Started in 2020 and billed to end in 2022, a project known as HOMME, in Mozambique and Malawi, will soon provide an answer to the origin and evolution of human beings.
Both East Africa’s Great Rift and South Africa’s karsts are considered “the cradle of humanity”, where the emergence of the genus Homo has been documented. The research’s region of interest – in-between the south of Malawi and the north of Mozambique – represents a geographical and biological bridge between these two areas.
However, the karsts located on both sides of the rift remain little known and are likely to harbour plio-pleistocene fossil sites similar to those studied in South Africa. The finding of new fossil sites in the region would represent a major breakthrough in the knowledge of human evolution by lifting several scientific barriers.
Objectives and research themes
The project HOMME aims to document potential dissemination mechanisms of humankind key actors. In instances where no remains would be found within the 2-year lifetime of the project, it will nonetheless lay the foundations for future paleoanthropological research in the region, as it provides exceptional knowledge in the fields of geology, geomorphology and palaeontology.
Thanks to a grant provided by the programme 80 | Prime – MITI, the team was able to hire one new member (Bastien Chadelle), who is currently conducting research on fossils caves in South Africa, before joining the whole team in September 2021 on their next field operation.
The project HOMME plans to use cross multi-scale approaches and two complementary dating methods, which is innovative for this type of research. These approaches will allow the identification of the story and origins of karst traps, their geometry, the nature of the fillings, their dating, as well as the characterization of fossils and tools that can be found within the karsts. Various resources (GIS, imagery, geology, land prospection, drone, geophysics, palaeontology and archaeology) will be used in order to address the question of our origins.
In addition to the finding of unique fossils, another goal of the project HOMME is to define the conservation procedures of fossil remains according to geomorphological contexts. Later on, it will be possible to manage these explicative mechanisms and to model them in order to identify new potential fossil areas.
The project could then contribute to provide some answers to the question of our origins, which is one of the highest interest, whether it is considered from a scientific, cultural or societal point of view.
Website of the project HOMME (in French only).
This article was first published IRD.