The IPHES researcher, Ana Polo, recently carried out a research stay at the AMBI LAB Archaeological Micromorphology and Biomarker Lab of the University of La Laguna to promote scientific collaboration between the PALEODEM European project of this research centre in Tarragona and the PALEOCHAR project in the Canary Islands. Both projects include, among their main objectives, the microscopic study of sediments from archaeological hearths to provide information on human behaviour and climate changes during Prehistory.
The IPHES postdoctoral researcher, Ana Polo Díaz, completed a three-week research stay at the Archaeological Micromorphology and Biomarker AMBI Lab of the University of La Laguna (Tenerife, Spain). The aim of the visit was to establish scientific collaboration between the interdisciplinary research teams of the ERC projects PALEODEM (Ref. 683018) and PALEOCHAR (Ref. 648871) led by Dr. Javier Fernández López de Pablo (IPHES) and Dr. Carolina Mallol (ULL), respectively.
Both projects include among their main objectives the study of sediments from archaeological hearths on a microscopic scale. The aim of these investigations is to understand how groups of prehistoric hunter-gatherer societies in Southwestern Europe used fire as well as associated domestic activities; the purpose is to offer a clearer picture of their ways of life, how they exploited natural resources and how they adapted to climate challenges.
In Tenerife, Ana Polo had the opportunity to discuss various aspects of the formation process of approximately 9,000-year-old Mesolithic hearth-pits documented in the site of El Arenal de la Virgen (Villena, Alicante) with AMBI Lab’s scientific staff. Similarly, she was able to consult the laboratory’s extensive reference collection of thin films from sites with evidence of occupation by hunter-gatherers who inhabited Europe over the last 50,000 years.
Dissemination work was equally carried out during her stay to circulate the objectives, challenges and geoarchaeological research methods applied to the study of both archaeological sites excavated within the framework of the PALEODEM project: El Arenal de la Virgen and Casa Corona. As part of this task, the researcher shared the results of the sediments’ taphonomy (alterations) obtained from her study of both sites mentioned above and explained the role that human activities and natural processes had in accumulating and altering archaeological deposits. Ana Polo also highlighted the implications of these results: they allow us to better understand the impact of taphonomy on archaeological sites and, therefore, our ability to extract information from them and interpret the past.
This dissemination work included a didactic session in AMBI-LAB on microscopy and the presentation of results as well as a guest lecture, held on 21 November, called Integrative Geoarchaeological Approaches to the Investigation of Mesolithic Campsites in SE Iberia.
Ana Polo’s stay received financial support from the European Commission through the ERC PALEODEM project.
Tarragona will host the XI Jornadas de Jóvenes Investigadores en Arqueología (JIA) from the 9th to 12th May and the main topic will be “Migrations, resources and new dynamics”. These conferences will take place at campus Catalunya from the Universitat Rovira i Virgili (URV), they are organized by the Associació de Joves Investigadors d’Arqueologia de Tarragona (AJIAT) and members of the Institut Català de Paleocologia Humana i Evolució Social (IPHES), Institut Català d’Arqueologia Clàssica (ICAC) and Institut Català de Recerca en Patrimoni Cultural (ICRPC) take part of it.
There will be 23 sessions and more than 140 presentations in these conferences. They are focused on young non-doctors researches in archaeology and its related disciplines. The scientific results from their work will be presented and the actual situation of the archaeological discipline will be discussing along with others aspects such the archaeological heritage, its socialization and divulgation, the professional archaeology, gender archaeology, the interdisciplinary in archaeological research, social hierarchy, residential and funerary archaeology, epigraphy, restoration and conservation and the evolution of the landscape and wildlife in archaeology.
The last conferences took place in Burgos, June 2017. During this 10th edition it was noticed that the young archaeology in the Iberian Peninsula seems to be more alive than ever. An example of it is that the assistance for the last editions has been more than 120 young archaeologists coming from Spain, Portugal, Italy, France and South America.
The study of migratory routs, used by different hominin groups during their migration from Africa to Europe and Asia, is one of the most important branches of investigation. There are different proposals and geographic points, which may have had particular importance. The Azokh Cave site, located in Nagorno Karabakh (Southern Caucasus) is now getting special prominence.
The first international and multidisciplinary monograph dedicated to the excavations and research of Azokh titled “Azokh Cave and the Transcaucasian Corridor” was published by Springer, an international editorial, specialised in science, medicine, and technology.
According to this study, the hominins and different animals inhabited Azokh Cave during their pass from Africa to Europe and Asia around 300 to 100 thousand years ago BP. Moreover, this cave was used by three different hominin species: Homo heidelbergensis, Homo neandertalensis and Homo sapiens, and has almost continuous register of lithic remains (from Middle to Upper Pleistocene) associated with fauna.
The monograph includes the results of detailed studies of all these remains (hominin, faunal, vegetal and technological) found in Azokh during the excavation seasons of 2002 – 2009. In addition, an important effort was made to contextualise the site in the Caucasus connecting the results obtained from Azokh Cave with other sites of the same chronology and from the same geographic area (e.g., Kudaro I, Kudaro III, Treugol’naya, Tsona, Djruchula, Mezmaiskaya etc.).
More than twenty institutions and research centres from different countries are involved in the monograph’s publication. The IPHES has a great input in it, as five out of fifteen chapters (those of lithic artefacts, macro and micro vertebrate remains, taphonomy and charcoals) are leaded by its researchers and collaborators such as Dr. Isabel Cáceres, Dr. Ethel Allué, Dr. Andreu Ollé, Dr. Hugues A. Blain and Dr. Lena Asryan.
Azokh Cave was discovered by M. Huseinov in 1960’s and was excavated for around twenty years by Russian and Azerbaijani researchers. Almost all the sedimentary infill and fossil contents at the entrance of Azokh 1 was emptied during these excavations leaving a small part at the back of the entrance. During these excavations faunal and lithic remains were recovered together with a hominin mandible fragment in unit V, which was classified as Homo heidelbergensis.
In 2002, an international, multidisciplinary research team restarted the excavations at the site. During these excavations, from Unit V (300.000 years old) together with herbivore (Equus hydruntinus, Equus ferus, Stephanorhinus hemitoechus, Stephanorhinus kirchbergensis,Capreolus pygargus, Dama aff. peloponesiaca, Dama sp., Megaloceros solihacus, Cervus elaphus, Bison schoetensacki, Ovis ammon, Capra aegagrus, Saiga tatarica) and carnivore faunal remains (Canis cf. Lupus, Canis aureus, Meles meles, Martes cf. Foina, Crocuta crocuta, Lynx sp., Felis chaus, Panthera pardus, Ursus spelaeus, Ursus sp.), Middle Pleistocene lithic artefacts (it can be characterised as Late Acheulean or pre-Mousterian without bifaces) and fragments of charcoals were found.
Cave bear (Ursus spelaeus) is present in all the excavated archaeological units, but it is dominant particularly in Unit II with a chronology between 180 to 100 thousand years BP. The cave bear remains are associated with Levallois lithic assemblage in this unit. In addition, a hominin tooth was found at this unit determined as Homo neanderthalensis.
In one of the cave entrances (discovered during 2003 excavation season and named as Azokh 5) remains of Homo sapiens were found dated by 14C between 1.265 and 2.300 years.
Involvement of the IPHES
The IPHES was involved in the “Azokh Caves Project” in 2006 through researchers Ethel Allué and Isabel Cáceres. The participation of the institution was increasing since then, bringing not only experts to the project (they are more than twelve now) but also helping the local students to continue their formation and studies in the IPHES and URV (University Rovira i Virgili) through the international Master’s or pre-doctoral grants in Quaternary and Human Evolution under the supervision of the researchers from the IPHES.
In this context, Lena Asryan is one of the examples, who studied first the IPHES-URV’s Masters of Erasmus Mundus and then continued the doctoral studies in Quaternary and Prehistory (funded by the Wenner-Gren foundation [WIF-212]) at the same university. In September of 2015 she defended her doctoral thesis titled “Azokh Cave lithic assemblages and its contextualization in the Middle and Upper Pleistocene of South-west Asia”.
This research study is focused on the lithic assemblages of Azokh Cave recovered during the excavations of 2002 to 2013. The study of these assemblages indicates that the human occupation of the cave was short and seasonal in character and that it was alternatively occupied by hominins and large carnivores.
These conclusions are supported also by other studies (geological and paleontological) presented in the monograph, which show occupation of the cave by Ursids for hibernation during the dry periods of the cave (autumn-winter) and opportunistic access of hominins to bear carcases after the hibernation, possibly for obtaining leftover meat, skin and ligaments.
The investigation in Azokh Cave is included within the working lines of the research group known as IPHES-URV “Evolució social, cultual i biológica al Plistocè inferior i Mitjà” (AGAUR, SGR 2014-899) and in the Research Development Programme of the URV (2014PFR-URV-B2-17 and 2015PFR-URV-B2-17).