Laboratory of Archaeosciences
Specific research interests include the development of culture in the course of time, the use and management of animal, plant and geological resources; the nature of the environment in the past and its effect upon the life of humans.
Geoarchaeology aims to understand the relationship between past human societies and the surrounding environment using methods developed in the earth sciences. Geoarchaeology works at different scales, from macro to micro, in order to establish the chronology of events, to reconstruct the stratigraphic record, the environment and its evolution through time and across space and the relations between people and the available resources. Geoarchaeology also attempts to shed light upon the process of archaeological site formation and the natural and anthropic interactions and how these could have influenced archaeological sites.
Palaeobotany is the study of fossil macro- and microscopic plant remains recovered from sediments of various contexts in order to document the history of vegetation. This knowledge may in turn provide valuable information about the environment in general with implications for past climate changes, changes of sea level and variations of the coast line. It may also document the way humans exploited the environment through their use of plants specifically for agriculture or pasture. In some contexts it can also document forestry, trade as well as dietary and funerary practices.
Zooarchaeology, the study of animal remains from archaeological sites, helps us to understand the relation between animals and man in the course of his time on this planet as well as the nature of the environment in which our ancestors lived. Zooarchaeology attempts to study both variations of taxa across space and through time. Given the short duration of the latter (the last 50,000 years), it may also be regarded as the study of microevolution, or variation of animals below the species level. Zooarchaeology helps us to understand environmental changes at the end of the last Ice Age, the processes of extinction of endemic species and the introduction of exotic taxa, animal domestication, the reasons for which animals were exploited and their improvement, past rituals in relation to animals, and even the status and religious practises of our ancestors. Our group include investigators specialized in bones from mammals, birds and fish.
Lithic Technology, the study of stone tools, reconstructs past human behaviours in their technical, economic and social dimensions. In the course of millennia, stone tools were the primary means for obtaining and processing food, shelter and a number of other domestic needs. Conceived as a part of the whole cultural system, lithic variability must be studied in conjunction with other variables: i) subsistence, settlement, and mobility; ii) environment, climate and seasonality of resources. Guided by the chaîne opératoire approach - a reconstitution of the process of production (from raw material acquisition and selection to the gestures that determined the desired end-products) - the study of stone tools includes diverse analytical procedures and other research avenues such as spatial archaeology; experimental archaeology, and use-wear analyses. These are dependent upon broader aspects concerning the organisation and functioning of past human societies.
Use-wear analysis: Use-wear analysis, applied to lithics, involves determining tools function trough the examination of the edges and surfaces under low and high magnifications. During contact between the tool and the worked material, macroscopic and microscopic modifications of the original tools edge and surface occurred which can be observed with a microscope. Each worked material (bone, wood, and meat for example) and motion produced specific and recognizable features (use-wear) documenting the type of activities presented at the site (related with subsistence and others). It is the only method allowing to determine directly to what and how the stone tool was used, and to identify the presence of organic materials which are not archaeologically preserved. Biological Anthropology, the study of human remains, sheds light upon human non-metric and metric diversity. The data obtained help to reconstruct the demographic and health profiles of our ancestors from prehistory to the present. The research is carried out by adopting a bio-cultural approach so that the biological data may be cross-referenced and contextualized within the context of other archaeo-sciences. In doing so, inferences about human behaviour and culture can also be obtained, namely those regarding funerary practices.
In sum, we aim to focus upon the relation between the environment and human bio-cultural diversity. This leads to an understanding of the interaction between man and the environment and the human contribution to evolutionary trajectories of many present-day plant and animal species.