The Musée de l’Homme’s laboratories are a single unit where researchers mix together. They are equipped to enable new analytical and theoretical approaches.
The “2D/3D Modelling and Imaging” platform
The 2D/3D imaging platform has several surface scanners, photogrammetry equipment, a 3D microscope and high-performance graphics workstations. Surface imaging techniques enable the creation of virtual models of specimens from the collections and discoveries from on-going fieldwork to compare them and then analyse them using statistical methods. The platform’s equipment enables an extensive range of objects of study to be covered, from microscopic traces to whole dig sites. By dematerialising objects of study in this way, they are preserved yet are always accessible, even from a distance, via an image bank, to researchers and the general public, in particular as museum exhibits.
The “Paleogenomics and Human Molecular Genetics” platform
The genetics platform includes a modern DNA laboratory and an ancient DNA laboratory. In both cases, the goal is to be able to read the genetic code of a biological sample following extraction, purification and amplification. These operations are carried out in a controlled environment free from risk of contamination by outside DNA. With modern DNA, the blood and saliva samples are collected from populations in the areas being studied (Central Asia, Central Africa, Southeast Asia, Cape Verde, etc.).
With ancient DNA, which is said to be degraded due to its low availability and fragmented nature, the delicate sampling of DNA molecules is done on bone and tooth remains (from digs or the collections). This involves stricter constraints: the environment is confined, the “white” room is over-pressurised with a flow of purified air, and scientists work in sterile, head-to-toe lab suits. Ancient DNA analysis tells us much more about the collections’ specimens. It documents the evolution of fossil species of the Homo genus and the continuity or disappearance of species, notably the extinction of the Neanderthals.
The platform also includes a sizeable biological anthropology laboratory for the cleaning of bones and samples of fauna and flora.
“Dating and Characterisation of Archaeological and Sedimentary Materials” Platform
Current techniques for analysing bone samples, sediments, plant and animal fossils, and stone tool industries, which are essential to placing discoveries in their chronological, climatic and environmental context, involve both physics and chemistry.
This platform includes different laboratories with rooms for preparing samples and rooms for their analysis:
- dating rooms for the extraction and counting of uranium and thorium atoms, enabling samples to be dated between 5,000 and 600,000 years approximately;
- mineral chemistry room for studying and analysing sediments;
- material analysis room for characterising the chemical and mineral composition of materials;
- an isolated palaeomagnetism room that is shielded from the Earth’s current magnetic field for studying the fossil magnetic field record in archaeological objects and sediments.
The platform also includes a room for preparing samples and a room for casting replicas of archaeological pieces before sampling and/or destruction for analysis.