PRINCIPAL INVESTIGATORNuno Bicho and Matthieu Honegger
FUNDING INSTITUTIONFCT: Fundação para a Ciência e a Tecnologia
DURATION3 years (15-09-2021 to 14-09-2024)
eastern africa

Project Description.

Modern human migration, including genetic results, to out of Africa began some 70,000 years ago, populating the entire world, at different rates and times, finally reaching the Americas after the Last Glacial Maximum. This incredible journey occurred due to the unique resilience, versatility, and innovation of humans, both biological and cultural, to external stimuli, including those that follow drastic climatic events.

Although with more than 200 years of African archaeological research on human evolution, our knowledge of the first processes of adaptation of our species is still quite limited, particularly when compared to the same period in Europe. The DIASPORA project aims to present a series of testable hypotheses focusing on the dynamics of the versatility and resilience of the first modern humans and its relation to changes in environment, climate and natural resources. It focuses on the last 150,000 years, corresponding to successful and viable modern human migrations out of Africa and the development of current genomic groups in Africa.

The DIASPORA project takes place in the Nubian desert, in the Nile valley, in Sudan. From an archaeological point of view, this region is fundamental to understand the origins and evolution of anatomically modern humans, due to its proximity to regions of great paleoanthropological importance and where hundreds of new archaeological sites have been discovered in recent years. The region, today a desert, would have been marked by a very different and diverse ecology in the local past and, therefore, perfect for a climatic and ecological reconstruction and the study of its relationship with the human adaptation of this region still with limited knowledge on the beginning of the human diaspora. The integration of archaeological and paleoenvironmental research is particularly rare or absent in the region. Thus, this project is important (i) to understand the process of adaptation that will have given rise to the most important migrations of our species in the upper Pleistocene; (ii) understand the quaternary environmental evolution of these areas and the respective driving factors (including global climate change and local driving forces); (iii) understand how climate and environmental changes have influenced human evolution and human settlement patterns in East Africa, particularly in regions that provide the perfect setting for the study of how early humans adapted to climate change, particularly in the case of drastic and rapid events.

Using cutting edge techniques (e.g., ancient DNA, proteomics, isotopes, climatic biomarkers, 3D geometric-morphometrics) applied in new ways and a dynamic interdisciplinary approach, the DIASPORA project will provide high-resolution cultural, climatic, paleoenvironmental, chronological and archaeological data and innovators to study modern human resilience and innovation in response to new environments at a time of migration in East Africa and will also provide a fundamental perspective on the environmental and social processes that triggered migrations within Africa and migrations and dispersions outside Africa that ultimately gave way to human migration across the planet.

The objective of the DIASPORA project is to study and develop models and interpretations of mechanisms of early human migrations and adaptations and the impact that rapid climate events had in such human dispersals including the so-called Out-of-Africa and the subsequent dispersal over the entire world.