On Wednesday 8 February, Sevenoaks was honoured to have Professor Chris Stringer FRS come to discuss his work on the evolution of humans. Professor Stringer is Research Leader in Human Origins at the National History Museum and the director of the Ancient Human Occupation of Britain Project. He is also a renowned author of several books including Homo Britannicus; the incredible story of human life in Britain and The Origin of our Species.
In his lecture, also entitled The Origin of our Species, Professor Stringer discussed human evolution and recent discoveries which cause us to re-evaluate what it means to be human. With technology always changing and advancing, new theories and ideas redirect and tweak the theoretical path of our species. Professor Stringer illustrated this by talking about his initial work on his PhD (conducted by driving round Europe and measuring relics by hand) and contrasting it with recent discoveries made by analysing the genetic information from a small bone of a finger. Yet these sets of data have all contributed to his ‘Out of Africa' theory: that our species, Homo sapiens, came from a small group migrating out of the continent of Africa and subsequently populated the rest of the world.
However, the story is more complex, including possible interbreeding with other species such as the Neanderthals and the climatic changes that have affected how we look today. It was astounding to learn how prehistoric statuettes, stone tools and bones that have littered our past allow people like Professor Stringer to map our history and gain such an insight. We were lucky enough to be shown, by Professor Stringer, replicas of a Homo sapiens skull, a venus figurine and a genuine hand axe found here in Britain, dated at 500,000 years old. He demonstrated how the tool would have been made and explained the positioning of the maker by the fragments of rock discovered on the ground; the tiniest details can lead to major links in our origins.
Professor Stringer finally provoked our curiosity with the unanswered question of whether our species is still evolving. Maybe we will have to wait another few thousands of years to find out.
Tuesday 28 February 2012
by Charlotte Hails