Subsistence, Technology and Human Evolution


Gran Dolina - TD10

Title: Social, cultural and biological Evolution during the Pleistocene (StEP)
Coordinator: Dr Andreu Ollé
Call: Ajuts per donar suport a les activitats dels grups de recerca de Catalunya (SGR 2017-2019)
Funder: Agència de Gestió d'Ajuts Universitaris i de Recerca (AGAUR)
Period: 01/01/2018 - 30/09/2021
Reference Code: 2017 SGR 1040
Researchers: Dr. Eudald Carbonell, Dr. Isabel Cáceres, Dr. Rosa Huguet, Dr. Miquel Llorente, Dr. Carlos Lorenzo, Dr. Marina Lozano, Dr. Marina Mosquera, Dr. David Riba, Dr. Xosé Pedro Rodríguez, Dr. Palmira Saladié, Dr. Josep Maria Vergès, Dr. John Charles Willman 
PhD students: Ana Mª Bucchi, Diego Lombao, Esther López, Dr. Antonio Pineda, Dr. Gizéh Rangel de Lázaro, Dr. Laxmi Tumung
Support to research staff: Dr. Lucía López-Polín
Collaborations: Dr. Lena Asryan, Dr. Amèlia Bargalló, Dr. Behrouz Bazgir, Dr. Paula García, Dr. Patricia Martín, Dr. Antonella Pedergnana, Dr. Antonio Rodríguez, Dr. Boris Santander, Dr. Marcos Terradillos, Dr. Meltem Cemre Ustunkaya, Andión Arteaga, Arturo Cueva, Arturo de Lombera, Juan Luis Fernández, Miquel Guardiola, Raquel Hernando, Andrés Jurado, Juan Marín, Juan Ignacio Martín Viveros, Paula Mateo, Sandra Val, Riccardo Zappon

Summary: The aim of the research group is to study the biological, cultural and social aspects of human evolution during the Pleistocene, from specific areas such as palaeoanthropology, lithic technology, zooarchaeology, taphonomy and human cognition.
The scientific strategy is based on a strong investment in fieldwork, in the systematic preparation and analysis of archaeological materials to obtain original and reliable empirical data, and actualism and experimentation as methods for setting and contrasting explanatory hypotheses. All this allows for a critical discussion and innovative contributions to the interpretative approaches.
A major interest is posed on the palaeoecological relationships between biological and cultural evolution, especially in the context of the early stages of the human settlement of Europe. The approach is interdisciplinary in nature, from the fieldwork to the publication of results, and combines research, teaching and knowledge socialization.

Objectives and research lines:
The shared objective of the group is the study of human evolution during the Pleistocene, for which special focus is posed on biological, social, technological, cognitive, and cultural issues.
The individualised domains of research are in agreement with this multiple approach, and the scientific challenges can be individualised as follows:

1. Lithic technology

  • Continuing the analysis of the litho-technical assemblages from the Pleistocene sites excavated in the framework of the research group, as well as from those available as a result of the group's international scientific network.
  • Making progress in the application of the microwear and residues studies to Pleistocene archaeological stone tools, taking advantage of the methodological improvement and the experimental results obtained since 2014.
  • Contributing to the interpretation of the stone tool assemblages based on the spatial and technological dimensions of the lithic refitting.
  • Integrating data to improve the knowledge of micro-space management in archaeological sites. Setting of occupational models (objective shared with the line of zooarchaeology and taphonomy).
  • Redefining key issues of the European Pleistocene technocomplexes, from the first Mode 1 evidences until the appearance of the early Middle Palaeolithic.
  • Introducing formal modelling in the study of the diffusion of technology. First application to the appearance and diffusion of the Acheulean technology in Western Europe.
  • Study of the transition from Middle to Upper Palaeolithic assemblages in the Iranian Zagros region, to get insight into the timing and mode of the first expansions of modern human populations towards Western Europe.

2. Zooarchaeology and taphonomy

  • Studying subsistence strategies, animal resources supply models and strategies, and hunting tactics and techniques from a social and evolutionary perspective.
  • Analysing the territorial coexistence (regional and intra-site) of hominins and carnivores in the Lower and Middle European Pleistocene, in order to establish levels of competition or symbiosis between both paleoguilds.
  • Investigating the formation and fossilisation processes of the deposits studied.
  • Extending the experimental works in order to establish relationships between the originating and/or modifying processes of the archaeological assemblages and their taphonomic modifications according to a uniformitarian perspective.

3. Cognition. This domain has been split into two clear parts:
3.1. Ethnoprimatology: research line focused in the study of the hand laterality, learning and social learning, cultural diffusion and technological behaviour of wild and captive chimpanzees, through observational, non-invasive methodologies as a basal model to human evolutionary studies.
3.2. Cognitive technology: research line focused in the cognitive aspects of Pleistocene lithic technology, such as the emergence, management and evolution of the concepts of symmetry and volume in the tools and knapping processes of the Oldowan, the Acheulean and the Mousterian, and the manual gestures involved in knapping. Cognitive technology develops mainly from experimental and archaeological analyses, where it is intended to find traces of individuals, such as novice and expert knappers, and schools and traditions.

4. Palaeoanthropology

  • Analysis of the evolutionary process of neanderthalisation, using different hominin specimens from sites included in the research project (Sierra de Atapuerca, Tossal de la Font, Cova Foradà, etc.).
  • Conducting morphological and paleo-biological studies from anthropological remains (cranial, dental and postcranial remains) focusing on aspects about diet, dental wear and bucco-dental pathologies, vascular system and endocranial thermoregulation, sexual dimorphism, hearing capabilities, and hand evolution.
  • Applying microscopic and three-dimensional methods (SEM, Confocal, CT, surface scanner, photogrammetry) for the analysis, documentation and reproduction of human fossils.

5. Conservation of archaeological materials

  • Carrying out preliminary tests on chemical cleaning procedures to remove calcite concretions from stone tools and faunal and human fossil remains: assessing acids and seeking alternative chemicals.
  • Developing support and storage systems for faunal remains: review of traditional systems and proposal for micro- and macro-faunal remains.
  • Widening research on consolidant products: adding the strengthening parameter to formerly studied reversibility and durability.