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ANR funded project

Innovations (DS0801) 2014
Projet Big Dry

The Big Dry. Rupture and continuity in the late Pleistocene settlement of Africa: Paleoanthropology, archaeology and palaeoenvironment compared between the Rift and Nile Valleys within their continental context

Despite the recognized importance of Africa for the origin of Homo sapiens, the origin and evolution of the associated cultures remain largely uncertain: who can currently offer a well supported model of African population dynamics during the last glaciation? However, the Last Glacial Maximum was undoubtedly a crucial period, a "Big Dry" during which environmental conditions undoubtedly played decisive role in the lifestyle of human populations, their adaptive strategies, migrations, the extent of the territories they inhabited, and their demography.

Faced with the intellectual challenge of analyzing these anthropological phenomena during this major climatic event, we will adopt a firmly interdisciplinary approach, combining analyses of spatial distributions of material culture and studies of the lithic technology and subsistence of these hunter-gatherer populations with insights from environmental science and human paleontology. It is also necessary to choose the proper scale of spatio-temporal analysis: too narrow a focus may prevent the perception of the significance of certain phenomena, but too large a scale may lack sufficient resolution and may preclude a truly interdisciplinary approach. Our choices of scale are therefore designed to facilitate comparisons of the environmental, archaeological, and paleoanthropological data from the Nile and Rift Valleys during the period between ca 40 000 and 10 000 BP. Both regions benefit from substantial paleoenvironmental records and complementary environmental signals, but their archaeological records suffer from lack of detailed comparison, despite the fact that these are key areas for understanding population dynamics including the dispersal of modern humans from Africa to the Arabian Peninsula and the Middle East. It is necessary to produce richer and more diversified data sets for both regions, and many members of this project have contributed to that goal in recent years.

This project aims to implement an interdisciplinary approach and has been developed as a partnership between five laboratories: UMR 5608 Toulouse TRACES (coordinator: François Bon [also overall coordinator of the project]), UMR 5199 PACEA Bordeaux (coordinator: Isabelle Crevecoeur), UMR 7194 and 7209 MNHN Paris (coordinators: David Pleurdeau and Joséphine Lesur) and UMR 5060 IRAMAT Bordeaux (coordinator: Chantal Tribolo). These five institutions employ the majority of the people involved; the remaining researchers work in other French and foreign institutions and were recruited for their complementary skills. In total, the team assembled for the ANR project consists of 32 people (20 permanent and 5 CDD), about 1/3 of whom propose to devote more than 25% of their time on the project. The combination of different participants, as well as the institutional collaboration between the five laboratories, is based on extensive experience working together (in fieldwork, joint studies, organization of colloquia and seminars, joint publications, and supervision of Masters and Doctoral students). We are convinced that this experience guarantees the success of the project; we also expect that it will help strengthen the organization of research on the African Paleolithic nationally and internationally.



MNHN - UMR7194 Museum national d'Histoire naturelle - Histoire naturelle de l'Homme préhistorique (HNHP)

UMR5060 Institut de Recherche sur les Archéomatériaux (IRAMAT)

UMR5199 De la Préhistoire à l'Actuel : Culture, Environnement et Anthropologie (PACEA)

UMR5608 Travaux et Recherches Archéologiques sur les Cultures, les Espaces et les Sociétés (TRACES)

UMR7209 Archéozoologie, archéobotanique : sociétés, pratiques et environnements (MNHN)

ANR grant: 379 948 euros
Beginning and duration: octobre 2014 - 42 mois


ANR Programme: Innovations (DS0801) 2014

Project ID: ANR-14-CE31-0023

Project coordinator:
Monsieur François BON (Travaux et Recherches Archéologiques sur les Cultures, les Espaces et les Sociétés (TRACES))


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The project coordinator is the author of this abstract and is therefore responsible for the content of the summary. The ANR disclaims all responsibility in connection with its content.