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Braga Jose

Braga Jose

Professor (Classe Exceptionnelle) - Tenure Track Professor – PhD, HDR
Researcher ID A-4025-2010
ORCID 0000-0002-8483-076X
Email jose.braga@univ-tlse3.fr
Skype australopithecusafricanus
Instagram jose_braga_kromdraai

Research
I focus my research on key events of human evolution ; more specifically, when and how the features that made us humans (genus Homo) first appeared in Africa more than 2.5 millions of years ago. To do so, I combine long-standing fieldwork at the world-class UNESCO archaeological site of Kromdraai (South Africa) with the development of cutting-edge statistical methods for the modeling of anatomical variability within and between extant and extinct species, including modern humans.

Kromdraai, South Africa
The Plio-Pleistocene site of Kromdraai (26°00’41’’S, 27°44’60’’E) is located in the so-called « Cradle of Humankind », a UNESCO area in the Gauteng province (South Africa). Led under my supervision in association with Prof. Francis Thackeray, the Kromdraai Research Project applies cutting-edge methodologies during fieldwork (drones, photogrammetry …). Complementary institutional and private stakeholders are involved to ensure that all aspects of archaeology are covered, from the scientific research at the site to the economic, curatorial (heritage), scientific and political expectations of the South Africa partners. The fieldwork at Kromdraai has been supported from year 2002 onwards by the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Development funds, in consultation with the Advisory Commission for Archaeological Research Abroad, as well as Erasmus Mundus and private funds from sponsors.
With the Kromdraai Research Project, I aim to reconstruct important palaeobiological, behavioral and phylogenetic aspects of the fossil hominin sample newly recovered at Kromdraai during nearly continuous fieldwork. These fresh discoveries document for the first time the palaeoenvironmental conditions, the behavioral and palaeobiological aspects of the replacement of Australopithecus by Paranthropus/Homo within the Kromdraai stratigraphic sequence.

DiffeoMorphoPhylogenetics
Here I use the concepts of “computational anatomy” to better understand the phylogenetic processes by which distinct morphomes were formed during human evolution (morphophylogenetics). This research is motivated by the need to more fully automate morphological comparisons between shapes as a critical step that will enhance taxonomic and phylogenetic interpretations. Computational anatomy consists in the modelling and subsequent quantification of anatomical shapes defined as points, curves, complex surfaces. I focus on measures of anatomical variability through the use of several statistical, computational methods and imaging modalities (e.g., X-ray micro-computed tomography and synchrotron imaging) for the 2D or 3D modelling. I use diffeomorphisms (i.e., mathematical mappings) as functions to map one particular shape to another. This approach allows me to better capture the geometric details that describe any shape in the fossil hominin record by accounting for both homologous and non-homologous (i.e., discrete) features, and permitting the statistical determination of geometric variability (i.e., statistical atlases) within and between samples of shapes.
Beyond quantifications of differences in fossil hominin morphomes for taxonomic purposes, my goal is to draw evolutionary inferences from the diffeomorphometry metric measures obtained at multiple skeletal sites (e.g., bony labyrinth, teeth …). Such inferences allow to propose a phylogenetic system of fossil hominin nomenclature rather than a simple and often hotly debated alpha taxonomy.

Selected Publications
Full lists available at
http://scholar.google.fr/citations?user=IdEkyGgAAAAJ
https://publons.com/researcher/1417146/jose-braga/
https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Jose_Braga
Braga J, Samir C, Risser L, Dumoncel J, Descouens D, Thackeray JF, Balaresque P, Oettle A, Loubes J-M, Fradi A 2019. Cochlear shape reveals that the human organ of hearing is sex-typed from birth. Scientific Reports 9, 10889.
Tacail T, Martin J, Arnaud-Godet F, Thackeray JF, Cerling T, Braga J, Balter V 2019. Calcium isotopic patterns of weaning behavior in enamel of South African early hominins. Science Advances 5(8), eaax3250.
Braga J, Zimmer V, Dumoncel J, Samir C, de Beer F, Zanolli C, Pinto D, Rohlf J, Grine F 2019. Efficacy of diffeomorphic surface matching and 3D geometric morphometrics for taxonomic discrimination of Early Pleistocene hominin mandibular molars. Journal of Human Evolution 130, 21-35.
Braga J, Loubes J-M, Descouens D, Dumoncel J-M, Thackeray F, Kahn J-L, de Beer F, Riberon A, Hoffman K, Balaresque P, Gilissen E. 2015. Disproportionate cochlear length in genus Homo shows a high phylogenetic signal during apes’ hearing evolution. PloS One 10 (6), e0127780.
Braga J, Thackeray JF, Dumoncel J, Descouens D, Bruxelles L, Loubes J-M, Kahn J-L, Stampanoni M, Bam L, Hoffman J, de Beer F, Spoor F 2013. A new partial temporal bone of a juvenile hominin from the site of Kromdraai B (South Africa), Journal of Human Evolution 65, 447-456.
Balter V, Braga J, Télouk P, Thackeray F 2012. Evidence for dietary change but not landscape use in South African early hominins. Nature 489, 558-560.

Books
Braga J, Cohen C, Maureille B, Teyssandier N 2016. L’évolution en questions. Ville Brule Eds. 224 pages.
Braga J & Thackeray JF (Eds) 2016. Kromdraai, A Birthplace of Paranthropus in the Cradle of Humankind. Sun Media, Johannesburg.

Selected Invited Seminars/Colloquia
Pontifica Academia Scientiarum, Vatican City. International Colloquium “Who was who and who did what, where and when ?” 12-13 April 2019 “Patterns of Hominin species changes near Pliocene-Pleistocene boundary of South Africa : evidence from Kromdraai.”
Maison des Sciences Humaines, Université Libre de Bruxelles, Belgique, 4th December 2018 “Les singularités biologiques de l’humanité. Deux millions d’années entre biologie et culture.”
Collège de France, Paris, France. Colloquium « Nouvelles Perspectives pour l’Histoire de l’Humanité », 3rd July 2018. « Sous la dent : les labyrinthes de l’humanté. Origine du genre Homo en Afrique du Sud. »

Selected Public seminars
Un genre, plusieurs espèces mais une seule origine : la famille humaine en Afrique avant 2 millions d’années. 2018. INRAP & Muséum d’Histoire Naturelle de Toulouse, France. https://www.inrap.fr/un-genre-plusieurs-especes-mais-une-seule-origine-la-famille-humaine-en-afrique-13878
Sous la dent : les labyrinthes de l’humanté. Origine du genre Homo en Afrique du Sud. 2018. Collège de France, Paris, France.
https://www.college-de-france.fr/site/michel-brunet/symposium-2018-07-03-15h00.htm

Media
France Inter, La tête au carré, Interviewed by Mathieu Vidard and Axel Villard
Little Foot est-elle de la même espèce que Lucy ?, December 12th 2018.
https://www.franceinter.fr/emissions/la-une-de-la-science/la-une-de-la-science-12-decembre-2018
Des traces de pas qui dévoilent les australopithèques, December 15th 2016.
https://www.franceinter.fr/emissions/la-une-de-la-science/la-une-de-la-science-15-decembre-2016
Les origines de l’humanité, France Inter, “La tête au carré”. May 26th 2016.
https://www.franceinter.fr/emissions/la-tete-au-carre/la-tete-au-carre-26-mai-2016