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RM albert

ICREA Research Professor

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I am an archaeologist and my major research interest focuses on two different and interrelated aspects, the human use of plant resources and the reconstruction of the vegetation and the environment of human occupied landscapes, through the study of the microarchaeological record (the microscopic record invisible to the naked eye). To this end, I conduct detailed mineralogical analyses of archaeological and closely-related sediments, and I use a range of different disciplines to identify plant remains (phytoliths, starches, calcium oxalate crystals, ash pseudomorphs, diatoms) and fecal remains (spherulites). Each microremain has particular traits, which makes them extremely resistant to time. As a result, they are commonly identified in archaeological sediments and they provide pivotal information on human past activities and environmental conditions. Specifically, silica phytoliths and diatoms are extremely resistant to decay and have been identified in contexts up to the Tertiary (Stromberg 2002).

Research Lines:

• The study of Fire in Prehistory.
• Paleoenvironmental reconstruction during African Hominin Evolution.
• Agriculture and domestication practices in the Levant.
• Plant uses and landscape at the Balearic Islands, collaborating with Prof. Miguel Ángel Cau on the roman site of Pollentia.
• Development of digital platforms to exchange databases to improve archaeological research (

Current Projects:

 • The use of plants by past societies, and the reconstruction of anthropic landscapes through the study of microremains of biological origin. Ministerio de Economia y Competitividad (2017-2020). PI: Rosa Maria Albert (2017-2020).

- The evolution of human groups is closely related with the climate, environment and the way they used the available resources. There are four important moments for the history of humankind: emergence of early Homos during the Plio-Pleistocene and Lower Pleistocene in Africa; b) emergence of Anatomically modern Homo populations in Africa and Neanderthal populations in Europe and Asia; c) development of agricultural and herding practices and d) evolution of urban centers. These four moments represent significant changes at the social, intellectual, and economical level, and gave place to important transformations that modified our behavior. With this multicidisciplinary proposal, we intend to advance our knowledge on the environment and its influence on our physical and cognitive capacities; to examine this environment as a source of vegetal resources necessary for our survival and, finally to identify the impact caused by the use of these resources on the environment. The methods that we use are based on the microarchaeology, the study of non-visible remains, but that can offer valuable information for a better understanding of the archaeological record. In our case, we focus on the study of microremains of bioarchaeological origin (phytoliths, starches, calcium oxalate crystals, diatoms, fecal spherulites, etc.) and on mineralogical analyses of sediments through the use of Fourier Transformed Infrared Spectroscopy (FT-IR). We also pay special attention to the postdepositional conditions that may affect the preservation of these microremains, and in particular to improve the methodological approaches addressed to identify combusted phytoliths, for better recognize fire evidence in prehistoric sites.

- The sites object of study throughout this project are:

  • Olduvai Gorge (Tanzania) (Plio-pleisitocene and Lower Pleistocene)
  • Mughr el-Hamamah (Jordan) (Transition Middle-Upper Palaeolithic)
  • Lusarket (Armenia) (Transition Middle-Upper Palaeolithic)
  • Cueva del Arco (Murcia) (Transition Middle-Upper Palaeolithic)
  • Los Husos (Álava, Spain) (Neolithic)
  • Cova de Can Sadurni (Begues, Spain) (Neolithic)
  • Pollentia (Alcúdia, Spain) (Roman site)

In Camp and Out: Tracing Environmental Context and Human Activity Patterns in and around the Early Upper Paleolithic Mughr el-Hamamah Site, Jordan. The Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research. New York (USA) 2017. PI: Aaron Jonas Stutz (Emory University, USA).

Mughr el-Hamamah (MHM) is a newly discovered Levantine Early Upper Paleolithic cave site located in the Ajlun District, Jordan. The quality of preservation and the early initial AMS 14C assays on wood charcoal placed the bulk of the EUP layer in the 50-40 ka range, indicating that Mughr el-Hamamah may be unusually informative about the Middle-Upper Paleolithic transition in the Levant. The purpose of this project is to provide a high-resolution point of comparison with other sites in the Levant—and beyond. This is critical for investigating chronology, paleoenvironmental context, and biocultural dynamics involved in the much wider Eurasian Middle-Upper Paleolithic (MP-UP) transition, generally associated with anatomically modern human (AMH) expansion out of Africa and archaic Eurasian (including Neandertal) extinction. Through a careful excavation and recording approach, with comprehensive and collaborative geoarchaeological, chronometric, archaeozoological, lithic technotypological, paleoethnobotanical, phytolith, and stable isotope analyses, we aim to achieve accurate and precise chronometric measurement, detailed local paleoenvironmental reconstruction of MHM’s ecotonal setting, and detailed behavioral reconstruction.

• Proyecto Gavilanes: Explotación de Recursos Naturales en el Litoral de Mazarrón (Sureste Ibérico) de fines del III Milenio A.C. al cambio de era. Formas, modelos de explotación y derivaciones paleoecológicas. Programa Seneca 2015-2017. PI: Maria Milagros Ros Sala. 14.

El proyecto Gavilanes pretende abordar cuestiones determinantes sobre el desarrollo de los grupos humanos asentados en el litoral del Sureste Ibérico, la relación hombre/el grupo con su medio natural, y su derivación en la creación de entornos productivos, sociales e ideológicos específicos, precisadas desde un entorno costero singular de la Bahía de Mazarrón donde se localiza el citado yacimiento.

The origins and impact of modern human diets. National Science Foundation Grant 2015-2017. PI: Erich Fisher (Arizona State University), Co-principal investigator: Curtis Marean (Arizona State University).

This proposal seeks to undertake a long-term study on the behavioral adaptations of hunter-gatherers in coastal environments during the Earlier Stone Age (ESA) and the Middle Stone Age (MSA). Our primary research goal is to test several competing hypotheses about the origins and development of coastal foraging thereby contributing to our knowledge of the survival and adaptation of the modern human lineage in Africa. Specifically, we intend to focus upon resolving chronological, chronometric, and behavioral questions about coastal occupation and foraging during and across glacial and interglacial phases.

Selected publications

• Esteban, I., Albert, R.M., Eixea, A., Zilhao, J., Villaverde, V. 2017. Neanderthal use of plants and past vegetation reconstruction at the Middle Paleolithic site of Abrigo de la Quebrada (Chelva, Valencia, Spain). Archaeological and Anthropological Sciences 9, 265-278.

• Albert, R.M., Ruíz, J.A., Sans, A. 2016. PhytCore ODB: A new tool to improve efficiency in the management and exchange of information on phytoliths. Journal of Archaeological Science 68, 98-105.

• Haberman, J., Stanistreet, I.G., Stollhofen H., Albert, R.M., Bamford, M.K., Pante, M., Njau, J.K., Masao, F.T. 2016. In situ -2.0 Ma trees discovered as fossil rooted stumps, lowermost Lower Bed I, Olduvai Gorge, Tanzania. Journal of Human Evolution 90, 74-87.

• Stutz, A.J., Shea, J.J., Belmaker, M., Rech, J., Pigati, J., Wilson, J., Albert, R.M., Arpin, T., Cabanes, D., Clark, J.L., Hartman, G., Fuourani, F., White, C.E., Nilsson Stutz, L.G. 2015. Early Upper Paleolithic Chronology in the Levant: New ABOX-SC AMS Results from the Mughr el-Hamamah Site, Jordan. Journal of Human Evolution 85, 151-173.

• Albert, R.M., Bamford, M.K., Stanistreet, I.G., Stollhofen, H., Rivera-Rondón, C., Rodríguez-Cintas, A. 2015. Vegetation landscape at DK locality, Olduvai Gorge, Tanzania. Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaecology 426, 34-45.

• Albert, R.M., Bamford, M.K., Esteban, I. 2015. Reconstruction of Ancient Palm Vegetation Landscapes using a Phytolith approach. Quaternary International Journal 369, 51-66.

• Rivals, F., Takatsuki, S., Albert, R.M., Macià, L. 2014 Bamboo feeding and tooth wear of three sika deer (Cervus nippon) populations from northern Japan. Journal of Mammalogy 95(5), 1043-1053.

• Albert, R. M., Marean, C. 2012. Early Homo Sapiens Exploitation of Plant Resources Through The Study Of Phytoliths: A Case Study From Site Pinnacle Point 13b (South Africa). Geoarchaeology Journal 27, 363-384.

• Albert, R.M., Bamford, M.K. 2012. Vegetation during uppermost Bed I and deposition of Tuff IF at Olduvai Gorge, Tanzania, based on phytoliths and plant remains. Special issue: Fifty years after Zinjanthropus: Landscape Paleoanthropology of Plio-Pleistocene Olduvai Gorge, Tanzania. Journal of Human Evolution 63, 342-350.

• Albert, R.M., Bamford, M.K., Cabanes, D. 2009. Palaeoecological significance of palms at Olduvai Gorge, Tanzania based on phytolith remains. Quaternary International 193, 41- 48.




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