Deceased Academicians

Yves Coppens


Yves Coppens

Date of birth 09 August 1934

Place Vannes, France (Europe)

Nomination 15 July 2014

Field Palaeontology, Palaeoanthropology, Prehistory, Archaeology

Title Professor

Place and date of death † 22 June 2022

  • Biography
  • Publications
  • Commemoration

Most important awards, prizes and academies 
Yves Coppens trained in Physics, Chemistry, Geology, Zoology, Botany (University of Rennes) and Palaeontology (Doctoral degrees, University of Paris-Sorbonne). His career, starting in 1956, has been conducted in different institutions, all of them in Paris, namely, in sequence, National Scientific Research Center, National Museum of Natural History (where he was elected as Chair of Biological Anthropology), and Collège de France (where he was elected Chair of Palaeoanthropology and Prehistory in 1983). Yves Coppens is a member of many scientific institutions all over the world (Academies of France, Belgium, Italy, UK, Brazil, Morocco, Ivory Coast, Malagasy, South Africa). He has received numerous scientific awards from France, Belgium, Italy, Sweden, Ethiopia, Unesco, and civil ones from France, Chad, Monaco.
He is Doctor Honoris Causa of the Universities of Chicago, Bologna, Liège, Mons, and Honorary Citizen of 29 towns. His name has been given to several institutions (Universities, Colleges, Schools, etc...), to an Asteroid (!) and to a Chair at the University of Recife (Brazil).

Summary of scientific research
Yves Coppens is a field palaeontologist; he has organized, led or co-led many expeditions in tropical Africa (Chad, 1960-1966, Ethiopia, 1967-1976 in the Omo Valley and 1972-1977, in the Afar desert), in Asia (Indonesia, the Philippines, China, Mongolia, Siberia), many surveys in North and South Africa, as well as excavations in France. As a result of this field research, he collected tons of fossils, hundreds of hominids (he signed or co-signed three new genera and six new species of them) and, of course, an impressive amount of data.
His research focused on Fossil Vertebrate, their assemblages and their meaning in Palaeoenvironments, Climates and Biochronology, as well as on Fossil Hominids. He is known for his hypothesis showing for the first time the correlations between Hominid evolution and the evolution of the environments but also for unexpected conclusions in functional anatomy of early Hominids, their “double” locomotion, walking and climbing.

He has authored or co-authored over a thousand of scientific papers and books (research and popular).

I was saddened to learn about the passing of French Paleoanthropologist Yves Coppens yesterday. He was among the leading paleontologists not only in France, but also globally.

His leadership in making discoveries in many parts of Africa, his efforts in mentoring, co-mentoring and supporting numerous students and young scholars, many of whom currently hold prominent positions and continue to train others, his contribution to raising and addressing broader issues in early hominin studies, his endeavor to popularize our field, which is often misunderstood in the public sphere and his commitment to educate those at the helm of power so the field of human evolution gets deserved attention and needed funding, are among his key contributions to paleoanthropology and science broadly.

Professor Coppens was also my PhD adviser and co-mentored my research at the University of Paris along with Dr. Denis Geraads of the CNRS. I am grateful to both and will take this sad occasion to express my gratitude to Prof. Coppens for his support. I saw Prof. Coppens last at a scientific gathering in 2019, and his passion and excitement about discoveries and his humorous, civilized and engaging attitude toward scientific discourse was intact. Out of that gathering came a book, which he co-edited at the age of 85! I look forward to gathering with those who knew him and his work to celebrate his life and pay tribute to his contributions.

Zeray Alemseged

Professional Address

Collège de France
Paleoanthropologie et prehistoire
3 Rue d'Ulm
Paris 75005

The Emergence of Humans: Brains (Bodies and Hands), Mind and Soul (PDF) 2014

The Bunch of Prehumans and the Emergence of the Genus Homo (PDF) 2008