Origin and Evolution of human Populations during the Early and Middle Pleistocene, OEPP

Camille Daujeard - Aurélien Mounier, UMR 7194 HNHP, CNRS-UPVD-MNHN

The Early and Middle Pleistocene are of particular importance for the various disciplines (i.e. palaeoanthropology, prehistory, zooarchaeology, archaeobotany, geochronology and geoarchaeology) housed within the UMR 7194 HNHP. In this context, the transversal research group OEPP aims at offering a collaborative framework to approach the study of the hominin populations which lived during those time periods (i.e. H. heidelbergensis sensu lato, H. erectus sensu lato et H. habilis sensu lato).

More specifically, the Early to Middle Pleistocene Transition (EMPT) raises numerous questions which should be handled in a transcontinental and multidisciplinary framework. Therefore, OEPP principal objective is to investigate whether the massive climatic and environmental changes, which occurred during the EMPT, can be considered as evolutionary catalysts for the hominin populations (regarding changes in their biological and cultural diversity).

Amongst the interrogations which stem from this general topic, OEPP will consider various subjects:

    1. The common origin of H. sapiens and H. neanderthalensis as well as the impact of different environmental conditions on their evolutionary divergence (e.g. North Africa vs Sub-Saharan Africa);

    2. The hominin expansion from Africa towards Eurasia and the diversification of the H. erectus sensu lato populations;

    3. The emergence of new behaviour (subsistence, technology, mobility, etc…)

Views of Gravettian skulls digitised using photogrametry at the Anthropos Institute in Brno (Czech Republic). From left to right and top to bottom: Brno 3 (Cast) , Brno 1 (Original), Predmsoti IV (Cast), Dolni Vestonice 16 (Cast), Brno 2 (Original).

PI Dr Sébastien Villotte PACEA (CRNS-Université de Bordeaux)

The European Upper Palaeolithic is a pivotal period in the history of humanity. Everything about the period supports the existence of highly complex societies based on profound changes in social relations that were not present in previous periods.

The GRAVETT’OS project aims to better understand these Upper Palaeolithic European populations and, in particular, the key Gravettian period, some 29 to 21,000 years ago, which is characterised by a cultural homogeneity encompassing the entirety of continental Europe that has prompted it to be called ‘the first pan-European culture’.

Within the Gravett'os project I am studying the morphological and phenetic affinities of the cranium of the various fossil populations which can be culturally assigned to the Gravettian.

PI Dr Antoine Balzeau, HNHP (CNRS-MNHN)

The question of the correspondence between cerebral and endocranial features is crucial for applications in palaeoneurology and has never been addressed. To do so, we will investigate for the first time the correlation between the shapes of the brain and the endocast within a sample of modern humans using MRI acquisitions, including some with a specific sequence (UTE) that allows the characterisation of bone tissues. This input will be decisive for detailed study of neurological information from fossil humans. We will then reconstruct for the first time the H. erectus brain and Neandertal brain, as well as their respective growth pattern, taking into account the specificities of these species. Understanding brain morphology and ontogeny of extinct hominins will also enhance the understanding of the emergence of the modern human brain. Pluridisciplinarity and interdisciplinarity will be strong components of PaleoBRAIN and an essential condition to achieve the scientific objectives.

PI Dr Gilles Berillon, HNHP (CNRS-MNHN)

HoBiS est un projet de recherche fondamentale pluridisciplinaire et centrée sur des questions paléoanthropologiques liées à la bipédie habituelle, l'une des caractéristiques les plus frappantes de la lignée humaine. Les découvertes récentes (jusqu'à 7 Ma) mettent en évidence une diversité inattendue d'anatomies locomotrices chez les homininés qui conduisent les paléoanthropologues à émettre l'hypothèse que la bipédie chez les homininés a pris des formes distinctes au cours de l'évolution humaine. Ces bipédies étaient ni transitoires ni inefficaces, mais constituaient probablement des modes positionnels efficaces et bien coordonnés. Un scénario beaucoup plus complexe d'évolution des homininés que celui proposé il y a quelques années émerge dans lequel les connaissances sur l'anatomie locomotrice jouent un rôle croissant.