Prehistoric Socioecology and Cultural Changes


Molí del Salt

Title:  Group of Analyses on Socio-ecological Processes, Cultural Changes and Population dynamics during Prehistory (GAPS)
Coordinator: Dr. Ethel Allué.
Call: Ajuts per donar suport a les activitats dels grups de recerca de Catalunya (SGR-Cat 2021)
Funder: Agència de Gestió d'Ajuts Universitaris i de Recerca (AGAUR)
Period: 01/01/2022 - 31/12/2024
Reference Code:
2021 SGR 01237 (double filiation IPHES-URV Group)
Dr. Ana Abruhnosa, Dr. Marian Berihuete, Dr. Sandra Bañuls, Dr. Ruth Blasco, Dr. Aitor Burguet-Coca, Dr. Francesc Burjachs, Dr. M. Gema Chacón, Dr. Policarp Hortolà, Dr. Patricia Martín, Dr. M.Fernanda Martínez Polanco, Dr. Juan Ignacio Morales, Dr. Mariana Nabais, Dr. Ignasi Pastó, Dr. Josep Maria Prats, Dr. Jordi Revelles, Dr. Florent Rivals,  Dr. Andrés Robledo, Dr. David Rodríguez, Dr. Jordi Rosell, Dr. Claudia Speciale, Dr. Antigone Uzunidis, Dr. Josep Vallverdú and Dr. Manuel Vaquero.
PhD students:
 Susana Alonso, Celia Díaz-Canseco, Nit Cano Cano, Sabrina Bianco, Juan Ignacio Martín- Viveros, Cristian Micó Sanchís and Iván Ramírez.
Support to research staff:
 Irene Cazalla, Dr. Isabel Expósito, Génesis Hernández, Laura Hernando, Núria Ibáñez and Gala Gómez-Merino.
Collaborators: Dr. Leopoldo Pérez, Dr. Céline Kerfant, Dr. Carlos Sánchez, Dr. Ramon Viñas and Dr. Maite Arilla.

Summary: The scientific activity of the group is focused on the study of the ecology, the population dynamics and the cultural changes which characterize the neanderthals and modern human societies from the prehistoric period, from the first neanderthal behaviors to the emergence of the first agricultural and herder societies. The research is carried out from a multidisciplinary approach, integrating different disciplines: lithic technology, zooarchaeology and taphonomy, paleontology, dental micro-wear, biogeochemistry, archeobotany, spatial analysis and archaeological stratigraphy and the study of the behavior of symbolic. Some of the objectives of the study are the following: a) the definition of Neanderthal behavior as a well-defined position in human evolution; b) cultural changes related to the arrival of modern humans into Europe; and c) the ending of hunter-gatherer societies and the emergence of producer economies.

GAPS intends to develop as a continuity of the previous year’s research. The research group is aimed at studying the cultural and behavioral changes, the ecology and population dynamics of Neanderthals and modern humans from the final Middle Pleistocene to the Mid Holocene. During this period, three major processes took place: 1) the origin of Neanderthal behavior; 2) the Middle to Upper Paleolithic transition and 3) the beginning of a productive economy (herding and agriculture). Our main strategic objectives encompassing the specific challenges are inter-linked with other ongoing projects led or participated by the members' Group.

1) Technology and material culture. Changes in material culture (including technological innovations) were broad throughout the Pleistocene. Specifically, we study:

  • The variability of Middle Paleolithic technologies, focusing on the alternation between expedient and planned behaviors.
  • The formation processes of lithic assemblages through the analysis of provisioning strategies, spatial distribution of technical activities, intra-site artifact transport and recycling.
  • The typological and technological ruptures at the Pleistocene-Holocene boundary.
  • The importance of expedient technologies in Upper Paleolithic and Mesolithic assemblages.
  • The fire and wood technologies related to wooden tools, structuring of living floors and energy resources (fuel).
  • •The formal symbolic expressions and execution techniques by hunter-gatherers and farmers-herders setting out graphical and symbolic process as a socialization issue. This includes the study of cave and mobile art from the Upper Paleolithic to the Neolithic, and other evidence of symbolic behavior such as personal adornments.
    For this, we apply different methodologies: morphotechnical stone tool analyses, refitting, 3D digitization of artifacts, experimental archaeology, raw materials analytical characterization (X-Ray Diffraction, Raman spectroscopy and geochemistry), GIS and archeobotany.

2) Subsistence strategies. This area is mainly based on the restoration and analysis of faunal and floral remains. Our topics of study are:

  • The evolution of survival strategies of prehistoric groups through the meat diet with special attention to cultural change periods.
  • Contribution to the population dynamics from the traditions observed on animal processing patterns (same groups with a strong territoriality vs. different groups with high mobility).
  • Seasonality of human occupations using tooth microwear and dental cementum incremental analyses.
  • Hominid-carnivore interactions and other co-evolutionary processes. i) Neo-taphonomy and taphonomic characterization of the wild carnivores (equifinality processes). ii) The role played by the carnivores in the archaeological assemblages.
  • Animal domestication processes and early animal husbandry based on the integration of biogeochemical analyses and zooarchaeology.
  • Uses of plants in human activities as human (diet) and animal food (fodder), as well as in combustion structures related to the subsistence and socio-economy.
    The methodology is based on zooarchaeology and taphonomy, tooth microwear studies, experimental archaeology, archeobotany (seeds, pollen, underground storage organs, charcoal, phytoliths), faunal Stable Isotope Analyses (δ13C, δ15N and δ18O), calcic oxalates analyses and dung spherulites.

3) Spatial analysis. The study of changes in settlement patterns and intrasite spatial organization is based on the analysis of the spatial distribution of archaeological remains and refits. The main objectives are:

  • The characterization of activity areas and household spaces from the Middle Paleolithic to the Mesolithic.
  • The identification of high temporal resolution units in archaeological sites.
  • The understanding of occupation patterns with special attention to the comparison between residential sites and specialized contexts and throughout lithic and zooarchaeological records.
    For this we will integrate the elements of analysis applying kernel density-based 'relative risk' surfaces, hot spot analysis and point process models to explore and test hypotheses relating to anthropic intra-site spatial distributions.

4) Paleoenvironment. Climate changes had a significant impact on plant and animal populations and, consequently, on the human adaptive patterns.

  • Changes in vegetation analyzing high resolution climatic fluctuations with the quantification of the impacts of human activity: landscape and cultural changes.
  • Socio-ecological resilience to environmental changes from the Late Glacial to the Mid-Holocene in the Iberian Mediterranean area and Western Mediterranean Islands. Paleoecological reconstructions of the Pleistocene-Holocene transition are based on the analysis of anthropic and natural deposits (drills in ancient lakes).
  • The formation of deposits through the study of non-pollen palynomorphs (NPP) and plant elements in fossil dung.
  • Human occupations at local geographic scale and short timescale, compared to regional and long temporal scale.
    For this we will apply an integration of different proxies, archeobotanical (charcoals, pollen, phytoliths, and natural deposits), biogeochemical (stable isotopes analysis), dental wear (micro- and mesowear) and microvertebrate’s paleontological studies.

GAPS’ members are involved in fieldwork and laboratory work at several sites in Europe and abroad, either as directors or participants, or studying materials. These projects are a cornerstone of the international profile of this research group. The number of projects, sites and researchers from other regions including Spanish researchers and teams with an international recognition will certainly increase our internationalization expectations.