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Department of Archaeology

 

Tracking the early emergence of derived Homo-like cerebral features in the hominin fossil record can be expected to contribute to an understanding of the timing (i.e., chronology) and mode (i.e., process) of critical brain changes. Because brain tissue is not preserved in the fossil record, studies of hominin brain evolution focus on brain endocasts (i.e., replicas of the inner table of the bony braincase). Besides its relevance for paleoneurological studies, reconstruction of the early hominin fossil brain may deliver data with critical implications for the emergence of critical human-specific functions, such as speech capacity and toolmaking.

Assessing hominin brain evolution and cerebral capacities is significantly hampered by both technical limitations and the fragmentary nature of fossil endocasts. The integration of radiation-based high-resolution 3D methods in the traditional investigative toolkit of paleoneurology discloses new perspectives for reconstructing extinct neural conditions. Within this context, this project integrates the use of imaging techniques as well as the study of extant and fossil hominid samples for unravelling the evolutionary history of the human brain.

In collaboration with the Centre de Recherche Cerveau et Cognition of the University of Toulouse (France) and the University of the Witwatersrand (South Africa), we are virtually investigating the variation pattern of extant human and chimpanzee endocasts that will be subsequently used as a comparative platform for the comparative study of fossil hominins. This part of the project is funded by the PROTEA program coordinated by the Ministère de l’Europe et des Affaires étrangères, the Ministère de l’Education nationale, de l'Enseignement supérieur et de la Recherche and the National Research Foundation of South Africa. In parallel, we are collecting information about brain shape and organization from the fossil record by reconstructing and describing the endocasts of our ancestors and relatives.

 

Key-publications:

Beaudet A. et al. (2018) The endocranial shape of Australopithecus africanus: surface analysis of the endocasts of Sts 5 and Sts 60. Journal of Anatomy 232: 296-303.

Beaudet A. et al. (2019) The endocast of StW 573 (“Little Foot”) and hominin brain evolution. Journal of Human Evolution 126: 112-123.

Dumoncel J. … Beaudet A. (2021) Are endocasts reliable proxies for brains? A 3D quantitative comparison of the extant human brain and endocast. Journal of Anatomy 238: 480-488.

Team Members

Caroline Fonta

Edwin de Jager

Project Lead

Project Tags

Themes: 
Human Evolutionary Studies
Periods of interest: 
Palaeolithic/Mesolithic
Geographical areas: 
Africa
Research Expertise / Fields of study: 
Paleoanthropology
Human Evolution
Subjects: 
Biological Anthropology
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