France, Born 1934
Renowned French palaeoanthropologist Yves Coppens has helped to revolutionize palaeontology over the past half-century, shedding light on the origins of man and making human evolution a subject of lively debate.
“Perhaps it was my fascination with menhirs and dolmens as a child in Brittany that encouraged my vocation,” says the distinguished academic, a great popularizer of science. In 1956, having studied natural science and archaeology, he joined CNRS (the National Centre of Scientific Research) in Paris and was assigned to the palaeontology laboratory at the Sorbonne and then at the French National Museum of Natural History.
Soon he began undertaking expeditions to Africa and Asia. These produced dozens of tonnes of fossils, including those of 1000 hominid remains, among which were six new genera or species. His most celebrated find was in Ethiopia in 1974 as the co-discoverer, with Donald Johanson, of three-million-year-old Lucy, an almost-complete hominid fossil named after the Beatles’ song, “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds”.
In the early 1980s, Coppens became the director of the Museum of Man and a professor at the National Museum of Natural History and at the College of France where he holds a chair in palaeoanthropology and prehistory. Coppens’ many distinctions include membership of France’s Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Medicine as well as several honorary doctorates in the United States and Europe.
A born story-teller, he relies on his fertile imagination to create hypotheses that challenge accepted theories and provide novel interpretations of man’s genealogy.
Published in 2004