layers of the site, corresponding to different time points dated 31000-26900 years ago. The adult snails were close to prehistoric human-constructed structures that may have been used to cook the snails, along with stone tools, and other animal remains that were likely roasted in ambers of pine and juniper under 375 ºC. The authors posit that these results point to previously undiscovered patterns of invertebrate use and may highlight a broadening of the human diet in the Upper Paleolithic in the Mediterranean basin. In neighboring Mediterranean areas, eating land snails didn’t appear until about 10,000 years later, which may make these newly found snail shells the oldest known evidence that ancient human populations used them as a food resource in Europe ~30,000 years ago.   

For further information

“Land snails as a diet diversification proxy during the Early Upper Palaeolithic in Europe”, Fernández-López de Pablo, J. et al. PLOS ONE (2014)

The Homo sapiens deposited at El Mirador Cave, in Atapuerca, about 4500 years ago, had genetic affinities with the Near East and Germany

According to the mitochondrial DNA analysis, that for the first time, has been carried out on the fossil remains found at this site

The work was done by the researcher team lead by Carles Lalueza-Fox, from UPF, with the participation of the IPHES and now published in the journal PLOS ONE

During the Middle and Final Neolithic there was a common genetic signal in Central and Western Europe, although in the Chalcolithic the scene becomes much more heterogeneous


Around 4,760 and 4,200 years the Mirador Cave, in Atapuerca (Burgos), functioned as a burial site, where at least 23 individuals of the species Homo sapiens were deposited. In 19 of them, the mitochondrial DNA was extracted in order to know where they came from and with who were they genetically related, among other issues. A recent study published in the PLOS ONE journal brings some light to this question. According to the results, those specimens have genetic affinities with populations in the Middle East and Germany.

This is the first DNA analysis performed on the remains discovered in El Mirador. The research was conducted as part of a wider work on the genetic composition of the European populations contemporaries to the Bell-Beaker culture, although Homo sapiens from this cave did not belong to this technical tradition, as they did not manufactured or used the same ceramic type.

“This research shows that the Chalcolithic people at El Mirador has affinities with the Near East groups and temporary fits in the Middle and Final Neolithic populations of Germany, as the Rossen Salzmünde and Balberge cultures, but has no relationship with the contemporary Bell-Beaker culture”, explain Marina Lozano, IPHES researcher, which is among the signatories of the article, together with Josep Maria Verges, also an archaeologist at the Institute.

Thus, it´s confirmed that during the Middle and Final Neolithic there was a common genetic signal in Central and Western Europe, but throughout the Chalcolithic the scene becomes much more heterogeneous with the presence of more groups.

The traditional hypothesis indicates that the Bell-Beaker culture developed in the European Atlantic coast and spread from there to the rest of Europe. The discovery of ancient sites in Portugal with the presence of ceramic from that culture, suggests its origin in the Tagus River area.

The socioeconomic basis of this populations was livestock (herds of goats and sheeps), the cereals production (wheat and barley, and some legumes) and occasionally the animal part of the diet was complemented by hunting.

Bibliographic reference

“Mitochondrial DNA from El Mirador cave (Atapuerca, Spain) Reveal the Heterogeneity of Chalcolithic Population” Gomez-Sanchez et al. PLOS ONE (2014)

Wild pigeons, another resource of the neanderthal diet

As it indicates a published study today in Scientific Reports

Recently, the systematic exploitation of the birds was considered a unique feature of modern human behavior

Among the suscriptors of this article is the IPHES ´s researcher Jordi Rosell


Not far away in time, the systematic exploitation of the birds for food was considered a unique feature of modern human behavior. However, some studies have hinted that this could not be this way. In this context an investigation that was published in the journal Scientific Reports found that neanderthals could also have hunted wild pigeons (ancestors of today) and formed part of their diet. In this work was involved Jordi Rosell, archaeologist, IPHES´s researcher and professor at the Universitat Rovira i Virgili of Tarragona (Spain).

To reach this conclusion, an international team led by Ruth Blasco and Clive Finlayson, both of the Gibraltar Museum, have analyzed wild pigeons bones discovered in Gorham’s Cave (Gibraltar), with a timeline ranging between 67,000 and 28,000 years before present. This time range coincided with the occupation of the cave by neanderthals and later Homo sapiens.

“In some of these bones -Jordi Rosell commented-, we have observed cut marks or signs of cremation, which may indicate that these birds may have been dismembered and cooked”.  “The amount of the bones found with cut marks, -pointed out the same archaeologist- was relatively small, but we must keep in mind that these animals required a minimum carnage and could be eaten directly with the hands. In this sense, they have identified human teeth marks on some bones, which are another evidence that birds were consumed by the inhabitants of the cave”.

With this work, the researchers propose that neanderthals may have had similar abilities to modern humans in the obtaining the the food.

Bibliographic reference

Blasco, R. et al. The earliest pigeon fanciers. Sci. Rep. 4, 5971; DOI:10.1038/srep05971 (2014)

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