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 2017-2019)
Funder: Agència de Gestió d'Ajuts Universitaris i de Recerca (AGAUR)
Period: 01/01/2018 - 30/09/2021
Reference Code:
2017 SGR 836
Dr. Manuel Vaquero, Dr. Florent Rivals, Dr. Jordi Rosell, Dr. Francesc Burjachs, Dr. Ignasi Pastó, Dr. María Gema Chacón, Dr. Carlos Tornero, Dr. Juan Manuel López-García, Dr. Marian Behiruete-Azorín, Dr. Sandra Bañuls-Cardona, Dr. Ruth Blasco, Dr. Jordi Revelles, Dr. Maite Arilla Osuna, Dr. Aitor Burguet-Coca, Dr. Carlos Sánchez-Hernández, Dr. Antigone Uzunidis
PhD students:
 Juan Ignacio Martín-Viveros, Susana Alonso, Iván Ramírez, Sabrina Bianco, Célia Díaz-Canseco
Support to research staff:
 Dr. Isabel Expósito , Gala Gómez Merino, Núria Ibáñez, Irene Cazalla

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 behaviours to the emergence of the first agricultural and herder societies. This study is carried out from a multidisciplinary approach, integrating different disciplines: lithic technology, zooarchaeology and taphonomy, palaeontology, dental micro-wear, biogeochemistry, archaeobotany, spatial analysis and archaeological stratigraphy, study of the behaviour of symbolic and computational modelling. Some of the objectives of the study are the following: a) the definition of Neanderthal behaviour 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.

Objectives and research lines: The aim of the research group is to study the cultural and behavioural changes, the ecology and population dynamics of the Neanderthals and modern humans from the final Middle Pleistocene to the early Holocene. During this period, three major processes took place: 1) the origin of Neanderthal behaviour; 2) the Middle to Upper Palaeolithic transition and 3) the beginning of a productive economy.

Our 6 main strategic objectives encompassing the specific challenges are inter-linked with other ongoing projects led or participated by members of the group.

1. Technology and material culture. Changes in material culture (including technological innovations) were broad throughout the Pleistocene. Specifically, we study:
1a.The variability of Middle Paleolithic technologies, focusing on the alternation between expedient and planned behaviors.
1b.The formation processes of lithic assemblages through the analysis of provisioning strategies, spatial distribution of technical activities, intra-site artifact transport and recycling.
1c.The typological and technological ruptures at the Pleistocene-Holocene boundary.
1d.The importance of expedient technologies in Upper Paleolithic and Mesolithic assemblages.
1e.The fire- and wood-based technologies related to wooden tools, the structuring of living floors and energy resources (fuel).
1f.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 period to the Neolithic period, and other evidence of symbolic behavior such as personal adornments.
For this, we apply different methodologies: morpho-technical stone tool analyses, refitting, 3D digitization of artifacts, 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:
2a.The evolution of the survival strategies of prehistoric groups through the meat diet with special attention to periods of cultural change.
2b. Effect on the population dynamics of the traditions observed on animal processing patterns (same groups with a strong territoriality vs. different groups with high mobility).
2c. Seasonality of human occupations using tooth microwear and dental cementum incremental analyses.
2d. Hominid-carnivore interactions and other co-evolutionary processes. i) Neo-taphonomy and taphonomic characterization of wild carnivores (equifinality processes). ii) The role played by carnivores in the archeological assemblages.
2e. Animal domestication processes and early husbandry based on the integration of biogeochemical analyses.
2f. Uses of plants in human activities as human and animal food (fodder), as well as in combustion structures related to the subsistence and socio-economy.
The methodology is based on zooarcheology and taphonomy, tooth microwear studies, experimental archaeology, faunal Stable Isotope Analyses (δ13C and δ18O), and phytoliths and calcic oxalates analyses.

3. Spatial analysis. The study of changes in settlement patterns and intra-site spatial organization is based on the analysis of the spatial distribution of archaeological remains and refits. The main objectives are:
3a.The characterization of activity areas and household spaces from the Middle Paleolithic period to the Mesolithic period.
3b.The identification of high temporal resolution units in archaeological sites.
3c.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-ratio 'relative risk' surfaces 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.
4a. Changes in vegetation analysing high resolution climatic fluctuations with the quantification of the impact of human activity: landscape and cultural changes.
4b. Socio-ecological resilience to environmental changes from the Late Glacial period to the Mid-Holocene period in the Iberian Mediterranean area. The palaeoecological reconstructions of the Pleistocene-Holocene transition are based on the analysis of anthropic and natural deposits (drills in ancient lakes).
4c.The formation of deposits through the study of non-pollen palynomorphs (NPPs) and plant elements in fossil dung.
4d. Human occupations in a local geographic scale and short timescale, compared to a regional and long timescale.
For this, we will apply an integration of different proxies, archaeobotanical (charcoals, pollen, phytoliths, and natural deposits) and microvertebrates paleontological studies.

5. Quantitative modelling. Meta-analysis of archaeological data through mathematical and computational modelling techniques to recover demographic patterns and better understand long-term cultural dynamics. Specific examples would be:
5a.Using mathematical modelling to better understand the coevolution of gene-culture-ecosystem (Niche Construction Theory).
5b.Applying human dispersal modelling and analysis of demographic proxies to study cultural drifts and regional population dynamics.
5c.Conducting computational experiments (based on the combination of social networks analysis and agent-based modelling) to study processes of regionalization and cultural fragmentation.

6. Radiocarbon dating and chronological modelling. In order to build a high-resolution chronological framework for the periods covered by GAPS, this area includes:
6a.Expanding the radiocarbon dataset with new dates and Bayesian models to get a more precise an accurate chronology, and produce summed probability distributions and simulated radiocarbon datasets.
6b.Radiocarbon dating of sites from the Late Middle Palaeolithic and Early Upper Palaeolithic.
6c.Obtaining indirect 14C dating of parietal paintings from the calcium oxalate related to the pigments and coatings through its micro-stratigraphy.