PACEA — De la Préhistoire à l'Actuel : Culture, Environnement et Anthropologie.

PACEA — De la Préhistoire à l’Actuel : Culture, Environnement et Anthropologie. UMR 5199, Université de Bordeaux, CNRS.

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Human fossil collections

par Frédéric Santos - publié le

Human fossil collections : a spotlight on human evolution

Contact : Maryelle BESSOU

Studying human evolution incorporates various subjects, including palaeoanthropology, biological diversity, micro- and macro-evolution, human development, biomechanics, and palaeogenetics. Since the 1980s, the laboratory has studied human evolution, which is taught at both undergraduate and Master’s levels.

How best to distil a concrete vision of human evolution and clearly present its different phases (i.e. taxa) if not by casts of fossil hominids ? How best to present similarities and differences between the Great Apes and the human lineage other than by comparing fossils of both groups ? With this in mind, PACEA has built a rich hominid reference collection comprising almost 1700 casts of cranial and infra-cranial elements accompanied by research and teaching materials.

Built initially from casts made directly at our lab, the collection has been progressively enriched thanks to donations and the yearly acquisition of new fossils. Amongst the inescapable specimens forming the panorama of human evolution, the collection includes casts of Australopithecines (KNM-ER 406, STS5, SK48), Homo erectus (Sangiran 17, Nariokotome), the Neanderthals (Neandertal, La Ferrassie, La Chapelle-aux-Saints, Regourdou, La Quina, Saint Césaire) and Homo sapiens, both modern and archaic (Kabwe, Bodo, Cro-Magnon, Chancelade, Brno, Skhul IV, Qafzeh 9). The last decade has seen the arrival of the Toumai and Herto skulls, the femural head of Homo florensiensis, and the Oase fossil. Although the collection is composed primarily of skulls and mandibles, it also contains infra-cranial elements of diverse specimens (e.g. Lucy, Nariokotome, Neandertal, Regourdou, La Chapelle-aux-Saints, Saint-Césaire, Qafzeh). Moreover, certain casts, notably those of La Chaise, La Quina, Marillac, Engis, KNM-WT 15000 (Nariokotome), are relevant for understanding age at death, as well as the evolution of human growth and development.

Finally, this rich collection equally includes cast of burials from the Grotte des Enfants (Italy), Dolni Vestonice 3 (Chech Republic), Kebara (Israel), Aïn Mallaha (Israel) and Qafzeh 10 (Israel). These exceptional casts are unique, iconic examples of burials and capture their organisation and preservation at the moment of discovery.

Accessible by members of PACEA and the wider scientific community, these moulds equally play a role in undergraduate and graduate instruction and interactions with the general public. Discussions of current thinking and working hypotheses concerning human evolution are rendered more easily accessible thanks to these fossils.

More information available at

Moulage de la sépulture de Mallaha
Sépulture individuelle. Israël, haute vallée du Jourdain, site natoufien (10 000 – 12 000 BP) de Mallaha. Il s’agit de la sépulture d’un homme adulte dont la main repose sur un chien. La simultanéité des dépôts et l’étroite association homme-animal constituent le témoignage le plus ancien de la domestication du chien.
Moulage de la sépulture de la « Grotte des Enfants ».
Sépulture double. Site de Baoussé-Roussé, Grimaldi, Italie. Gravettien, paléolithique supérieur (- 25000 ans). Les deux sujets, l’adolescent à gauche, la femme à droite, ont été ensevelis en même temps. Le dépôt est accompagné d’objets de parure constituée de nombreux coquillages marins.