Marie-Henriette Alimen was born in Saint-Loubès, in southwestern France. She attended the École Normale Supérieure in Paris and received her "licence" to teach in 1922. She earned a doctoral degree in 1936 with a thesis that won the Prix Visquenel from the Société géologique de France.
After working mainly in geology for years,
she turned to the field of prehistory. From 1946 to 1956, she taught at the Institut d'Ethnologie at the Musée de l'Homme, and then taught geology and prehistory at the École Normal Supérieure in Fontenay-aux-Roses (later Lyon). In 1948, she became director of research at the Centre national de la recherche scientifique (CNRS), where she headed the Laboratory for Quaternary Geology. She did field work in the Pyrenees, Corsica, Romania, and the Sahara. Her interdisciplinary approach combined research into the prehistory of humans with studies on geology, emphasizing soil science, sedimentology, the exploration of fluvial formations, the earliest stone tools, and rock drawings. She contributed to the creation of an extensive geological map of France. After retiring from CNRS, she served as president of the French Prehistoric Society in 1949 and of the French Geological Society in 1970. In 1981, she received the Gaudry Prize for her geologic research.
She was awarded the Legion of Honor and was named to the Ordre des Palmes Académiques and the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres. Her best-known book was Préhistoire de l'Afrique (1955), which became a standard work in the field of prehistory.