The challenge of reassembling archaeological remains to understand life in Prehistory

From around the world, Tarragona is bringing together experts in reassembly, in a workshop that will take place from 9 to 11 May at URV’s Campus Catalunya

This technique allows us to understand what the economy was like, whether hominid groups recycled, and their social organisation

The IPHES will provide new information from Neanderthal communities that lived in Abric Romaní and around Sierra de Atapuerca

The event is sponsored by the Wenner-Gren Foundation, which funds research of excellence

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An archaeological site is the result of a series of events that overlap at different levels through time. Archaeological remains generated by bone breaking and the sculpting of stone blocks are deposited in each of these strata. Refitting the pieces belonging to the same bone or block is an arduous task, but very useful for understanding an endless array of aspects related to human evolution.

With the aim of exchanging experiences, understanding the multidisciplinary applications of reassembly, and its reconstruction in 3D, as well as agreeing on criteria for its use, an international workshop is being held that will bring together the experts in this field. Entitled The Big Puzzle 30 Years After: A shared, multidisciplinary, Palaeolithic perspective, it will take place from 9 to 11 May, in Sala de Graus on Campus Catalunya at the Universitat Rovira i Virgili (URV), in Tarragona.

The title refers to the conference held three decades ago at the Monrepos Archaeological Research Centre and Museum in Neuwied, Germany. It was there that the importance of reassembly was first verified as a method for analysing the technical, economic and social behaviour of past populations. The publication from that conference and the data that has appeared since, have shown not only that reassembly is very useful for research, but have also led to new lines of investigative work.

The workshop is being organised by Francesca Romagnoli, a Marie Curie researcher at the IPHES (Institut Català de Paleoecologia Humana i Evolució Social), and Manuel Vaquero, an IPHES member and professor of Prehistory at the URV, as part of the EU’s H2020 Research and Innovation Program GA. 653667. It is being sponsored by the Wenner-Gren Foundation, a United States foundation that funds research of excellence in the field of anthropology, prehistory and the study of human evolution.

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Reassembly with pieces from the Abric Romaní – IPHES

IPHES is deliberately linking this workshop to the symposium held in Germany in 1987, intending to reflect on the development of this technique over the last 30 years, and see whether the expectations generated at that time have been achieved. IPHES is a leader in the study of reassembly and has developed an analysis protocol that has enabled innovative work to be developed on the recycling, techno-economic, and social organisation of  Neanderthal communities. At the workshop, IPHES will present new data from the Abric Romaní site (Capellades, Barcelona) in the workshop, a world reference for work on the social organisation of Homo neanderthalensis, as well as from the Gran Dolina site in the Sierra de Atapuerca.

Reassembly allows researchers to identify what types of actions were carried out at a site, as well as their number and frequency, in addition to detecting the temporal and spatial relationships between the different events. For example, how a certain material was introduced into the archaeological site and where it came from, how tools were made, and so on. In this way one can ascertain aspects of the economy of hominid groups, the length of time they remained in a place, and the size and organisation of the human population that lived there. It also reveals whether the materials have been reused, and the importance of recycling to these hominids.

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In addition, reassembly can be applied when analysing wildlife. This allows us to understand, for example, how humans shared and distributed food in the past.

These are just some of the issues that will be discussed in the workshop. It will be attended by top-level experts who apply reassembly in an interdisciplinary way to better understand what life was like in the Palaeolithic era. The participants include scientists from leading research institutes, such as UCL (University College London), and reference centres in the study of Prehistory, such as the University of Tübingen in Germany, the Autonomous Universities of Madrid and Barcelona, the University of La Laguna, the University of Ferrara, the Anthropos Museum of Brno, and the Monrepos Museum where the original conference took place.

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The rabbit, a very valued animal by hominids that lived at Molí del Salt site, near Tarragona, between 8,000 and 15,000 years ago

Their capture could have had other purposes beyond their food benefits, such the skin’s acquisition for different uses

This archaeological site is a good example to understand the subsistence strategies of human populations at the end of the Upper Palaeolithic and early Mesolithic

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The Molí del Salt is an archaeological site situated at Vimbodí and Poblet (Tarragona, Spain). It is a good example to understand the subsistence strategies of human populations at the end of the Upper Palaeolithic and early Mesolithic, that is, between 8,000 and 15,000 years ago, approximately. Although in this place humans were able to capture different taxa, they focused their attention on rabbits, according to an article published by the Historical Biology journal, headed by Anna Rufà, predoctoral researcher at IPHES (Institut Català de Paleoecologia Humana i Evolució Social), and co-authored by other members from the same institution and the CENIEH (Centro Nacional de Investigación sobre la Evolución Humana).

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In Molí del Salt humans were able to capture different taxa, but they focused their attention on rabbits (Photo). This taxon presents cut-marks related to various processing activities. IPHES

Evidence registered at Molí del Salt are good examples of high exploitation capacity of fauna, since a wide range of activities have been documented, from the skinning of the animal to the bone marrow extraction. The high fragmentation observed on different faunal remains suggests an intensive use of the internal animal nutrients. In the case of rabbits, hominids could not only obtain food benefits, but also resources that were not destined for nutritional purposes, such as the acquisition of furs that could be used, for example, to protect their bodies.

The high presence of rabbits at Molí del Salt, which represents more than 90% of exploited fauna in all archaeological units, is due to the fact that they would be an abundant and rich resource in this area, a fact that could favour their capture. “The versatility of this species would have promoted their expansion through different environments, probably favoured by the environmental changes that took place at the end of Upper Pleistocene”, comments Anna Rufà.

In addition, the high reproductive rates of these animals allow them to be hunted without overexploitation. “This fact facilitates their success, since they can continue being an important resource for human populations over time without jeopardizing their survival”, says the same researcher. In the same way, despite that no conclusive evidence has been extracted in that sense, the large number of individuals represented in some of the units, could suggest the use of some capture techniques (traps, loops and nets). This could allow obtaining more than one individual for hunting performed.

Bibliographic reference

Rufà, A., Blasco, R., Rosell, J., Vaquero, M. (2017): “What is going on at the Molí del Salt site? A zooarchaeological approach to the last hunter-gatherers from South Catalonia”, Historical Biology. doi: 10.1080/08912963.2017.1315685

IPHES has been present at the 86th Congress of American Association of Physical Anthropologists celebrated in New Orleans

Marina Lozano, researcher at this centre,presented two posters about the dental wear observed in fossil hominids

This congress is one of the world specialists meeting places about Physical Anthropology and Human Evolution. 

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Marina Lozano, researcher at Institut Català de Paleoecologia Humana i Evolució Social (IPHES) participated in the 86th Congress of American Association of Physical Anthropologists (AAPA), celebrated recently in New Orleans, in a city hotel even though Tulane University was the hostess. She did it with two posters about the fossil hominid’s dental wear, one of the research lines that IPHES develops and which Marina Lozano is the main researcher.

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Marina Lozano presented two posters about the dental wear – IPHES

The diet of Homo antercessor, by Marina Lozano, Alejandro Romero, José Mª Bermúdez de Castro, Eudald Carbonell, Juan Luis Arsuaga and Alejandro Pérez-Pérez it was one of the two posters that came out, in this case, about the Homo antecessor diet. The other one, Behavioral traces on dental wear in Pleistocene fossil humans, by Almudena Estalrrich, Marina Lozano, Luca Bondioli, Ivana Fiore, José Mª Bermúdez de Castro, Juan Luis Arsuaga, Eudald Carbonell, Antonio Rosas, Ottmar Kullmer and David Frayer was about the non-masticatory uses of the dentition, that is, use the teeth as a third hand.

This congress, along with which it organizes the European Society of Human Evolution (ESHE) is one of the world specialists meeting places about Physical Anthropology and Human Evolution.

An international congress brings together in Tarragona the best prehistorians about Africa

This is the 3rd Meeting of African Prehistory that will be held in the auditorium of the “Paraninfo Rectorado” of the Universitat Rovira i Virgili on 28 and 29 March

The opening ceremony will be on Tuesday at 9 am and will be attended by URV’s rector and the Morocco consul in Tarragona

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An international congress organized by IPHES (Institut Català de Paleoecologia Humana i Evolució Social) will gather in Tarragona the best prehistorians about Africa on 28 and 29 March, in the auditorium of the “Paranimfo Rectorado” of the Universitat Rovira i Virgili of Tarragona. The opening ceremony will take place on Tuesday at 9 am and will be attended by Josep Anton Ferré, URV’s rector; Robert Sala, IPHES’director; Abdelaziz Jatim, General Consul of the Kingdom of Morocco in Tarragona, Lleida and Aragó, and Begoña Floría, deputy mayor of Tarragona’s town hall.

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The 3rd Meeting of African Prehistory aims, as in the previous two editions (Madrid 2013 and Burgos 2015) to be a meeting point of African researchers (archaeologists, paleoanthropologists, palaeontologists, geologists…) with the aim of sharing and disseminate the results obtained in the field work and the subsequent study in the laboratory during the last years and share the main results obtained in this field. At the same time, this congress wants to foster contacts between scientists and students from different countries and promote spaces for collaborative research.

There will be 85 participants coming from different research centres both national and international universities (European and African). 28 oral communications and 11 posters will be presented. In addition, every day, the dissemination session will begin with an expert conference from important research projects in Africa. In this way, on Tuesday 28 will be the turn of Manuel Will (University of Cambridge – UK  & University of Tübingen – Germany) about “Sibudu Cave” in South Africa and on Wednesday 29 Sandrine Pratt (Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle de París – France) will introduce the “West Turkana Archaeological Project (ETAP)” and the Lomekwi’s archaeological site in Kenya.

The first occupations

During the Conference the results of the main research projects that IPHES and other Spanish institutions are developing in Africa will be presented, most of them on the first human occupations in this continent. In addition, a large number of themes will be debated in relation to prehistory and human Evolution during the Pleistocene and Holocene (last 2.5 million years to date) in Africa.

Atapuerca site was the scene of the oldest case of bison communal hunting

A 400,000-year-old site in northern Spain provides evidence of ancient bison kill

Cooperating the hominids were organized and drive the animals to Gran Dolina cave site, place where the bison were trapped, slaughtered and butchered

This is confirmed in a report published in Journal of Human Evolution and there are who considered it one of the most relevant discoveries of the decade

Photoscatalà español – paper

It could be an ordinary journey 400,000 years ago, in Sierra de Atapuerca (Burgos, Spain), when the meals was not regulated by schedules like today and people had to get the food almost daily, taking what was found around them. As the hominids behaviour become more complex they also learned to organize themselves so as not lose opportunities and if it turned out well, they were reoffending.

In Gran Dolina archaeological site, specifically in TD10.2 layer, the IPHES (Institut Català de Paleoecologia Humana i Evolució Social) had already identified a large bison bones concentration (a truly bone bed), but now they can understand the source of this accumulation. The latest investigations have made it possible to find out that this phenomenon happened by the reiteration of certain events in the same place, specifically communal hunting episodes of these animals’ herds.

The hominids cooperation process was fundamental because they were coordinated to drive the bison to Dolina where they were trapped, killed and, afterwards, butchered for bring the meat, the bones and the skins to the campsite. The location of the camp site is still unknown, but probably, they should not far from the kill site.

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Bison bone bed at Gran Dolina (Atapuerca, Spain) – IPHES

This is confirmed in a just published paper in Journal of Human Evolution (JHE) whose main author is the archaeologist Dr. Antonio Rodríguez-Hidalgo, postdoctoral researcher at Universidad Complutense de Madrid and associated researcher in IPHES. “Until now it was thought that this behaviour was exclusive of anatomically modern humans, but we demonstrated that 400,000 years ago, it was fully developed. The pre-neanderthal from Sima de los Huesos (another archaeological site located a few meters from Gran Dolina), probable protagonist of this accumulation, they have the cognitive ability and the social development needed to applicate this type of hunting strategy”, claim Antonio Rodríguez-Hidalgo.

In words of Dr. John Speth, emeritus Professor of Anthropology in Ann Arbor University (in Michigan), this discovery can be considered one most important for Eurasia prehistory of the decade. “The communal hunting of big, nimble and potentially dangerous preys like bison implies that hunters were able to cooperate with each other and effectively coordinate their activities on a scale not previously demonstrated for pre-modern humans about 400,000 years ago”, he says.

In addition, the researcher adds: “the cooperative efforts to kill a multiple individual of an animal as large as the bison implies that the hunters may have shared flesh among the participants, again insinuating a level of social complexity that had not been previously demonstrated for such a remote period”.

All this has been known applying the zooarchaeology, an important tool for the subsistence reconstruction and to infer relevant aspects of social behaviour in the past. The taxonomic composition and the anatomical profile observed in approximately 23,000 bison bones (of a species yet to be identified, a close relative form of Bison priscus) extracted in the TD10.2 level of Gran Dolina indicates a monospecific assemblage strongly dominated by elements of the axial skeleton (heads, ribs and vertebrae).

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Palmira Saladié and Antonio Rodríguez-HIdalgo at IPHES

According to realized studies it should be noted that the area of the archaeological site where the bison remains, may have been used as a kill site and first point of carcasses processing. The bones show a very skewed skeleton representation and at the same time uncommon in the prehistoric sites, considering that the axial elements dominate. “Due to  the large number of prey involved in each communal kill, the hominids could select the richest parts in meat and grease, such as limbs, and they bring it to the campsites, leaving the axial zone at the mercy of scavengers, wolves and hyenas”, observe Rodríguez-Hidalgo.

Hominids consumed the bison tongue as snack

“Together with these remains there was an unusual large number of hyoid bones (located under the tongue), some of them showing cut marks, which means that during the prey butchering, hominids consumed the bison tongue as snack for being rich in fat and protein discarding the hyoid bones at the site”, add the same researcher.

The abundance of anthropogenic modifications allows to observe primary and immediate access to the carcasses, as well as the development of a systematic butchering processed aimed at the exploitation of meat and fat, and the preparation for the transport of high utility elements to some place outside the cave (at the moment it is the assemblage with a greater number cut marks of the Palaeolithic record). “Ethnographic, ethnohistorical and archaeological analogies have made it possible to interpret the ‘bison bone bed’ as a kill site used during several seasonal communal hunting events in which whole bison herds were slaughtered to be intensely exploited by the hominids who occupied the cave”, specify Antonio Rodríguez-Hidalgo.

According to the same research, this hunting events was repeated seasonally, that is, in a timely manner at a few moments of the year. They used Dolina for bison capture and slaughter, late spring and early autumn, probably following the migrations of these animals.

“Through the study of eruption, replacement and dental wear pattern we have been able to infer that the TD10.2 bison died synchronously in two narrow seasonal windows, which together with the catastrophic mortality pattern that the population presents (that is, a decrease in the frequency of dead individuals as the age advances), support mass hunting or communal hunting as a predatory technique”, says the same IPHES archaeologist.

Antonio Rodríguez-Hidalgo added: “the communal hunting early existence as a depredatory tactic informs us about the cognitive, technological, and social skills emergence similar to those exhibited by other modern communal hunters at a time as early as the middle Pleistocene”. In addition, the archaeologist has specified: “a large number of coordinated individuals are needed and working cooperatively with the same objective to carry out this type of hunt, which until now was thought to be a modern human’s monopoly and perhaps the last Neanderthals”.

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Gran Dolina site – IPHES

From the Dolina finding it has been shown that the action of those hominids was similar to the events that were generated about 10,000 years ago, in the Paleo-Indian groups in America. Likewise, there are several similarities between the communal hunting of bison used by the Native Americans in the Great Plains before the eighteenth century and the practices applied by the Gran Dolina hominids, who also had a high foresight capacity and knew the animals’ behaviour and the environment.

For these reason the events organisation could have been structured in a similar way since under these circumstances it was necessary for all members to take part in the process development, some as hunters and others as beaters. On the other hand, researchers have been able to document that there were other prey in the area to hunt, but the hominids deliberately decided to opt only for the bison and the communal hunting technique during a period that could last several generations.

Reference

“Human predatory behavior and the social implications of communal hunting based on evidence from the TD10.2 bison bone bed at Gran Dolina (Atapuerca, Spain)”. Antonio Rodríguez-Hidalgo, Palmira Saladié, Andreu Ollé, Juan Luis Arsuaga, José María Bermúdez de Castro,  Eudald Carbonell. Journal of Human Evolution. DOI http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jhevol.2017.01.007

Tarragona joins with archaeology to celebrate a decade of world-class European research projects

On March 15th we will meet Spanish Principal Investigators who have obtained an ERC Grant, the most prestigious funding from the European Research Council.

This event co-organized by ICRPC, IPHES and ICAC as a part of the European ERC Week, will take place at the ICAC headquarters.

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Tarragona will host a dissemination session on archaeology on 15 March in order to disseminate the experience of the Spanish leaders groups who have obtained funded projects by the ERC (European Research Council) during the 10 years of program, as well as encourage the participation of young archaeological scientists in future calls.

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To this aim, the different presentations will address aspects related to the evolution in the participation of Spanish groups in the ERC, the general scientific approach of the granted projects, as well as the contribution of this program in the scientific career from the members of the participating research groups.

The event will be attended by the National Contact Point of ERC in Spain, Esther Rodríguez; the Sistema Cerca’s director, Lluís Rovira, and the Principal Investigators who have directed or are directing ERC projects related to archaeology from Spanish institutions.

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The meeting will take place at the headquarters of the Institut Català d’Arqueologia Clàssica, in Tarragona

This event belongs to ERC Week to celebrate at European level the 10th anniversary of the European Research Council. Created by the European Commission, it mission is to finance high-quality scientific research through the denominated ERC-Grants, an ambitious program that funds research projects of up to 5 years with economic allocations ranging from 1,5 to 2,5 million €. Since its creation 10 years ago, the ERC has granted only 5 archaeological research projects in Spain.

The meeting will take place at the headquarters of the Institut Català d’Arqueologia Clàssica, in Tarragona, with the participation of Institut Català de Paleoecologia Humana i Evolució Social (IPHES) and Institut Català de Recerca en Patrimoni Cultural (ICRPC). These three centres are currently involved in an agreement within the SUMA framework, a Generalitat de Catalunya initiative, which, in this case, seeks to combine synergies in excellence research in the field of archaeology.

 

An International team lead by IPHES discovered some of the earliest cultural evidences from modern humans out of Africa

These consist of a set of stone tools, dated up to 54,000 years, found in Kaldar Cave, Iran. This discovery has been recently published in Scientific Reports, one of the top-ten multidisciplinary science journals.

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The recent research and archaeological excavation at Kaldar Cave (Iran), conducted by an Iranian and Spanish team and led by Behrouz Bazgir and Andreu Ollé, both from IPHES (Institut Català de Paleoecologia Humana i Evolució Social) have led to the identification of the first cultural evidences outside Africa attributed to Anatomically Modern Humans (AMH’s). The discovery consists of stone tools associated with faunal remains, recovered in a layer dated by Carbon 14 between 36,000 and 54,000 years ago. This discovery has been recently published in Scientific Reports, one of the top-ten multidisciplinary science journals.

Dating results of this archaeological site put Iran among the first birthplaces of modern humans that, along with Levantine hominin groups, for the first time managed to disperse from western Asia into Europe. In this way, Kaldar Cave strengthens Iran’s position in the world Palaeolithic archaeology.

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Blades, bladelets and retouched pieces from layer 4 at Kaldar Cave – IPHES/B.Bazguir)

Furthermore, the newly excavated sequence in Kaldar contains older levels with Mousterian industry, usually associated with Neanderthals. This provides evidence for its replacing by Baradostian industry, similar to the Aurignacian, which is unique to anatomically modern humans. Thus, this represents a unique opportunity to study the Middle to Upper Palaeolithic transition at the Zagros Mountains.

Kaldar Cave provides one of the oldest examples of modern human presence in this part of the world, and offers information on how these populations coped with the Palearctic climatic and environmental situations which were new to them.

19 international scientists have collaborated as co-authors in the article presenting these results. Among them, there are eminent specialists as Eudald Carbonell (IPHES and Universitat Rovira i Virgili, Spain), Jan van der Made (Museo Nacional de Ciencias Naturales, Madrid, Spain), Marcel Otte (University of Liège, Belgium) and Thomas Higham (University of Oxford, UK).The research counts also with Faranak Bahrololomi and Moloudsadat Azimi, collaborators from Research Center of Iranian Cultural Heritage, Handicrafts and Tourism Organization (RICHT), in the framework of an ongoing collaboration agreement signed with IPHES.

Reference:

Bazgir, B., Ollé, A., Tumung, L., Becerra-Valdivia, L., Douka, K., Higham, T.F.G., Made, J.v.d., Picin, A., Saladié, P., López-García, J.M., Blain, H.-A., Allué, E., Fernández-García, M., Rey-Rodríguez, I., Arceredillo, D., Bahrololoumi, F., Azimi, M., Otte, M., Carbonell, E., 2017. “Understanding the emergence of modern humans and the disappearance of Neanderthals: Insights from Kaldar Cave (Khorramabad Valley, Western Iran)“, Scientific Reports 7, 43460. doi: 10.1038/srep43460.

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