Friday, October 24, 2008

Human consumption of tortoises in the Later Middle Pleistocene

Bolomor Cave, located on the southern slope of the Valldigna valley, approximately two kilometres south-east of the town of Tavernes (Valencia, Spain), reveals that tortoise consumption by humans appears to have been common practice in the Later Middle Pleistocene.
The acquisition and consumption of small prey in the pre-Upper Palaeolithic is a highly debated topic at present. For some authors, the systematic obtaining of these animals is only part of the subsistence strategies used by anatomically modern Humans. Several researches consider that the systematic capturing of small prey is more related to the gathering that with the hunting and therefore, the technology required for their obtaining should be more complex and sophisticated (traps, etc.).
However, the consumption of small prey dates back to the Plio-Pleistocene chronologies in some sites. Although the utilization of leporids has been recorded in several pre-Late Pleistocene European sites, the evidence of tortoise consumption is documented not as common for these periods. However, Level IV of Bolomor Cave, dated in Later Middle Pleistocene, has clear diagnostic elements to document the acquisition and use of tortoises (Testudo hermanni) for food.

The scientific research was carried out by Ruth Blasco, collaborator of Area de Prehistoria Universitat Rovira i Virgili of Tarragona (URV) and Institut de Paleoecologia Humana i Evolució Social (IPHES). The results were published in the Journal of Archaeological Science, 35 (2008): 2839-2848.

Cutmarks documented on tortoises at Level IV of Bolomor Cave - Photo: Ruth Blasco
According to Ruth Blasco, the use of tortoises for food appears to be quite common among the hominids that occupied at Level IV of Bolomor Cave. The evidences documented are: (1) cutmarks on limb bones and ventral surface of the carapace and plastron; (2) presence of burning on tortoise skeleton and shell; (3) elements of anthropogenic breakage on carapace and plastron and; (4) human toothmarks on limb bones.

This research show patterns in the tortoise consumption sequence from Level IV of Bolomor Cave and improves data on the butchery process and tortoise consumption in the Late Middle Pleistocene.

Bolomor Cave, apart from providing human fossils, has revealed important discoveries related to the discovery and use of fire. The site provides a stratigraphical sequence of approximately 250,000 years of levels with and without fire and document the evidence oldest of anthropogenic structures of combustion in the Iberian Peninsula and therefore, in the Southern Europe.

For more information

Article “Human consumption of tortoises at Lever IV of Bolomor Cave (Valencia, Spain)”, R. Blasco

Journal of Archaeological Science, 35 (2008): 2839-2848.


Ruth Blasco

Area de Prehistoria, Universitat Rovira i Virgili de Tarragona - Institut Català Paleocologia Humana i Evolució Social (IPHES)

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Neanderthals at the beach

In two sea caves on the east side of Gibraltar, paleontologists have discovered the remains of marine mammals that they suggest were eaten by Neanderthals. Vanguard and Gorham’s caves were previously known to have been occupied by Neanderthals at least 32,000 years ago.

The scientific research was carried out by a multidisciplinary group of Spanish, British and Gibraltarian scientists, including Dr. Isabel Cáceres member of Universitat Rovira i Virgili of Tarragona (URV) and Institut de Paleoecologia Humana i Evolució Social (IPHES). The results are published in the scientific journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Science of the United States of America.

Some animals showed signs of having the meat stripped by Neanderthals - IPHES / CSIC

The authors identified the remains of fish, mussel shells, and seal bones­ along with the remains of other land animals that Neanderthals hunted and eaten sedimentary layers corresponding to the era when Neanderthals lived in the caves. The findings provide the clearest evidence to date that Neanderthals, like prehistoric humans, actively sought out and consumed animals from the ocean. The researchers show that the bones of some animals from the caves showed signs of having the meat stripped off by stone tools associated with Upper Paleolithic and Mousterian technologies used by Neanderthals. The seal remains are those of juveniles, suggesting the Neanderthals may have actively tracked down the animals at calving season. The sites on Gibraltar show that hunting and gathering of marine animals was a regular, seasonal part of the coastal Neanderthal lifestyle, the authors say.

Until now the scientific community had thought that Homo sapiens was the only human group that had the capacity to take advantage of all natural resources, including marine nutrients. Isabel Cáceres has pointed out that "the exploitation of marine resources in Gibraltar is developed first by Neanderthals and after by Homo sapiens. Both species have similar strategies for hunting and processing the marine resources."

The research shows that the Neanderthals, far from being limited to carnivorous land mammals, had a full knowledge of the environment. This fact allowed them to use all the resources they had at their disposal.

Isabel Cáceres emphasizes: "Since the exploitation of marine resources also encourage a greater territorial stability, we suggest that the survival of Neanderthals until chronologies so late in Gibraltar could be a direct result of good adaptation to the environment (exploitation of marine resources) and, therefore, the success of an economic, social and cultural complex" .

For more information

Article #08-05474: “Neanderthal exploitation of marine mammals in Gibraltar,” C. B. Stringer, J. C. Finlayson, R. N. E. Barton, Y. Fernández-Jalvo, I. Cáceres, R. C. Sabin , E. J. Rhodes, A. P. Currant, J. Rodríguez-Vidal, F. Giles Pacheco, J. A. Riquelme Cantal

Nature, Vol 443. 19 de octubre de 2006

Science, Vol 296. 3 de mayo de 2002

Isabel Cáceres
Area de Prehistoria, Universitat Rovira i Virgili de Tarragona - IPHES

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Amphibians and reptiles from the Gran Dolina cave and the evolution of landscape in Atapuerca

This study deals with the amphibians (newts, toads and frogs) and squamate reptiles (amphisbaenian, lizards and snakes) bone remains proceeding from the 1993-1999 washing-sieving campaigns in the river Arlanzon in Atapuerca. Nearly 5.5 tones of sediment have been processed from the excavation-test of Gran Dolina (levels TD5 to TD10), an excavation realized in order to evaluate the potential of the locality and that furnished the first remains of Homo antecessor in the TD6 level. The material corresponds approximately to 40.000 fossils attributed to 22 taxons (genus and species).

Some drawings of amphibian fossil remains from Gran Dolina, Atapuerca, made by H.-A. Blain. It is a matter of midwife toad, western spadefoot, natterjack toad, european toad and common frog.

This work (based o part of the Ph.D. thesis of the first author) constitutes the first intent to reconstruct past landscape of the Sierra de Atapuerca during the early to middle Pleistocenes using amphibian and aquamate reptile assemblages.

The reconstructed landscape along the sequence of Gran Dolina has been compare with the data from other palaeoenvironmental proxies as small-mammals (rodents, shrews, bats, and rabbits), palynology (pollen and spores) and geomorphology

Meticulous sieving-washing of the excavated sediment in order that no fossil goes unnoticed, small though it was - Jordi Mestre / IPHES

The analyze of the evolution of the biodiversity (taxonomical associations) of reptiles and amphibians during approximately 600.000 years (from 900.000 to 300.000 years) in Gran Dolina has permitted to show that permanent aquatic and humid habitats ever been present in the vicinity of the site. However during the warmest periods, more open and dryer biotopes are best represented, whereas during cold periods humid meadows and woodland are predominant.

From: Blain H.-A., Bailon, S. & Cuenca-Bescós, G. (2008): The Early-Middle Pleistocene palaeoenvironmental change based on the squamate reptile and amphibian proxy at the Gran Dolina site, Atapuerca, Spain. Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology, 261 (1-2): 177-192.


Saturday, June 21, 2008

Conservation treatments of human fossil remains

Although research on human evolution depends in many cases on the study of fossil remains that have been treated by conservators, few treatments have been published.

In this article, we present an example of a strict conservation methodology applied to the human mandible ATD6-96, from the site of Gran Dolina (Sierra de Atapuerca, Spain). We describe examination performed before the intervention, which included a the extensive diagnostic computer tomography (CT) scan and stereoscopic light microscopy. The mechanical preparation is also described in detail.

Diagnostic computer tomography (CT) scan - Photo: Jordi Mestre /IPHES

Human mandible ATD6-96 - Credit foto: Jordi Mestre - IPHES

This fossil is treated mainly mechanically, with a scalpel, and some soft brushes and solvents are also used to complete the treatment. Although we use the simplest techniques to prepare a fossil, we state that the technical simplicity does not in any way imply conceptual simplicity: behind the decisions that conservators make there is a work method that involves the knowledge of the material treated, as well as the products and techniques that exist to diagnose the alterations and solve conservation problems.

Through the description of this treatment we show how the interdisciplinary work allowed retention of both the integrity of the specimen and its information. As we think that the boundary between recovering or saving information and losing it is in the recognition of what is valuable, we state that conservation treatments have to be proposed taking into account the needs of the different specialists who partake in the study of the materials.

To sum up, we use the example of the treatment of this human mandible to talk about Conservation methodology and principles and we show how a good treatment needs more than dexterity and patience.

From: López-Polín, L. Ollé, A., Cáceres, I., Carbonell, E., Bermúdez de Castro, J.M. (2008): Pleistocene human remains and conservation treatments: the case of a mandible form Atapuerca (Spain). Journal of Human Evolution, 54 539-545 DOI 10.1016/j.jhevol.2007.07.011


Wednesday, February 27, 2008

The Collapse of Gran Dolina cave, Sierra de Atapuerca

Layer TD10 of Gran Dolina, Atapuerca, during the campaign of excavation

The last hominin occupations of Gran Dolina cave at Atapuerca are represented by layer TD10-1; as stated in the article “The Collapse of Gran Dolina Cave, Sierra de Atapuerca, Spain: Site Formation Processes of Layer TD10-1” which, signed by Carolina Mallol and Eudald Carbonell (IPHES - URV), summarizes the results obtained by a micromorphological study carried out in this layer to reconstruct its formation processes as well as to document possible traces of anthropic activity in the sediments.This layer has yielded high densities of anthropogenic bone and lithic remains that suggest the existence of a referential hominin campsite.

Micromorphological analysis was carried out in order to reconstruct site formation processes and to find traces of hominin activity in the sediments. Results show that TD10-1 is an autochthonous deposit whose components are derived from a local, degraded cave entrance environment. The base of TD10-1 represents a moist, semi-sheltered environment associated with anthropogenic input and low sedimentary rates, while the rest of the deposit represents a non-anthropogenic, more open environment with higher rates of sedimentation. The TD10-1 archaeological assemblages have not undergone long transport or strong postdepositional disturbance. Further interdisciplinary analyses are needed to characterize the types and intensity of the hominin activities recorded in TD10-1.

Archaeological remains mixed wih the sediment of Gran Dolina TD10. Picture: Jordi Mestre – IPHES.

For further information: Carolina Mallol,