The impact of new scientific methods in our understanding of what happened when Neanderthals met modern humans (and Denisovans)

  • 7. prosince 2023
  • The lecture will take place in lecture room 1030.

Thomas Higham

Understanding the complex issues which surround the dispersal of Homo sapiens out of Africa and what happened when they encountered Neanderthal and Denisovan populations has improved significantly in the last 2 decades with improvements in the application of different scientific methods. In this talk I will mention three significant improvements and give examples to illustrate their impact. The first is improved accelerator-based radiocarbon dating. Chronology is crucial to explore whether there was overlap between the different populations. Second, ancient genomics, which provides unparalleled information regarding interbreeding and admixture. Thirdly, palaeo-proteomics, which enables archaeologists to identify the tiny remains of human bones which are lost within the detritus of archaeological sites. I will examine a range of archaeological sites which date to the period between 30-70,000 years ago, and draw wider conclusions about what we think happened with these different human groups interacted with one another and, in the case of Neanderthals and Denisovans, disappeared eventually from the fossil record.
Tom Higham is a Professor of Evolutionary Anthropology at the University of Vienna. For 20 years up until August 2021 he was based at the University of Oxford’s Radiocarbon Accelerator Unit, where he was the Director of one of the first accelerator mass spectrometry radiocarbon labs. His area of expertise is in pretreatment chemistry, of improving the reliability of radiocarbon dating using AMS, Bayesian modeling and chronology building in archaeology. He has worked for many years on the challenges of dating the disapperance of Neanderthals from Europe. He is also working on the enigmatic Denisovans, discovered in 2010 at the site of Denisova Cave in the Russian Altai. He hails from Aotearoa New Zealand and is the author of the recent book “The World Before Us: How science is revealing a new story of our human origins” (Penguin/RandomHouse).

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