Laureates 2003

2003 Past - Paleoanthropology

Michel Brunet

brunet_sDirecteur UMR CNRS 6046
Laboratoire de Geobiologie, Biochronologie et Paleontologie Humaine Faculte des Sciences Fondamentales et Appliquees Universite de Poitiers, France

Michel Brunet is Professor of Vertebrate Paleontology at the University of Poiters in south-western France, and has been working in Chad for more than a decade. In 2002 he published in Nature, an almost complete cranium of the oldest human ancestor: Sahelanthropus tchadensis (nicknamed Toumai) discovered in Chad. In 1995 he described another new Chadian hominid species, Australopithecus bahrelghazali, dated around 3.5 Ma.

In Chad, he initiated and is working as Head of, the the international transdisciplinary team: M.P.F.T.(Mission Paleoanthropologique Franco-Tchadienne) a scientific collaboration between the University of Poitiers, N'Djamena and CNAR (N'Djamena).

Until 1995, pre-humans had only been traced in southern and eastern Africa. This new geographical and stratigraphical distribution pattern for early hominids emphasizes that, as opposed to previous conceptions, the first stages of our history were pan-African, dating back at least 6 million years. This implies an earlier chimpanzee-human divergence (at least seven million years ago) than previously thought.

Professor Brunet is a gifted scholar and a superb field worker, working in the unforgiving hardness of the hot, dusty, and wind-swept terrain, initially in southern Asia and subsequently, for over two decades, in western and north central Africa.

His efforts at encouraging education, developing cooperation, and the organization and pursuance of such prolonged and intensive multidisciplinary field investigation have resulted in wholly new and extensive documentation of geological history and attendant extensive fossil recording of sahelian Africa during the upper Tertiary.

These revelations and their magnitude are of major significance for elucidation of the African natural world surrounding the initial appearance and earliest evolution of humankind, whose oldest know representatives are found there. These remarkable discoveries cast human origins in a very new perspective. They have, and will, profoundly impact the pursuit of human evolutionary studies for decades to come.

Professor Brunet was born in 1940 in Vienne, France, and received a Bachelor's degree in Life Science, Licence es Sciences de Doctorat, and Ph.D. in Paleontology from the University of Paris. He obtained his D.Sc. in Life Science from the University of Poitiers.