Michel Brunet is a paleontologist and professor emeritus at the University of Poitiers in south-western France and at the Collège de France where he served as chair of human paleontology between 2008-2011.
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 headed 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 to southern and eastern Africa. This new geographical and stratigraphical distribution pattern for early hominids could suggest that, contrary 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 conditions of the hot, dusty, and wind-swept terrain, initially in southern Asia and subsequently 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 discoveries are of major significance in elucidating the African natural world surrounding the initial appearance and earliest evolution of humankind, whose oldest know representatives are found there. These remarkable discoveries cast a new light on the history of human origins. 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.
His honors include the Fontanes Prize of the Academy of Sciences (1977), the Philip Morris Scientific Prize for paleoanthropology (1996) and the Lamothe Prize of the Geological Society of France (2004). He was named Officer in the National Order of Chad, Officer in the Order of Academic Palms, Officer in the National Order of Merit and Knight in the Order of the Legion of Honor.