Scientific research

Man and the environment

Humans live in diverse societies and environments. Interactions with others and with nature are continuous and transforming. These close and complex relationships are examined by our researchers.

Man and his interactions with our environment are at the heart of our research. This concerns us all, on different continents and in more or less distant times! Lifestyles, habitats, beliefs, knowledge, relationships with other species and with nature, the impact of the environment on practices and evolution, etc. are analysed, from the appearance of the first human lineages to the present day. This work allows us to better understand where we come from, who we are and to ask "where are we going?". The diversity of skills in the département Homme et Environnement (Man and Environment department) is impressive: ecology, biology, genetics, archaeology, demography, primatology, anthropology, geography, museology, musicology and even psychology!

Our scientists rely on archaeological digs in the four corners of the world and have been trained in cutting-edge techniques to characterise remains, date them and understand their role. Judge for yourself: thanks to analyses carried out on charcoal found in Majorca, we now know that its inhabitants used Aleppo pine for heating 10,000 years ago! This approach even makes it possible to model the size of the trees, to know whether they grew in full light or in the heart of forests. Researchers can thus reconstruct environments and learn about the way our ancestors lived. They are also able to analyse their relationship with animals, artisanal or agricultural production methods and breeding practices. For example, by studying bones from sites that are thousands of years old, they can deduce which species were kept in captivity and for what purpose. Fossilised seeds are a rich source of information about food. In Morocco, discoveries of seeds shed light on the menu reserved for guests in the 8th century BC: as a guest you would have eaten dishes containing wheat, barley, lentils or broad beans! Then here are cultural practices. Thanks to the examination of a site in the Dordogne, we now know that we are not the only ones to bury our dead. Neanderthal man was already doing that more than 40,000 years ago.

Evolution is also the focus of our investigations. Only Homo sapiens has survived to this day, but at least thirteen other human species have walked our planet at different times before becoming extinct. One of them was co-discovered by a team from the Museum in the Philippines: Homo luzonenzis. With the beDNA project, in partnership with the Ministry of Culture, scientists are building a bank of human archaeological samples to explore the genetic diversity of individuals over time, as well as their commonalities.

Much of our research also focuses on more recent periods, highlighting the diversity of current cultures and practices. Anthropologists work with different societies on their relationship with the environment (customs, languages, food, myths, etc.), in marine environments, tropical forests, palm groves, on the ice floe, etc. A 16-volume encyclopaedia has been published on the Aka pygmies living in Central Africa!

Our scientists also study the maintenance or decline of various species, as well as the impact of human presence and activities on ecosystems. This knowledge often leads to recommendations for conservation strategies to be developed. For example, they have shown a decline in the number of common birds in the countryside, an observation published under the title "The silent spring". Another example is the great apes, chimpanzees, gorillas and bonobos, which are the subject of extensive work in our country. All the studies show what they share with us, from genes to cultural elements.

Finally, the dissemination of all knowledge is analysed and taught within the museology of science. At a time when there are so many statements circulating that sometimes call science into question, such investigations are essential!

Le département Homme & Environnement (The Man & Environment department)

This department is composed of 6 research units. The themes addressed concern biological diversity and its role in present or past ecosystems in relation to human activities and cultures, the evolution of Man, the construction of naturalist knowledge and environmental management policies.


The Archaeozoology, Archaeobotany: Societies, Practices and Environments unit (AASPE) studies the history of natural and cultural interactions between human societies and animal and plant populations in ancient times, particularly on the basis of remains from archaeological excavations.

View the AASPE unit website

CAK UMR 8560

The Alexandre Koyré Centre (CAK) explores the social and cultural history of science, knowledge and technology, in dialogue with philosophical and sociological approaches. Their work focuses on naturalist knowledge while addressing environmental and even extraterrestrial issues.

View the CAK unit website


The Centre for Ecology and Conservation Sciences (CESCO) works on the conservation of biodiversity through various approaches, particularly ecology, in conjunction with the social sciences. The unit also evaluates the individual and collective actions implemented to prevent or limit disturbances linked to human activities.

View the CESCO unit website

EA UMR 7206

The Eco-anthropology unit (EA) is interested in how human beings perceive and act upon their environment as well as how the environment and cultural practices shape human biology, over the long term through our evolution.

View the EA unit website


The Natural History of Prehistoric Man unit (HNHP) studies and teaches in the broadest sense of the term, natural prehistory. This includes knowledge about human lineage, environments, technical and symbolic behaviour on a long time scale.

View the HNHP unit website


The Local Heritage and Governance unit studies each heritage asset (building, object, knowledge, traditional music, etc.) in the light of its political and cultural significance and ownership. Its particularity is that it is present on all continents.

View the PALOC unit website