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Arambourg, Camille Louis Joseph


(b Paris, France, 3 February 1885; d. Paris, 19 November 1969)

paleoanthropology, vertebrate paleontology.

Arambourg was the son of Victor Arambourg and Clarisse Pfeifer Arambourg. His parents, who belonged to the upper middle class, had lived in Lyons for many years, but moved to Paris before his birth. His father, who was passionately interested in photography, was a pioneer in that art and a friend of the manufacturers and inventors Louis and Auguste Lumière, and of the photographer Nadar (Félix Tournachon). Arambourg’s mother was an accomplished musician.

He was educated at a private school, Sainte-Croix de Neuilly, where he prepared his baccalaureate degree in 1903. Later he studied at the Institut National Agronomique. where he took his degree in agricultural engineering in 1908.

Since his father had settled as a farmer near Oran, Algeria, Arambourg joined him there and helped him to improve the water supply of the vineyards. During this work, deep plowings unearthed well-preserved fossil fishes from the Upper Miocene (the “Sahelian” of Augûste Pormel) Arambourg married Julie Marie Froget at Oran on 16 June 1910. In 1912 he undertook excavations near Oran to collect more material. In order to identify and further study these fishes, he frequently visited the geological laboratory of the Algiers Faculty of Sciences.

When World War I broke out. Arambourg had to leave Algeria to serve in the French army. He fought in the Dardanelles campaign and in Serbia in 1915, and in Macedonia from 1916 to 1918. L’armée d’Orient had established its positions near Salonika, along the east bank of the Vardar River, in an area where Upper Miocene (“Pontian”) lacustrine deposits, rich in vertebrate remains, outcrop widely. While the soldiers dug trenches, Arambourg collected numerous bone fragments. As a result, the lieutenant colonel of his regiment allowed him to undertake paleontological excavations and to gather an important collection of mammalian remains belonging to species already known from the deposits at Pikermi in Greece, remains that had been described fifty years earlier by Albert Gaudry. Moreover, the army staff transported his collection to Salonika. When the war was over, these fossils were shipped to Algiers and, later, to the Museum of Natural History in Paris.

Since he had received geological training as part of his studies at the Institut National Agronomique, Arambourg used some of the time spent in Macedonia surveying for a geological map (1:50, 000) of the vicinity of Guevgueli, in the Vardar Valley. This map was printed in 1919 by the Service Géographique de l’Armée d’Orient.

After the war Arambourg returned to Algeria. In 1920, when his father decided to sell the farm, Arambourg applied for a professorship of geology at the Institut Agricole d’Alger. During his ten years in Algiers, he continued collecting Upper Miocene fossil fishes and began investigations of the Pleistocene vertebrate fauna. He also paid many visits to Paris to study in the Museum of Natural History, where Marcellin Boule was in charge of the paleontological collections. Shortly after publishing his important monograph “Les poissons fossiles d’Oran” (1927), Arambourg became a skillful specialist in fossil mammals.

Although he settled in Paris in 1930, having been appointed professor of geology at the Institut National Agronomique (he succeeded Lucien Cayeux, under whom he had studied), Arambourg continued his paleontological interest in Africa, undertaking a number of scientific expeditions. He organized an expedition to the Omo Valley in Ethiopia (October 1932-May 1933), where he collected Pleistocene vertebrates in the fossiliferous localities discovered thirty years earlier by Émile Brumpt north of Lake Rudolf. During the same expedition, excavations were made in the Miocene of Losodok (southwest of Turkana Lake, Kenya). Four and a half tons of rocks and fossils were collected and shipped to the Museum of Natural Historv in Paris.

At this time Arambourg studied the geology of the northern and western borders of Lake Rudolf. He also published a short paper on the volcanic formations of Turkana in 1934 and prepared a geological map (1:500, 000) of this area in 1943. Three volumes of scientific reports on geology, paleontology, and anthropology were published under his direction by the Museum of Natural History (1935–1948). Thesecond of these contains his detailed geological description of Turkana and of the lower valley of the Omo River (1943). Four color plates of landscapes and of human tvpcs encountered during the expedition were printed in this volume. These plates exhibit a series of fine autochromes made by Arambourg himself.

In November 1936 Arambourg succeeded Marcellin Boule as professor of paleontology at the Museum of Natural History. He soon organized a scientific expedition, lasting from 1938 to 1939, to collect fossil fishes in the Cretaceous localities of Lebanon and in the Oligocene deposits of Iran. In 1946 he returned to Lebanon. The Maghreb increasingly fascinated him, however. He undertook excavations in the Villafranchian of northern Africa, especially at Aïn Hanech, near Sétif, in northern Algeria, where he discovered spheroid artifacts (1947–1948), and at Ternifine, near Mascara, Algeria. where three mandibles and a parietal of pithecanthropus were exhumed (1954–1955).

Although he had to retire from his professorship at the Museum of Natural History in the fall of 1955, Arambourg retained his passionate interest in paleontology, as demonstrated by his third visit to the Cretaceous fish deposits of Lebanon in 1961 and by his desire to return to the Omo Valley of Ethiopia. He was head of the French team of the tripartite International Omo Research Expedition and participated in its first three field seasons (1967–1969), during which numerous australopithecine remains (including several mandibles, one maxillary, and one parietal) were collected. He had begun organizing the fourth field season when he died suddenly.

Arambourg was deeply convinced that paleontologists had much to learn from explorations in the field; he collected a great quantity of vertebrate fossils during his life and generously offered this collection to the Museum of Natural History in Paris. Among the fossils were more than 1, 500 specimens of Upper Miocene fish from Oran and its vicinity. Moreover, for his monograph on the fossil vertebrates from the phosphate deposits of northern Africa, he gathered about 100, 000 items with the assistance of field geologists interested in his study.

Arambourg’s paleontological work covers mainly three specialties: paleoichthyology, paleomammalogy, and paleoanthropology. Occasionally he also developed original views on the evolution of living forms.

Paleoichthyology . In paleoichthyology Arambourg was interested primarily in the study of Cretaceous and Cenozoic fish, since he could, according to the actualistic principle, use the distribution of living fishes as a guide for the interpretation of the bathymetric and paleoclimatic significance of the fossil localities under study. He was able to establish that the fossil remains of Upper Miocene fish fauna from Licata, Sicily, were indicative of bathypelagic conditions (1925). Arambourg was also the first to recognize the occurrence of scales modified into light organs in fossil myctophids (1920). Moreover, he established that the Upper Miocene fish faunas from Licata and Oran had lived in subtropical conditions. Finally, he considered that the compositon of the paleomediterranean fish fauna (paleomediterranean was coined by him to qualify that which lived in the Mediterranean during the Upper Miocene) is reminiscent of an older one that had a Tethysian extension. This interpretation was confirmed when Arambourg studied the Oligocene fish fauna of Iran (1939, 1967) and identified among them several species belonging to genera whose recent distributions are divided between the Atlantic and the indo-Pacific oceans.

In his thorough study of the fossil vertebrates (mainly sharks) from the phosphate mines of Morocco, Arambourg was able to demonstrate that these economically important marine sediments had been deposited during three successive stratigraphic stages ranging from Upper Cretaceous to Middle Eocene. He also established that all were deposited in shallow waters under tropical-to-subtropical conditions.

Arambourg was especially interested in Cretaceous fish faunas and, more particularly, in those from the Lebanese deposits. Unfortunately, he never found time to describe this exceptionally rich and significant material. As a result, except for the Maastrichtian fauna from the phosphate deposits of northern Africa, his main studies on Cretaceous fossil fishes are a short memoir on the Lower Cretaceous of Gabon (1936) and a monograph on the Cenomanian of Jebel Tselfat, Morocco (1954), in which he relied on the composition of this fish fauna to establish its stratigraphic age.

Arambourg generally paid little attention to fossil reptiles, although he described some of their remains in his study of the vertebrates from the phosphate mines of northern Africa. Nevertheless, he identified a giant pterosaur. Titanopteryx philadelphiae, in the Maastrichtian phosphate deposits of Roseifa, Jordan (1954, 1959). Although the anatomical identification of the largest and most significant bone fragment remained somewhat problematical, he was able to ascertain through methods commonly used in histology, that it had come from one of the largest pterosaurs.

Paleomammalogy . As a paleomammalogist Arambourg was mostly interested in the period from the Miocene to the Pleistocene. His excavations in the “Pontian” of the Vardar Valley, near Salonika, resulted in “Les vertébrés du Pontien de Salonique” (1929), written with Jean Piveteau. His interest in Miocene mammals is further exemplified in his “Mammifères miocènes du Turkana (Afrique-Orientale)” (1934) and “Vertébrés continentaux du Miocène Supérieur de l’Afrique du nord “(1959), in which he described mainly the material he had collected at Oued el Hammam, near Mascara. He also established that the first appearance of the Hipparion fauna clearly antedated the end of the Miocene and that the term “Pontian” is no longer useful as a stratigraphic stage defined by its mammalian remains. He emphasized the endemic character of the Upper Miocene mammals of northern Africa and considered that the life forms of Oued el Hammam included mainly genera whose recent species live under tropical conditions.

The study of the Plio-Pleistocene vertebrates of northern and eastern Africa was Arambourg’s most constant preoccupation for forty years. In 1929 he published “Les mammifères quaternaires de l’Algérie” and in 1932 “Révision des ours fossiles de l’Afrique du nord.” In 1938 he published his study “Mammifères fossiles du Maroc,” in which he relied on the composition of the mammalian fauna from the Paleolithic of Morocco to interpret the climatic changes in northern Africa during Pleistocene times. In his masterly “Contribution à l’étude géologique et paléontologique du bassin du Lac Rodolphe et de la basse vallée de l’Omo” (1948). Arambourg described the vertebrates collected fifteen years earlier and determined that the Omo formation belongs to the Kagerian stage (Lower Pleistocene), In addition, he believed that Africa had been a center of mammalian evolution and dispersal.

Finally, after having collected for thirty years (1931–1961), Arambourg undertook a wide synthesis of the Villafranchian vertebrates of northern Africa. Just before his death he completed a comprehensive monograph that was published posthumously in two parts with slightly different titles: “Les vertébrés pléistocènes de l’Afrique du nord “(1969–1970) and Verébrés villafranchiens d’Afrique du nord (1979).

Paleoanthropology , Arambourg’s major achievement was unquestionably his masterly contribution to the improvement of paleoanthropological knowledge. When he received the Gaudry Prize from the Soeiété Géologique de France, he said that his interest in paleoanthropology began in secondary school as a result of the controversies generated by the discovery of the first remains of Pithecanthropus erectus—he was given the nickname “Fossil Man” by his schoolmates.

Arambourg’s first discovery in the field of paleoanthropology was an Upper Paleolithic ossuary near Bejaïa, in northeastern Algeria, from which he exhumed seven skeletons and many skulls of Cro-Magnons in 1934. In 1949 he noted the occurrence of calcareous spheroid artifacts in the Lower Villafranchian of Aïn Hanech, near Sétif, Algeria. Although he was initially somewhat uncertain about their human origin, he compared them with the Kafuen industry (pebble culture) of Uganda, and also with the Soan of northwest India and the Patjitanian of Java. A still more important discovery was pithecanthropic remains (Atlanthropus mauritanicus) associated with primitive Acheulean bifaces and large Clactonian flakes in the Early Middle Pleistocene (Kamasian) of Ternifine. Arambourg stressed in his published studies the importance of this discovery, which enabled him to demonstrate that the Acheulean industry had been created by the pithecanthropi.

This interpretation was rapidly confirmed in 1955, when a pithecanthropic mandibular fragment of Rissian age was found near Casablanca in association with an evolved Acheulean industry. Shortly afterward Arambourg was concerned with the discovery of a Neanderthaloid skull associated with a Mousterian industry at Jebel Irhoud, Morocco. Except for the australopithecines who probably fashioned the spheroid artifacts of Aïn Hanech, the Maghreb had finally produced a complete human paleontological series associated with lithic industries arranged in a regular stratigraphic sequence.

Arambourg was more than eighty years old when he first discovered australopithecine remains, during the first field season of the International Omo Research Expedition. His death deprived him of the full benefit of the foresight that had led him to return to Ethiopia, where, he was convinced, he would uncover the remains of modern humanity’s remote ancestors.

Evolutionary Theories . Arambourg’s theories on the evolution of living forms are scattered throughout many publications. In 1935 he emphasized, in his “Contribution à l’éltude des poissons du Lias supérieur, “that the evolutionary process proceeded regularly—albeit in discrete or discontinuous manifestations—in a definite and clearly evident direction. He emphasized that fossil faunas remained almost constant during relatively long periods, while striking renewals might suddenly occur between two successive stratigraphic stages. In this respect the tempo of evolution appears to have been essentially variable, as shown by the fact that even in the more classical series of orthogenetic specializations, the transitional forms that are postulated to have connected the different stages through almost imperceptible gradations are generally lacking (Notice… Arambourg, 1936). Moreover, in his comments in “L’évolution des vertébrés” (1937), Arambourg demonstrated that the evolutionary discontinuities can be correlated with the major events of geological history and suggested that the structure and the morphology of living forms resulted from a balance between their “inner medium” and the physicochemical factors of their external environment. In this respect he believed himself to be a Lamarckian, although this interpretation is neo-Lamarckian.

Nevertheless, Arambourg distinguished two types of evolutionary processes: a general one that is tied directly to the increasing entropy of the universe and determines the global orthogenesis of the living world, and peculiar processes induced by the major geological events that have periodically modified the earth’s surface. These peculiar processes would be responsible for the rapid emergence of new organic types. In this way he explained the extreme scarcity of transitional forms between the major groups.

In the first edition of La genèse de l’humanité (1943), Arambourg still emphasized the importance of the successive discontinuities that suddenly produced evolutionary novelties and gave rise to temporarily stable types. Later, in Le gisement de Ternifine (1963), he objected that the macro-and megaevolutionary discontinuities evidenced during the development of living forms seriously contradicted the Darwinian and neo-Darwinian conceptions of evolution. He argued that organic evolution proceeds from continual interactions between living beings and their physical environment, a view very similar to the cytochemical neo-Lamarckism of Paul Wintrebert.

Then, taking into account the evolutionary history of humanity, Arambourg considered that it had proceeded by successive and progressive steps, strictly distributed through time, each corresponding to a temporarily stable human type characterized by its lithic industry. He also noted that no gradual transition can be recognized between the human fossil types or between the successive lithic industries. He had been even clearer in his “Considérations sur l’état actuel du probléme des origines de l’homme “(1956), in which he asserted: “Australopithecines, Pithecanthropines, Neanderthalians, and Homo sapiens are much more than morphological stages, and… they really correspond to the successive steps of the series that ends with Homo sapiens” (p. 146).

Even though this point of view rapidly became obsolete, Arambourg’s interpretation of the evolutionary process seems to have been somewhat prophetic. In fact, he believed that “macroevolution truly constitutes the elementary mechanism of transformism,” so that in every systematic category, evolution has proceeded by successive steps, or quanta. In this respect his view of evolution, seen as “a continuous series of discontinuities” (“L“évolution transformiste des hominiens,” 1965), anticipates the punctualist conception of life history, made up of geologically instantaneous events of morphological transformations.

His exceptionally thorough research brought Arambourg many honors. He was president of the Société Géologique de France (1950), the Société Préhistorique Francaise (1956), and the fourth Pan African Congress on Prehistory, held in Leopoldville. Belgian Congo (now Kinshasa, Zaïre), in 1959. The same year, he received the Gaudry Prize from the Société Géologique de France. In 1961 he was elected to the Académic des Sciences.


I. Original Works. Among more than 230 publications, the most significant works of Arambourg are “Traces d’organes lumineux observés chez quelques Scopélides fossiles,” in Comptes rendus sommaires des séances de la Société Géologique de France (1920), 167–168: “Révision des poissons fossiles de Licata,” in Annales de Paléontologie, 14 (1925), 39–132; “Les poissons fossiles d’Oran,” in Matériaux pour la carte géologique de l’Algérie, 1st ser., Paléontologie, no, 6 (1927); “Les mammiféres quaternaires de l’Algéque,” in Bulletin de la Société d’Histoire Naturelle d’Afrique du Nord, 20 (1929), 63–84; “Les vertébrés du Pontien de Salonique,” in Annales de Paléontologie, 18 (1929), 59–138, written with Jean Piveteau; “Révision des ours fossiles de l’Afrique du Nord,” in Annales da Musée d’Histoire Naturelle de Marseille, 25 (1932–1933), 247–301: “Mammifères miocènes du Turkana (Afirique-Orientale),” in Annales de Paléontontologie, 22 (1934), 123–146; “Les grottes paléolithiques des Beni-Segoual (Algéerie),” Archives de l’Institut de Paléontologie Humaine, memoir no. 13 (Paris, 1934), written with Marcellin Boule. Henri Vallois, and René Verneau: “Contribution à l’étude des poissons du lias supérieur,” in Annales de Paléontologie, 24 (1935), I-32; “Historique el itinéraire de la mission,” in Mission scientifique de l’Oma, I.fase, I (Paris, 1935), l-8, written with P. A. Chappuis and R. Jeannel; “Esquisse géologique de la bordure occidentale du Lac Rodolphe,” ibid., 9–16; “Les poissons fossiles du bassin sédimentaire du Gabon,” in Annales de Paléontologie, 24 (1936), 137- 159, written with D. Schneegans.

Other works are Notice sur les travaux scientifiques de M. Camille Arambourg (Paris, 1936); “L’évolution des vertébres,” in L’Encyclopédie Française, V (Paris, 1937), chap. 2: “Mammifères fossiles du Muroc,” in Mémoires de la Société des Sciences Naturelles du Maroc, 46 (1938), 1–72; “Sur des poissons fossiles de Perse,” in Comptes rendus hebdomadaires des séances de l’Académie des Sciences, 209 (1939), 898–899: La genése de l’hummanité (Paris, 1943; 8th ed. 1969); “Contribution à l’étude géologique et puléontologique du bassin du Lac Rodolphe et de la basse vallée de l’Omo. Première partie: Géologie, “in Mission scientifique de l’Omo I. fasc. 2 (Paris, 1943), 157–230. and I. fasc. 3 (1948), 231–562: “Sur la présence, dans le Villafranchien d’Algérie, de vestiges éventuels d’industrie humaine,” in Comptes rendus hebdomadaires des sèances de l’Académie des Sciences, 229 (1949), 66–67; “Les vertébrés fossiles des gisements de phosphates (Maroc-Algérie-Tunisie),” in Notes et mémoires du Service géologique du Marox, no. 92 (19521, written with J. Signeus; “Les poissons crétacés du Jebel Tselfat,” ibid., no. 118 ( 1954); “Sur la présence d’un Ptérosaurien gigantesque dans les phosphates de Jordanie.” in Comptes rendus hehdomadaires des séances de l’Académic des sciences, 238 (1954), 133–134.

Later works include “Le gisement de Ternifine et l’Atlanthropus,” in Bulletin de la Société Préhistorique Francaise, 52 (1955), 94–95; “Décoverte de vestiges humains acheuléens dans la carrièie de Sidi-Abd-er-Rahmann,” in Comptes rendus hebdomadaires des séances de I’Académie des Sciences, 240 (1955), 1661–1663, written with Pierre Biberson; “Considerations sur l’état actuel du problème des origines de l’homme,” in Collaques internationaux du Centre Nationale de la Recherche Scientifique, 60 (1956), 135–147; “Vertébrés continenataux National de la Recherche Scientifique, 60 (1956), 135–147; “Vertébrés continentaux du Miocène Supérieur de l’Afrique du nord,” in Publications du Service de la Carte Géologique de l’Algérie, n.s., Paléontologie, 4 (1959); “Gisements de phosphates maëstrichtiens de Roseifa (Jordanie), Titanopteryx philadelphiae nov. gen., nov. sp., ptérosaurien géant,” in Notes et mémories sur le Moyen-Orient, 7 (1959), 229–234; Le gisement de Ternifine. I. Archives de l’Institut de Paléontologie Humaine, memoir no. 32 (Paris, 1963), written with R, Hoffstetter; “L’Évolution transformistedes hommiens,” in Revista da Faculdade de letras, Universidade de Lisboa, 3rd sen, no. 9 (1965), 3–15: “Les poissons oligocènes de I’Iran,” in Notes et mémoires surle Moyen-Orient, 8 (1967), 1–247; “Sur la découverte, dans le Pléistocène Inférieur de la vallée de l’Omo (Éthiopie), d’une mandibule d’Australopithécien,” in Comptes rendus hebdomadaires des séances de L’Académie des Sciences, 265D (1967), 589–590, written with Yves Coppens; “Les vertébrés du Pléistocène de l’Afrique du Nord (première partie: proboscidiens et périssodactyles),” in Archives du Muséum National d’Histoire Nuturelle, 7 , 7th ser., no. 10 (1969/1970), 1–126; and Vertébrés villafranchiens d’Afrique du Nord (artiodactyles, carnivores, primates, reptiles, oiseaux) (Paris, 1979).

II. Secondary Literature. The most complete biography of Arambourg is Robert Courrier, Notice sur la vie et les travaux de Camille Arambourg (1885–1969), membre de la section de minéralogie et géologie: Ses recherches sur la genèse de l’humanité (Paris, 1974), with a bibliography and portrait. See also Yves Coppens, “Camille Arambourg and Louis Leakey ou 1/2 siècle de paléontologie africaine,” in Bulletin de la Société Préhistorique Française, 76 (1979), 291–314, with a complete bibliography and portrait. Further information on Arambourg’s life and work is in E. Ennouchi, “Camille Arambourg (1885–1969),” in Bulletin de la Société des Sciences Naturelles et Physiques du Maroc, 50 (1970), 1–7: Jean Gaudant, “Camille Arambourg (1885–1969), précurseur du ponctualisme,” in Revue d’histoire des sciences, 39 (1986), 31–34; B. Gèze, “Camille Arambourg (1885–1969),” in Comptes rendus des séances de l’Académie d’Agriculture de France, 56 (1970), 101–104; and J.-P. Lehman, B. Gèze, L. Balout, and R. Heim, Hommage à Camille Arambourg à l’occasion de son 80° anniversaire (Paris, 1965).

Jean Gaudant

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