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Final Report Summary - EUROREFUGIA (Human subsistence and climate change in European refugia: late Neanderthals and early modern humans)

EUROREFUGIA aimed to contribute to the on-going debate about the causes of the rapid replacement of Neanderthals by modern humans in Europe around ±45 kyr BP and the probable difficulties that the former could have faced while withdrawing to certain refuge areas until their final extinction no later than 5,000 years later. This is a key period of human evolution that witnessed the confrontation of two different but advanced cultures. Among other possible explanations, EUROREFUGIA focuses on the palaeoeconomic and paleoclimatic perspectives, and hence, it has characterised the hunting skills of both human species and, above all, their ability to cope with a changing environmental scenario. EUROFUGIA has studied faunal fossil material of archaeological sites located in two of the main known refugia: the Balkans and the Iberian Peninsula, with a multidisciplinary approach that included: archaeozoology, taphonomy and isotopic analyses.
To achieve this goal, on the one hand, first, the PI set up the Laboratory of Bioarchaeology at her institution, the International Institute for Prehistoric Research in Cantabria (IIIPC), which is part of the University of Cantabria. This laboratory and collections were non-existent before her arrival. Today it is the unique laboratory of this characteristics in the north of the Iberian Peninsula. This research facility holds a complete vertebrate comparative collection the PI managed to gather. After this, she was able to propose the line of Bioarchaeology and Paleoclimatology at the IIIPC and attract international and multidisciplinary specialists to work with her and implement this knowledge at the University of Cantabria. Since 2012 she has supervised three postdoctoral research associates, 1 PhD and 7 Master students. She has attracted funding for research and personnel from the European Commission, Spanish Ministries of Economy and Competitiveness (MINECO) and Education and Culture (MECD), the University of Cantabria, the Cantabria Campus International and private foundations, totalling 722,000€. She has been shortlisted twice for the ERC Grants.
After the laboratory was established, she was able to carry out the research project. With the support provided by the comparative collections, the PI achieved the zooarchaeological and taphonomic study of the faunal fossils found in the cave of Salitrena Pecina in Serbia and El Mirón and La Viña in northern Spain. During this time, she has obtained information about the palaeodiet carried out by Neanderthals and early modern humans in this area of the Central Balkans. Simultaneously, she made radiocarbon dates on those animal bones, left by Neanderthals and anatomically modern humans, to know when exactly both human species were at those sites. In Serbia, those dates are the first ones to establish the survival of Neanderthals and the arrival of modern humans in the region. Also, a step further was taken, stable isotopes on the consumed animals from the Serbian and Iberian archaeological sites were analysed for reconstructing the palaeoenvironmental and palaeoclimatic conditions at the time when both human species lived. This methodology was applied for the first time in the regions for the period of study. This part of the project was benefited from collaborations with international institutions, and in fact, after those collaborations, Dr Marín-Arroyo was able to set up the protocol for isotopes pretreatment at the University of Cantabria. Results indicate how both species were able to cope with climatic and environmental oscillations and adapt their diet to that changing landscapes. However, more research is needed with sites located in difference climatic, environmental and topographic locations where late Neanderthals and early modern human groups lived. During this period, the PI
The potential impact and use of this project could be summarised as follows: 1) Research results reveal how the update and multidisciplinary techniques applied to fossil faunal material are adequated to solve the main question proposed by EUROREFUGIA and the published results will give some light of the debate. 2) Establishment of the line of research and her own team attracted attention from other researchers in other institutions favouring collaborations. 3) Use of the comparative collections of the Laboratory of Bioarchaeology for research purposes and students training. One of the main socio-economic impacts of this project was the attraction of students and researchers from Spanish and international institutions to consult the comparative collections and research collaborations. Since 2012, four students has started their PhDs within the line of Bioarchaeology at the University of Cantabria, all of them from other regions and countries.
-The project logo and several pictures of the research and the team working at the laboratory are included.
-This is the address of the project website:
-Contact details: Ana B. Marín-Arroyo. Instituto Internacional de Investigaciones Prehistóricas de Cantabria (IIIPC). Universidad de Cantabria. Avda. de los Castros, s/n. 39005 Santander, Spain

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