imitation amber pine resin Iberian peninsula

First examples of Iberian prehistoric 'imitation amber' beads at gravesites

First examples of Iberian prehistoric 'imitation amber' beads at gravesites

Unscrupulous traders might have cheated rich customers with fake amber beads

imitation amber beads pine resin Iberian peninsula
These are amber bead samples studied in this paper. Credit: Odriozola et al., 2019, CC BY

Prehistoric Iberians created "imitation amber" by repeatedly coating bead cores with tree resins, according to a study published May 1, 2019 in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by Carlos Odriozola from Universidad de Sevilla, Spain, and colleagues.

Many studies have confirmed the ornamental and symbolic importance of amber to European prehistoric peoples. This study is the first to discuss potential prehistoric Iberian "imitation amber" beads made using the application of repeated resinite coatings on top of a bead core.

The authors obtained beads from two prehistoric sites in Spain: two from a cave tomb at the La Molina site in Sevilla, dating from the 3rd millennium BC, and four from a burial site in Cova del Gegant near Barcelona, dating from the 2nd millennium BC. Using infrared spectroscopy, an electron microscope probe, x-ray diffraction, and spectroscopy, the authors were able to study the chemical composition and structure of all six bead cores and coatings.

The beads from Cova del Gegant had a mollusk shell core, covered by a multilayered coating made up of tree resins, most likely pine. The beads were covered by a calcium-containing white deposit, which likely precipitated post-burial from the bone tissue of buried individuals. The beads from La Molina were also composed of a core covered by an amber-like resin, as well as two topmost layers of cinnabar and calcite which probably coated the beads post-burial.

The authors speculate these coating technologies were used to imitate amber's translucence, shine, and color, since during this prehistoric period, amber was relatively rare and highly in demand. However, both tomb sites contained other exotic materials such as ivory, gold and cinnabar, so it's not clear why individuals able to obtain these rare goods would use amber alternatives. The authors speculate that, especially in the Cova del Gegant where "imitation amber" was found directly alongside true amber beads, unscrupulous traders may have substituted low-cost fake amber to cheat their buyers. The authors also suggest chemical analysis of apparent "amber" artifacts could prevent erroneous amber identification in future studies of such Iberian sites.

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Citation: Odriozola CP, Garrido Cordero JÁ, Daura J, Sanz M, Martínez-Blanes JM, Avilés MÁ (2019) Amber imitation? Two unusual cases of Pinus resin-coated beads in Iberian Late Prehistory (3rd and 2nd millennia BC). PLoS ONE 14(5): e0215469. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0215469

Funding: This research was funded by the MINECO/AEI/FEDER -EU under contract HAR2012-34620 and HAR2017-83474-P. José Ángel Garrido Cordero acknowledges the University of Seville for a PhD grant under the V Plan Propio de Investigación de la Universidad de Sevilla. Montserrat Sanz acknowledges the program Juan de la Cierva for a postdoctoral grant (FJCI-2014-21386). Daura holds a postdoctoral grant (SFRH/BPD/ 100507/2014?) from the Portuguese Fundação para a Ciência e a Tecnologia using funding from the FSE/POPH.

Competing Interests: The authors have declared that no competing interests exist.

 

Press release from the Public Library of Sciences (PLOS)


The oldest assemblage of antler mining tools in the Iberian Peninsula undergoes restoration

The oldest assemblage of antler mining tools in the Iberian Peninsula undergoes restoration

antler mining tools Iberian Peninsula Pozarrate
Conservation and Restoration Laboratory

The team at the Conservation and Restoration Laboratory at the Centro Nacional de Investigación sobre la Evolución Humana (CENIEH) has just concluded its intervention on the oldest assemblage of antler mining tools in the Iberian Peninsula, dated to around 6,000 years old, and recovered during the 2018 excavation campaign directed by the CENIEH geologist Andoni Tarriño Vinagre.

This consists of seven remains of red deer antlers encountered in the quarry of Pozarrate (Treviño, Burgos), one of Spain's most important Neolithic flint mining operations. These tools are at least 1000 years older than other similar antler tools associated to prehistoric copper mining.

The intervention, comprising curative conservation and restoration work, was made complex by the conditions of preservation of the antlers, due in turn to their morphology and composition, aggravated by damp and the type of sediment present in the quarry. “A process of controlled desiccation was necessary so that the morphology and inherent information in the pieces was not lost”, explains Pilar Fernández Colón, head of the Conservation and Restoration Laboratory at the CENIEH.

Once restored, these tools will be studied by specialists in bone industry, and will be analyzed using non-destructive techniques, such as as micro-computed tomography. And Antonio Tarriño will present these findings to the scientific community at the international conference on mining archeology organized by the UISPP Commission on Flint Mining in Pre-and Protohistoric Times, in Warsaw, where the greatest specialists in the field will meet in September.

2019 Excavation campaign
In this year's excavation campaign, which is to take place during the month of July, work is going to continue on exposing the rocky substrate with flint which was the object of the mining activity, and it is hoped to reach a depth of at least 5 meters in the bottom of the quarry.

“We also expect to continue recovering more antler tools among the utensils employed in the operation, such as: ophite sledgehammers, flint picks and hammers and tens of thousands of fragments of waste flint from the operation”, says Tarriño.

This project by the CENIEH is receiving financial and infrastructure support from the Ayuntamiento de Treviño, the Universidad del País Vasco (UPV/EHU), the Junta de Castilla y León and the Diputación Foral de Álava. “Moreover, given the complexity and interest of the data we are getting, we have managed to extend the duration of the MINECO Project which this research is part of (HAR2015-67429-P), for one year”, he adds.

 

Press release from Centro Nacional de Investigación sobre la Evolución Humana CENIEH/ (ES)


genetics history prehistory Spain Iberia Iberian populations genetic history

Unique diversity of the genetic history of the Iberian Peninsula revealed by dual studies

Unique diversity of the genetic history of the Iberian Peninsula revealed by dual studies

Two studies, one looking at Iberian hunter-gatherers between 13,000 and 6,000 years ago and another looking at Iberian populations over the last 8000 years, add new resolution to our understanding of the history and prehistory of the region

Vanessa Villalba-Mouco performing aDNA labwork. Credit: Marieke S. van der Loosdrecht

An international team of researchers have analyzed ancient DNA from almost 300 individuals from the Iberian Peninsula, spanning more than 12,000 years, in two studies published today (14/03/2019) in Current Biology and Science. The first study looked at hunter-gatherers and early farmers living in Iberia between 13,000 and 6000 years ago. The second looked at individuals from the region during all time periods over the last 8000 years. Together, the two papers greatly increase our knowledge about the population history of this unique region.

The Iberian Peninsula has long been thought of as an outlier in the population history of Europe, due to its unique climate and position on the far western edge of the continent. During the last Ice Age, Iberia remained relatively warm, allowing plants and animals - and possibly people - who were forced to retreat from much of the rest of Europe to continue living there. Similarly, over the last 8000 years, Iberia's geographic location, rugged terrain, position on the Mediterranean coast and proximity to North Africa made it unique in comparison to other parts of Europe in its interactions with other regions. Two new studies, published concurrently in Current Biology and Science, analyze a total of almost 300 individuals who lived from about 13,000 to 400 years ago to give unprecedented clarity on the unique population history of the Iberian Peninsula.

Iberian hunter-gatherers show two ancient Paleolithic lineages

For the paper in Current Biology, led by researchers at the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, researchers analyzed 11 hunter-gatherers and Neolithic individuals from Iberia. The oldest newly analyzed individuals are approximately 12,000 years old and were recovered from Balma Guilanyà in Spain.

Excavation work in progress at the site of Balma Guilanyà. Credit: CEPAB-UAB

Earlier evidence had shown that, after the end of the last Ice Age, western and central Europe were dominated by hunter-gatherers with ancestry associated with an approximately 14,000-year-old individual from Villabruna, Italy. Italy is thought to have been a potential refuge for humans during the last Ice Age, like Iberia. The Villabruna-related ancestry largely replaced earlier ancestry in western and central Europe related to 19,000-15,000-year-old individuals associated with what is known as the Magdalenian cultural complex.

Interestingly, the findings of the current study show that both lineages were present in Iberian individuals dating back as far as 19,000 years ago. "We can confirm the survival of an additional Paleolithic lineage that dates back to the Late Ice Age in Iberia," says Wolfgang Haak of the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, senior author of the study. "This confirms the role of the Iberian Peninsula as a refuge during the Last Glacial Maximum, not only for fauna and flora but also for human populations."

This suggests that, far from being replaced by Villabruna-related individuals after the last Ice Age, hunter-gatherers in Iberia in fact already had ancestry from Magdalenian- and Villabruna-related sources. The discovery suggests an early connection between two potential refugia, resulting in a genetic ancestry that survived in later Iberian hunter-gatherers.

"The hunter-gatherers from the Iberian Peninsula carry a mix of two older types of genetic ancestry: one that dates back to the Last Glacial Maximum and was once maximized in individuals attributed to Magdalenian culture and another one that is found everywhere in western and central Europe and had replaced the Magdalenian lineage during the Early Holocene everywhere except the Iberian Peninsula," explains Vanessa Villalba-Mouco of the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, first author of the study.

The researchers hope that ongoing efforts to decipher the genetic structure of late hunter-gatherer groups across Europe will help to even better understand Europe's past and, in particular, the assimilation of a Neolithic way of life brought about by expanding farmers from the Near East during the Holocene.

Ancient DNA from individuals spanning the last 8000 years helps clarify the history and prehistory of the Iberian Peninsula

The paper published in Science focuses on slightly later time periods, and traces the population history of Iberia over the last 8000 years by analyzing ancient DNA from a huge number of individuals. The study, led by Harvard Medical School and the Broad Institute and including Haak and Villalba-Mouco, analyzed 271 ancient Iberians from the Mesolithic, Neolithic, Copper Age, Bronze Age, Iron Age and historical periods. The large number of individuals allowed the team to make more detailed inferences about each time period than previously possible.

The researchers found that during the transition to a sedentary farming life-style, hunter-gatherers in Iberia contributed subtly to the genetic make-up of newly arriving farmers from the Near East. "We can see that there must have been local mixture as the Iberian farmers also carry this dual signature of hunter-gatherer ancestry unique to Iberia," explains Villalba-Mouco.

Between about 2500-2000 BC, the researchers observed the replacement of 40% of Iberia's ancestry and nearly 100% of its Y-chromosomes by people with ancestry from the Pontic Steppe, a region in what is today Ukraine and Russia. Interestingly, the findings show that in the Iron Age, "Steppe ancestry" had spread not only into Indo-European-speaking regions of Iberia but also into non-Indo-European-speaking ones, such as the region inhabited by the Basque. The researchers' analysis suggests that present-day Basques most closely resemble a typical Iberian Iron Age population, including the influx of "Steppe ancestry," but that they were not affected by subsequent genetic contributions that affected the rest of Iberia. This suggests that Basque speakers were equally affected genetically as other groups by the arrival of Steppe populations, but retained their language in any case. It was only after that time that they became relatively isolated genetically from the rest of the Iberian Peninsula.

Additionally, the researchers looked at historical periods, including times when Greek and later Roman settlements existed in Iberia. The researchers found that beginning at least in the Roman period, the ancestry of the peninsula was transformed by gene flow from North Africa and the eastern Mediterranean. They found that Greek and Roman settlements tended to be quite multiethnic, with individuals from the central and eastern Mediterranean and North Africa as well as locals, and that these interactions had lasting demographic as well as cultural impacts.

"Beyond the specific insights about Iberia, this study serves as a model for how a high-resolution ancient DNA transect continuing into historical periods can be used to provide a detailed description of the formation of present-day populations," explains Haak. "We hope that future use of similar strategies will provide equally valuable insights in other regions of the world."

genetics history prehistory Spain Iberia Iberian populations genetic history Iberian Peninsula
Cueva de Chaves site. Credit: Museo de Huesca

Press release from the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History/Max-Planck-Institut für Menschheitsgeschichte (MPI-SHH)


Foxes were domesticated by humans in the Bronze Age

In the northeast of the Iberian Peninsula, between the third and second millennium BC, a widespread funeral practice consisted in burying humans with animals. Scientists have discovered that both foxes and dogs were domesticated, as their diet was similar to that of their owners.

dogs foxes Can Roqueta Minferri Spain Bronze Age prehistory
Artistic representation of a woman of the Bronze Age accompanied by a dog and a fox / J. A. Peñas

The discovery of four foxes and a large number of dogs at the Can Roqueta (Barcelona) and Minferri (Lleida) sites stands out among the many examples of tombs in different parts of the north-eastern peninsula. These burials reveal a generalized funeral practice that proliferated in the Early to Middle Bronze Age: that of burying humans together with domestic animals.

What is most striking about these sites is the way of burying the dead in large silos, along with their dogs and a few foxes. “We discovered that in some cases the dogs received a special kind of food. We believe this is linked to their function as working dogs. Besides, one of the foxes shows signs of having already been a domestic animal in those times,” Aurora Grandal-d'Anglade, co-author of a study on the relationship between humans and dogs through their diet published in the journal Archaeological and Anthropological Sciences, has said to to Sinc.

By means of studying stable carbon and nitrogen isotopes in bone collagen, as well as archaeological, archaeobiological and anthropological studies, researchers have been able to compare the diets of buried animals with their owners´ diet. A total of 37 dogs, 19 domestic ungulates and 64 humans were analyzed. The results indicate that the dogs’ diet was similar to that of humans.

The isotopic study of the Minferri foxes shows a varied diet: in some cases it looks similar to that of the dogs at that site, and in another it looks more like that of a wild animal or one that had little contact with humans.

“The case of the Can Roqueta fox is very special, because it is an old animal, with a broken leg. The fracture is still in its healing process, and shows signs of having been immobilized (cured) by humans. The feeding of this animal is very unusual, as it is more akin to a puppy dog’s. We interpret it as a domestic animal that lived for a long time with humans,” explains Grandal.

Large dogs used for transporting loads

The study points out that, in some particular cases in Can Roqueta, there was a specific cereal-rich food preparation for larger dogs probably used for carrying loads, and for at least one of the foxes.

“These specimens also show signs of disorders in the spinal column linked to the transport of heavy objects. Humans were probably looking for a high-carbohydrate diet because the animals developed a more active job, which required immediate calorie expenditure. It may seem strange that dogs were basically fed with cereals, but this was already recommended by the first-century Hispano-Roman agronomist Lucius Junius Moderatus Columella , in his work De re rustica”, says Silvia Albizuri Canadell, co-author of the work and archaeozoologist at the University of Barcelona.

Other animals, such as cows, sheep or goats are noted for an herbivorous diet. Their function was probably to provide milk, meat or wool rather than serve as a work force. “The horse was not yet widespread in those societies, no traces of it can be found until later times,” adds the scientist.

In general, humans and dogs show somewhat higher isotopic signals than ungulates, which indicates a certain (not very high) consumption of animal protein, “not necessarily much meat; they could be, for example, derived from milk,” explains Grandal. Archaeological objects included sieves that served as ‘cheese making devices’.

Moreover, men seem to have included more meat than women in their diet. As for dogs, their diet may have been mainly from leftovers of what humans ate, mostly more similar to that of women and children. “That's why we thought they were more linked to these domestic environments,” says the researcher. There are many ethnographic parallels that indicate this relationship between women and dogs.

 

Feeding and treatment of foxes and dogs

The fundamental role of dogs during the Bronze Age, when livestock, along with agriculture, constituted the basis of the economy, was that of the surveillance and guidance of herds. They were also responsible for taking care of human settlements, given the risk posed by the frequent presence of dangerous animals such as wolves or bears.

“The characteristics of dogs include their great intelligence, easy trainability and, undoubtedly, their defensive behaviour. As if that were not enough, this animal was used until the nineteenth century AD in North America, Canada and Europe for light transport on its back and for dragging carts and sleds. It also functioned as a pack animal on the Peninsula during the Bronze Age,” Albizuri Canadell claims.

Some archaeological specimens from North America show bone disorders that stem from the pulling of ‘travois’. There are also accounts by the first colonizers of the use of dogs in these tasks by Indian populations until the nineteenth century AD, although they had not been identified in Europe until a few years ago.

“It was the Can Roqueta specimens under study that triggered the alarm about the use of this animal for light loads since antiquity, and they’re an exceptional case in Europe,” says Albizuri Canadell.

Similar pathologies have also been recently identified in the vertebrae of Siberian Palaeolithic dogs, leading one to think that one of the first tasks since their early domestication was the pulling of sleds and travois, in addition to hunting.

Its role as a transport animal in the first migrations and human movements through glacial Europe could have been fundamental and much more important than believed until recently.

The reason for animal offerings

Exceptional findings, such as those of tomb #88 and #405 of the Minferri site (Lleida), show that during the Bronze Age there were already well-differentiated funeral treatments in human communities.

“In the two structures mentioned above, the remains of three individuals were found together with animal offerings. In tomb #88 there was the body of an old man with the remains of a whole cow and the legs of up to seven goats. Theremains of a young woman with the offering of a whole goat, two foxes and a bovine horn were also found,” states Ariadna Nieto Espinet, an archaeologist from the University of Lleida and also the co-author of the study.

Structure #405 uncovered the body of an individual, possibly a woman, accompanied by the whole bodies of two bovines and two dogs. “We still don't know why only a few people would have had the right or privilege to be buried with this type of offering, unlike what happens with the vast majority of burials,” the expert points out.

In Can Roqueta, clear differences have also been observed in the deposits of domestic animals within the tombs of adults, both men and women, which are even reflected in children's tombs. From this we can infer the existence of an inheritance of social status from birth.

“It is tempting to think that if we understand domestic animals as a very important part of the agro- pastoral agro-shepherding economy of the Bronze Age and of the belongings of some people in life, these could be an indicator of the wealth of the deceased individual  or of his clan or family,” argues Nieto Espinet.

“It seems that species such as bovines and dogs, two of the most recurring animals in funeral offerings, are those that might have played a fundamental role in the economy and work as well as in the symbolic world, becoming elements of ostentation, prestige and protection,” she concludes.

References:

Aurora Grandal-d’Anglade, Silvia Albizuri, Ariadna Nieto, Tona Majó, Bibiana Agustí, Natalia Alonso, Ferran Antolín, Joan B. López, Andreu Moya, Alba Rodríguez y Antoni Palomo. “Dogs and foxes in Early-Middle Bronze Age funerary structures in the northeast of the Iberian Peninsula: human control of canid diet at the sites of Can Roqueta (Barcelona) and Minferri (Lleida)” Archaeological and Anthropological Sciences https://doi.org/10.1007/s12520-019-00781-z

Press release from Agencia Sinc, author Eva Rodriguez