Three main groups of specialists are represented in the department:
- Palaeoanthropologists, who study fossil material with a special emphasis on the use of advanced imagery techniques, 3D morphometrics and microstructural studies to assess phylogenetic reconstructions and analysis of growth processes.
- Archaeological Scientists, who undertake biochemical analyses of the fossils. Of particular interest is the analysis of stable and radiogenic isotopes (oxygen, carbon, nitrogen, sulphur, strontium, etc.) in bone and teeth in order to assess dietary adaptations, migration and seasonality. The ages of sites and fossils are established through the use of 14C and luminescence methods.
- Palaeolithic Archaeologists, who study the adaptive strategies of hominins to their environment through the excavation of key sites and through the study of their material remains.
Three main themes are explored in the department:
- Evolutionary processes in hominins. We analyze the evolutionary history of the various hominin species in relation to environmental changes. Special emphasis is placed on the ‘peopling’ process and on the biological mechanisms at work. (more)
- Hominin life histories. Changes in patterns of growth and development represent a major aspect of hominin evolution. Dental structures and brain size/structure represent two anatomical areas of special interest.
- Hominin adaptations. Technology, subsistence and landscape use changed through time. These aspects are analyzed by archeologists as well as by specialists in biochemistry. (more)
We place special emphasis on two specific research questions:
(1) What were the conditions of the emergence and expansion of modern humans similar to us after 150,000 years ago in Africa?
(2) How did archaic hominins (especially Neandertals) and modern humans interact when the latter replaced the former in western Eurasia about 40,000 years ago?
The department conducts fieldwork in North Africa at Jebel Irhoud and Rhafas in Morocco, where there is growing evidence for biological and cultural modernity in the late Middle and Upper Pleistocene, and in Europe, where the replacement process of Neandertals by modern humans is studied at several sites. Collaborations are ongoing with the Department of Primatology for the study of populations of wild chimpanzees and with the Department of Genetics, we share a number of resources and complement each other in the study of the Neandertals.