Modern origins in the Mediterranean : interdisciplinary approach

IMéRA, January 14th-15th 2016 

Modern origins in the Mediterranean : interdisciplinary approach

Par Abdeljalil Bouzouggar, Fellow IMéRA-LabexMed 2015-2016

One of the most keenly debated issues in human evolutionary research concerns the Origin of the “Modern” Behaviour and dispersal of Homo sapiens. Mediterranean region knew the occurrence of early Homo sapiens with Middle Palaeolithic/Middle Stone Age finds at some key sites in both sides of this area.

A broader theme identified by the Abdeljalil Bouzouggar’s project for his residency at IMéRA (September 14th 2015-February 12th 2016) concerns the modern origins in the Mediterranean from an interdisciplinary perspective. With the help of the IMéRA staff and in collaboration with the LAMPEA (Europe Africa Prehistory Mediterranean Laboratory) at Aix Marseille University and the University of Oxford (UK), an international workshop was held in IMéRA on the theme of “Modern Origins in the Mediterranean : an interdisciplinary approach” in January 14th-15th 2016. In addition to IMéRA and Bouzouggar’s host laboratory (LAMPEA) specialists and keynote speakers from various countries and prestigious institutions attended the meeting and gave talks.

The list of the researchers is as the next :

  • Abdeljalil Bouzouggar (co-organiser), Resident at IMéRA, Aix-Marseille University, France Jean-Pierre Bracco (co-organiser), Aix-Marseille University, LabexMed-LAMPEA UMR 7269-CNRS, Aix-en-Provence, France Graeme Barker, University of Cambridge, United Kingdom
  • Nick Barton, University of Oxford, United Kingdom
  • Lotfi Belhouchet, Institut National du Patrimoine et Musée de Kairouan, Tunisie
  •  Amy Clark, Arizona University, USA Jacques Collina-Girard, Aix-Marseille University, LabexMed-LAMPEA UMR 7269-CNRS, Aix-en-Provence, France
  • Christophe Falgueres, Museum National d’Histoire Naturelle, Paris, France
  • Philippe Fernandez, Aix-Marseille University, LabexMed-LAMPEA UMR 7269-CNRS, Aix-en-Provence, France
  • Dirk Hoffmann, Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Leipzig, Germany
  • Jean-Jacques Hublin, Collège de France and Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Leipzig, Germany
  • Louise Humphrey, Natural History Museum, London, United Kingdom
  • Frédéric Joulian, EHESS-CNRS UMR8562, Aix-Marseille Université, France
  • Julia Lee Thorp, University of Oxford, United Kingdom
  • Jacob Morales, Departamento Geografía, Historia y Arqueología, University of the Basque Country, Spain
  • Jean-Paul Raynal, Bordeaux University, PACEA, Talence, France
  • Emili Aura Tortosa, Departamento de Prehistòria i Arqueologia, Universitat de València, Spain

The main objectives of the International workshop

The workshop served to round up Bouzouggar’s project at IMéRA, to present new results and to raise the awareness of the importance of modern origins in the Mediterranean.

The assembled researchers are all specialists in their fields which include archaeology, geology, biology, chemistry, climate studies, paleontology, physics, botany and palaeanthropology. It was an excellent opportunity to present the results in a highly interdisciplinary approach and sometimes in a transdisciplinary one when the workshop was evaluated from an ethnographic perspective (talk of F. Joulian).

The second objective was to help AMU students to be in touch with senior researchers to develop the future research career prospects. For this reason the organizers invited key researchers in their institutions who could decide and may offer positions to the AMU postgraduates students (Hublin is the director of the department of human evolution at the Max Planck Institute and Professor in Collège de France, Barton is the director of the Baden Powel Quaternary Center and Lee Thorp is the responsible of Head of the Stable Light Isotope Laboratory at University of Oxford), that’s why during the workshop there were two main sessions of “open discussion with the students”.

The researchers were invited to divide into two their presentations by providing 15 minutes to the theory framework of their research area and other 15 minutes to present their results. Doing so, the AMU students were able to understand different disciplines and their techniques.

To set up a successful discussion with AMU students and the participants in this international workshop, three (3) PhD classes took place at IMéRA before the workshop in January 4th , 8th and 11th to prepare the students.

The main sessions of the international workshop

The workshop was divided into five (5) sessions : Palaeanthropology, Climate and Chronology, Archaeology in the Northern Mediterranean, Archaeology in North Africa and Paleoenvironment & Subsistence,

After a welcome speech by the scientific director of IMéRA Pr Amine Asselah, the workshop was opened by Pr Jean-Pierre Bracco the director of LAMPEA presenting the main objectives of the meeting and the sessions.

In the first session three talks were presented by J.J. Hublin, L. Humphrey and J. Collina-Girard about the Sahara and North Africa as a possible place for the occurrence of the early modern humans (Hublin), the evolution and innovations of Homo sapiens in the Upper Pleistocene in North Africa especially the so-called Iberomarusian Culture (Humphrey) and the role of the Gibraltar straight as a corridor for exchanges between human groups since 450 000 years exploring the origin of the Iberomaurusien, a special culture in the North African Upper Pleistocene (Collina-Girard).

The second session was dedicated to the climate & chronology and two talks were presented by D. Hoffman and Ch. Falgueres concerning the reconstruction of the climate changes in the Western Mediterranean using the speleothems supported by the Uranium series datings (Hoffman) and discussing the methodological, field and laboratory problems to establish a chronology of the Upper Pleistocene based on the luminescence or ESR (Electron Spin Resonance) techniques (Falgueres).

The third session was about the archaeology in the Northern Mediterranean and three talks were given by A. Clark & S. Kuhn and E. Aura Tortosa discussing the possible contacts between human groups during the end of H1 (Heinrich Event 1) and YD (Younger Dryas) cross the Gibraltar straight and showing similarities in both North African Iberomarusian and the European Magdalenian (Aura Tortosa) and the role of the human in the site formation process during the Middle Palaeolithic in France (Clark and Kuhn).

The fourth session was about Archaeology in North Africa and five talks were given by J.-P. Raynal, N. Barton, A. Bouzouggar, L. Belhouchet and G. Barker. The role of the Sahara and especially the atlantic area was considered as a corridor for the dispersal of the early modern humans in North Africa (Raynal), the Middle Stone Age (MSA) and Later Stone Age (LSA) transition was discussed on the light of the new work at Taforalt cave (Morocco) and the considerable variation across North Africa between 40,000 and 20,000 years (Barton). Another area for discussion concerns the whole question of the nature and identity of the Middle Stone Age in North Africa which is urgently in need of review and redefinition and has now come under renewed challenge after recent studies of finds from various sites (Bouzouggar), and some examples of research projects in Tunisia were presented (Belhouchet). Other example from the Haua Fteah cave (Libya) was presented showing that the site has been systematically excavated in the last decade and has yielded datable sequences that provide fresh light on the nature of the MSA and LSA cultures.

The fifth session was about the Palaeoenvironment and subsistence, and three papers were given by Ph. Fernandez, J. Lee Thorp and J. Morales presenting the results and thoughts concerning the fauna migrations cross the Gibraltar Straight (Fernandez), the comparison of consumption of the marine sources between palaeolithic groups in both North Africa and South Africa using the Stable Isotopes analysis (Lee Thorp). Another kind of subsistence was discussed in the last paper concerning the plant remains identified in the archaeological sites and used as food source (Morales)

The last presentation was given by F. Joulian providing thoughts about the modernity from an ethnographic perspective looking at apes and their behaviour.

The concluding remarks were given by A. Bouzouggar pointing out that the workshop provided expertise for the Aix Marseille University early career scientists and students. The workshop therefore offered excellent opportunities for knowledge transfer and to develop the future research career prospects for both researchers and postgraduates since the Mediterranean is of key interest in the understanding of human evolution and behavioural development. Themes for discussion in the workshop included the nature, environment, chronology and human associations with the cultural sub-divisions in the Late Pleistocene on both sides of the Mediterranean Sea. Amongst the main issues identified so far are: How early is “Modern Behaviour” seen in this region, does its appearance signify the arrival of new populations and what is the environmental context of human cultures. The aim of the workshop was not to answer all of these questions but to stimulate further discussion and to act as an introduction to other contributions that will cover the themes described above in more detail.

The workshop consisted of scientists from leading institutions in their own countries and their participation in the workshop provided expertise and will also allow new networks to be built between both researchers and the new generation of early career scientists and Aix-Marseille University students.


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