Out of Africa – the evidence of human evolution

Friday November 27th: Prof Chris Stringer FRS (pictured above) of the Natural History Museum, London, took on the task of presenting the penultimate Science talk in the BRLSI’s year-long Darwin and Beyond series.  His topic, The Origin Of Our Species, formed a natural progression from the preceding talks by Dr Steve Dorus, on natural selection in apes and modern humans, and Dr Momna Hejmadi on cerebral evolution.
Charles Darwin addressed the subject of human evolution when he published The Descent of Man in 1871.  Prof Stringer comprehensively addressed Darwin’s ideas on the subject, as well as those that were subsequently developed as fossils were discovered all over Africa, and the implications of later specimens such as The Hobbit from Asia and Neanderthals from Europe, the evidence all pointing to an out of Africa origin.
Professor Stringer considered the topic of human evolution in two stages. First was a pre-human phase in Africa more than 2 million years ago, during which time a bipedal stance had evolved, but otherwise very ape-like in body and brain.  During a second, more recent human-like phase, brain size increased relative to body size, dietary range increased and greater complexity of behaviours are evident.
Professor Stringer went on to discuss how recent advances in science and technology have contributed to our understanding of this topic, especially the accurate dating of fossil materials.  Advances in the analysis of genetic data are also of great importance, and this talk was particularly topical as the scientific community await the publication of the Neanderthal genome sequence.   
– Vicky Hunt
• The final lecture in the Science programme and the overall Darwin and Beyond season – and a natural progression from Prof Stringer’s lecture on human evolution – is on Friday December 11th, when world-famous geneticist Prof Steve Jones of UCL will ask Is Evolution Over? Tickets for the Elwin Room are sold out, but some overflow seating, with limited visibility, will be available on the door on the night. See our front page for more details.