Overview

Coastal areas are dynamic zones of cultural interaction and social change. The Prehistoric Coastal Adaptations group at ICArEHB seeks to understand the role of coastlines, riverine and lake environments in human cultural and biological evolution, including settlement and dietary strategies. Our overarching goal is to reconstruct how humans have explored and adapted to changing coastal environments through time. To address this topic, we gather researchers with wide interdisciplinary expertise, ranging from adaptive and symbolic use of archaeological artifacts made of inorganic (lithics) or organic raw materials (bone, shells), marine and terrestrial faunal exploitation, geological and micromorphological characterization of archaeological deposits, GIS predictive models, use wear studies, and paleoenvironmental reconstructions.

Our research entails a range of geographic and chronological settings, and can be grouped in three main research lines:

  • The impact of marine resources in early Anatomically Modern Human adaptations. The reliance on marine resources has been proposed as one of the mechanisms for the emergence of cognitive complexity and the so-called modern human behavior. We seek to characterize and investigate the role of aquatic resources in extinct hominin adaptations and, more specifically, in early Anatomically Modern Humans in Africa and in Western Europe. Our ongoing research and field projects are mainly based in Portugal, Gibraltar, Spain, Morocco, South Africa and Mozambique.
  • The role of marine ecosystems in Neanderthal adaptations. Although not widespread, several Middle Paleolithic sites have been associated with evidence for fish consumption and symbolic use of shells by Neanderthals. Our goal is to characterize the extent and modalities of coastal and riverine resource exploitation by Neanderthal populations, with ongoing projects focusing on coastal reconstructions and archaeological excavations in Northern, Western and Southern Iberian contexts.
  • The shift to intense reliance on aquatic resources during the Early Holocene. With the onset of the Holocene, there is a marked transition with human populations relying intensively on coastal settings and resources. Noticeable coastal adaptations are evident not only from isotopic signatures of marine-based diets in Mesolithic populations, but also by the emergence of anthropogenically constructed sites often described as shell middens and mounds. Our research group focuses on archaeological fieldwork at shell-rich Epipaleolithic and Mesolithic sites in Central and Southern Portugal. In particular, we work at the classical Mesolithic Muge shellmiddens, using an interdisciplinary approach to understand the timing and modalities of mound building in conjunction with paleo-landscape and paleoenvironmental reconstructions.