Aurélien Mounier

Ph.D. Palaeoanthropology

Chargé de Recherche CNRS - UMR 7194 HNHP (CNRS-UPVD-MNHN), Musée de l'Homme, Paris

aurelien.mounier@mnhn.fr


Research Fellow - Leverhulme Centre for Human Evolutionary Studies, University of Cambridge

am2099@cam.ac.uk

I am a CNRS palaeoanthropologist working at the UMR 7194 Histoire Naturelle de l'Homme Préhistorique based at the Musée de l'Homme in Paris. I am also a Research Fellow at the Leverhulme Centre for Human Evolutionary Studies (University of Cambridge).


Ce site est en anglais, pour plus d'informations sur mes activitées en français, c'est ici.

As a paleoanthropologist, my research aims are to understand what makes us human and the underlying processes that shaped our species. In this framework, I study the fossil record of the genus Homo through multiple perspectives, using interdisciplinary, and innovative computational tools.

Besides comparative morphology and numerical taxonomy tools, I am using 3D geometric morphometrics to analyse the fossil record. To compute 3D models, I am heavily relying on photogrammetry, which allows for the capture of the morphology of specimens as well as high quality textures.

Within the UMR 7194, I am coordinating together with Camille Daujeard, the transversal research group OEPP (Origin and Evolution of human Populations during the Early and Middle Pleistocene) which aims at bringing together transversal research projects on the evolution and origin of the Homo genus during the Early and Middle Pleistocene, with especial focus on the transition between the two time periods, which witnessed massive climatic and environmental changes along with cultural and biological innovations within the Homo lineage.

I am collaborating in various research and archaeological fieldwork projects and I am developing a new archaeological fieldwork project in West-Turkana, Kenya (the Trans-Evol project) in partnership with the LCHES (University of Cambridge), the Turkana Basin Institute and the National Museums of Kenya.

Finally, I am co-editor in chief of the oldest Biological Anthropology scientific journal: the BMSAP (Bulletin et Mémoires de la Société d'Anthropology de Paris) which was created in 1859. BMSAP issues can be found online on: Persée (1864-1999), Open Edition (2000-2009), Springer (2009-2017) and Lavoisier (from 2016). To submit a manuscript to the BMSAP, see below.


Research Interests

Hominin morphological diversity - Systematics of the genus Homo

The Mauer mandible (Universität Heidelberg) and its position in a phenetic tree (numerical taxonomy using morphological features, see Mounier et al, 2009) and in a morphospace (between-group PCA based on Procrustes residuals, unpublished).

A preliminary step to uncovering evolutionary relationships between fossil populations is to describe and understand the extent of morphological variation that exists within the fossil record.

My primary research interest lays in reconsidering the genus Homo fossil record morphological diversity in order to provide a reassessment of the debated classification of the genus.

More specifically, I am interested in testing the validity of hominin taxa which are relevant to the understanding of key moments of the evolutionary history of our genus.

For instance, I have been working on the validity and definition of Homo heidelbergensis Schoetensack, 1908 a key palaeoanthropological species to the understanding of the common origin of Neandertals and Modern Humans. The species was invented after the discovery of the Mauer mandible (Heidelberg, Germany) and has been used to refer to a possible last common ancestor to both species. I used comparative morphology along with phenetic approaches (numerical taxonomy run on discrete morphological features), and 3D Geometric Morphometric techniques (landmarks, semi-landmarks) to validate H. heidelbergensis and offer a proposal of diagnosis for the Middle Pleistocene palaéospecies (see, Mounier, 2009; Mounier et al. 2009; Mounier, 2011 and 2012).

I am now focusing my efforts on the Late Middle Pleistocene African hominin fossil record and the origin of H. sapiens, as well as, on the transition from Early to Middle Pleistocene which witnesses important climatic and environmental changes along with with biological and cultural innovation within the genus Homo.

Evolutionary relationships - Phylogeny of the genus Homo

Cladistics analysis of the genus Homo, see Mounier et al. 2016
Presentation of the modelling method, see Mounier and Mirazón Lahr, 2016.
Modelling the evolution of Homo sapiens, see Mounier and Mirazón Lahr, 2019.

My second research interest lays in uncovering hierarchical relationships between the identified hominin fossil species and H. sapiens. I have been using Cladistic approaches (ran on discrete morphological features) to clarify the evolution of modern humans and Neandertals, looking at their most common ancestor in the Middle Pleistocene.


Additionally, I am exploring new methodological tools to study evolutionary relationships within the genus Homo.

For instance, in order to test phylogenetic hypotheses, I have been developing simple modelling techniques (I.e. phylogenetic modelling) which aims at estimating ancestral morphologies within a Brownian Motion model for evolution using 3D Geometric Morphometrics techniques. The outcome being a virtual fossil which can then be compared to the actual fossil record.

The first project using phylogenetic modelling explored the common ancestry of modern humans and Neandertals. Its main finding pointed towards an African ancestral population which lived around 700,000 years ago.

I am now modelling the evolution of our species trying to understand how the very rare Late Middle Pleistocene African fossil record fits with the estimated shape of a possible ancestor to all modern humans. The results, published in September in Nature Communications, suggests Homo sapiens arose through the hybridization of populations from South and East Africa. On the other hand, North African populations—possibly represented by the Jebel Ihroud fossil—may have contributed to the evolution of the Neandertal following ancient migration into Europe.

What makes us humans

Cover of the Nature journal 21/01/2016, see Mirazón Lahr et al. 2016.
Presentation of Nataruk site and study of the specimens, see Mirazón Lahr et al. 2016.


Finally, to better understand what makes us human, one must investigate the selective forces that shaped the evolution of our genus. For this purpose, cultural and environmental data have to be taken into account, together with palaeoanthropological data.

In this framework, I am co-coordinating the transversal research group OEPP which aims at tackling the evolution of the genus Homo during Early and Middle Pleistocene in the light of massive climatic and environmental changes which characterises the transition between Early and Middle Pleistocene.

Additionally, I have conducted a preliminary study to explore the evolution of the brain as a key organ to understand our species in its cultural and biological components. This study shows that important changes in brain morphology occurred in the ancestral population of Neandertals and modern humans, giving both species a shared derived brain morphology, especially concerning key morphologies associated to phonological and articulatory processing of words. These results have implications regarding the origin of modern human behaviour, which could have have appeared after the speciation of H. sapiens (‘cultural modernity’).

An important find regarding the behaviour of prehistoric human populations was the discovery and description of an archaeological site which preserved evidence of inter-group violence between hunter-gatherers populations in Kenya. The site was excavated under the direction of Marta Mirazón Lahr within the In Africa project and provided important information regarding the behaviour of prehistoric hunter-gatherer groups.

Mirazón Lahr M, Rivera F, Power RK, Mounier A, Copsey B, Crivellaro F, Edung JE, Maillo Fernandez JM, Kiarie C, Lawrence J, Leakey A, Mbua E, Miller H, Muigai A, Mukhongo DM, Van Baelen A, Wood R, Schweninger JL, Grün R, Achyuthan H, Wilshaw A & Foley RA. 2016. Mirazón Lahr et al. reply. Nature 539, E10‐E11.

Mirazón Lahr M, Rivera F, Power RK, Mounier A, Copsey B, Crivellaro F, Edung JE, Maillo Fernandez JM, Kiarie C, Lawrence J, Leakey A, Mbua E, Miller H, Muigai A, Mukhongo DM, Van Baelen A, Wood R, Schweninger JL, Grün R, Achyuthan H, Wilshaw A & Foley RA. 2016. Inter‐group violence among early Holocene hunter‐gatherers of West Turkana, Kenya. Nature. 529, 394‐398.

Mounier A, Balzeau A, Grimaud‐Hervé D. 2016. Brain, calvarium, cladistics: a new approach to an old question, who are modern Humans and Neandertals. J Hum Evol. 92, 22‐36.

Teaching - Outreach

Teaching

I am participating to the curriculum in Prehistory and Evolution (Quaternaire et Préhistoire) of the Muséum national d'Histoire Naturelle in Paris, where I teach Palaeoanthropology and human osteology at Master level.

I also participate at the Biological Anthropology tripod at the University of Cambridge, through teaching, student supervision and workshops. I am currently involved, as an adviser, in the supervision of Katrien G. Janin PhD research on the primate pelvic gridle.

Additionally, I give lectures for the Université Populaire des Hauts-de-Seine (Gennevilliers), which offers University-like teaching to the general public.

Outreach

From left to right, Balcon des Sciences, Pygmies workshop, an example of a BioAnth Seminar (H. naledi from the National Geographic, reconstruction from John Gurche), and a picture from the seminar in a primary school.

I have been participating to numerous workshops, seminars and discussion groups aimed at capturing a wider audience.

For instance, in 2018, I participated to the Balcon des Sciences in the Musée de l'Homme, where I introduced some of my research topics to the visitors of the Museum.

From 2014 to 2016 I was also co-organising the Biological Anthropology Seminar Series of the Department of Archaeology at the University of Cambridge. During that time period 45 seminars took place with high profile researchers from all over the world.

In 2019, I also gave a seminar on human evolution to first year primary school students at the European School in The Hague (The Netherlands).

Finally, I organised the In-Africa project workshop: Pygmies: Adaptation at Body Size Extreme held in the Leverhulme Centre for Human Evolutionary Studies in February 2015.

Biological Anthropology Scientific Journal - BMSAP

BMSAP_Authors-Instructions_Fr_En.pdf

The BMSAP (Bulletin et Mémoires de la Société d'Anthropologie de Paris), were created in 1859 along with the Société d'Anthropologie de Paris (SAP). Both the SAP and the BMSAP are the oldest Biological Anthropology association and scientific journal in the world.

The BMSAP publishes research articles on various topics related to Biological Anthropology.

Since January 2017, I am the co-editor in chief of the journal along with Gwenaëlle Goude.

Instructions to authors (in French and in English) to submit your research to the BMSAP are available on this site.

Manuscripts should be sent to:

redacchef@sapweb.fr