Understanding the first large-scale migrations

The Pleistocene period began 2.6 million years ago and ended relatively "recently", around 10,000 years ago. Early hominids dispersed over the course of this period, leaving Africa for Europe and Asia. During the Late Pleistocene, this migration led to the global distribution of our species, Homo sapiens, and the disappearance of the Neanderthals. The evolutionary mechanisms that influenced these large-scale migrations are still not well known. To shed light on this mystery we need sophisticated computer models, able to take an impressive number of factors into account. 

The Groupe de recherche sur la dispersion des hominidés (Hominid Dispersals Research Cluster), directed by Ariane Burke from Université de Montréal, is examining the climatic, ecological, biological and social factors that drove this dispersal. In collaboration with the Laboratoire des Sciences du Climat et de l'Environnement (France), it is developing the very first high-resolution dispersal simulation for Europe and in particular the Iberian Peninsula, which is currently at the centre of numerous debates concerning the chronology of hominid dispersal in Europe and the extinction of the Neanderthals. This will soon make it possible for researchers to conduct spatial analysis of the correlation between changes in climate and hominid dispersal. 

Together with the Research Institute of Wildlife Ecology at the University of Vienna, the Research Cluster is working on the first simulation of the spatial distribution of certain equines (horses, donkeys, etc.), which will be used to explore predator-prey interactions. 

All of this work has already led to several publications, notably in Current Anthropology, and a scientific paper presented at the Cultural Evolution in Spatially Structured Populations Conference, held in London in September 2010. The Research Cluster also organized a conference on paleoenvironmental reconstruction at Université de Montréal in March 30th, 2010.


Groupe de recherche sur la dispersion des hominidés


Ariane Burke, Université de Montréal

Regular members

  • Michael Bisson, Université McGill 
  • Jeffrey Cardille, Université de Montréal 
  • André Costopoulos, Université McGill 
  • Michelle Drapeau, Université de Montréal