The origins and evolution of human cognition and the impact of southwestern european coastal ecology

Vale Boi

The main objective of this project is to investigate the emergence and development of complex human cognition during the transition from Neanderthals to early Modern Humans in Southwestern Europe, and to ascertain the impact that changes in coastal ecology, including sea level and coast lines, and rapid climatic shifts might have had in this particular moment of the human past. The emergence of modern cognition, possibly stemming from the early inclusion of marine resources in the diet (known to be critical in the development and expansion of the human brain and retinal quality), seems to have been the key for the success of Anatomically Modern Humans (AMH) as the dominant and only surviving human species. In SW Iberia, Neanderthals lived longer than anywhere else possibly due to the early adaptation to a broad spectrum diet including a wide range of terrestrial and marine resources, next to the early development of some other so called modern cognitive traits such as symbolic behavior with body ornaments and the use of pigments. The relevant question is to know if the marine resources were, in fact, the trigger for the development of complex cognition in both species. Therefore, the secondary goal of this project is to investigate the impact of marine dietary resources in the emergence and development of human cognition in the transition from Neanderthals to early modern humans in Southwestern Europe. This project will provide knowledge on the changing coastal ecology and its relation to the emergence of modern human cognition based on the excavation of the Middle Paleolithic cave sites of Companheira and Ibn Ammar and the Upper Paleolithic rockshelter of Vale Boi, in Algarve, SW Portugal, as well as archaeological material analyses (stone tool, mammal fauna, marine shell and fish, ornament and art), dating (U-series and radiocarbon), isotopic analyses (shell, bone and speleothems) and geoarchaeology (sediments, geochemistry, micromorphology) from artifact and sediments of those sites. This project will improve knowledge on the changing coastal ecology and its relation to the emergence of modern human cognition. It will also provide information on preservation conditions, investigativeon methods and development of new equipment, interpretation of terrestrial and underwater archaeological, geological and palaeoenvironmental evidence for the appearance of complex human cognition, based on the development of new interdisciplinary and international research. It will focus on the transition between Neanderthal and Anatomical Modern Humans in an area where very little is known - the SW coast of Portugal.

João Cascalheira
Assistant Researcher