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The story of the origin of our species Homo sapiens (and sometimes I need to remind myself it means 'wise man') is a convoluted one which continues to intrigue us more and more in the light of recent findings. So this year's Annual Science Lecture by our very own wise man, Museum palaeoanthropologist and human origins expert Professor Chris Stringer, is sure to be a popular one and is bound to shed light on some of our human evolutionary conundrums.

 

Chris's presentation will bring together elements covered in his recently published book on the subject of our origins, and beyond. I asked him for a taster of what we can expect on Wednesday evening and to introduce one of the rare specimens he will show at the lecture. He says:

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Rhodesian Man 'one of the most beautiful fossil human relics' will join Chris Stringer who presents the Annual Science Lecture on The Origin of Our Species, Wednesday evening, 30 November.

'It took me two years to write my book The Origin of our Species. Most of it in my “spare time” and I sometimes regretted the time it was taking, and the impact this had on my research work and my personal life. But I changed my mind on Christmas Eve last year, when the science journal Nature published a paper on a new kind of human from Siberia, the Denisovans, identified from distinctive DNA in fragmentary fossils from Denisova Cave in southern Siberia. By then I had finished the chapter on the DNA evidence, but because I had another month of writing ahead of me, I was able to incorporate a discussion of the Denisovans and their possible interbreeding with modern humans in the final parts of my book.

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'Another example of ongoing research in the book concerns the famous fossil skull from Broken Hill in Zambia (‘Rhodesian Man’ pictured above), which is one of the most beautiful fossil human relics and a real treasure of the Museum's collections.

 

'This skull representing one of our possible African ancestors, is generally thought to be about 500,000 years old, but in the last chapter of the book I discuss my research with a group of collaborators that suggests the fossil could be much younger than previously believed, with intriguing implications for our evolution. The skull will make a very rare public appearance alongside me, while I give my lecture!'

 

After the lecture there is a chance to ask Professor Chris Stringer questions and he will sign copies of his new book, The Origin of Our Species (left).

 

Find out about the Annual Science Lecture

Book tickets online

 

Explore our human origins' research online

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'We have not explored this planet!' announced Professor Lee Berger excitedly earlier this week at the handover presentation here (pictured below) of the replicas of two 1.98 million-year-old early human fossil skeletons for our research.

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The remarkable fossils belong to the ancient human-like species, Australopithecus sediba, which could be the ancestor to the first humans. The two replica casts, one an adult female and the other a young adolescent male skeleton, have been donated by the University of the Witwatersrand and the Government of the Republic of South Africa. The cast of the male skull - the female skull is still missing - went on public display in the Museum this week.

 

Prof Berger (below left) is lead palaeoanthropological researcher with the University of Witwatersrand's Institute for Human Evolution in Johannesburg. In his presentation he told us how Google Earth had inadvertently led his team to new archaeological locations and the subsequent discovery of 600 caves and fossil sites around Johannesburg, including Malapa.

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Left: Prof Lee Berger demonstrates the human-like hand of the female specimens found. Right: 3D model created by paleo-artist John Gurche of the young male skull (Gurche's model recently won a palaeontology award). The male skeleton has been named Karabo (meaning 'the answer') by the local Malapa people.

Prof Berger spoke of the historic moment on 15 August 2008 when, after 17 years of digging, his nine-year-old son spotted the tip of a clavicle in the rock that turned out later to belong to one of the most complete early human skeletons ever found. 'When he pointed it out, I almost didn't want to look, for fear it would be just another antelope fossil!' Apparently as many as 250,000 antelope fossils are discovered for every one hominid fossil.

 

You can read more about the replica casts arriving here in our news story and the media. BBC News online described it as 'currently the hottest topic in palaeoanthropology'.

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Scientists and journalists gather around to view the Malapa Cave Sediba fossils donated to the Museum at the recent  presentation in the Attenborough Studio.

During Prof Berger's discussion with our own human origins expert Prof Chris Stringer it became clear that the finds at Malapa are set to reveal a lot more in the future, not only because of the light they shed on the evolution of modern humans (Homo sapiens), but because of their potentially mummified nature (the protein keratin may exist) and the way they can be so accurately dated. It is likely that they will unearth more in Malapa, and when asked what he would like to find next, Prof Berger replied, 'our female's skull... and a complete foot.'

 

You can see the Australopithecus sediba replica skull cast now on special display in Dinosaur Way at the Museum. It is one of several sets of casts that will in the next few weeks be handed over to public institutions and universities in the UK and Europe.

 

Find out more about Chris Stringer's work and human evolution online

 

Above model reconstruction image of Karabo © Courtesy of National Geographic, August 2011 issue /Reconstruction by John Gurche/ Photo by Brett Stirton

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The clocks have gone back and it's getting dark impossibly early. Yup, the short and coated days of winter are upon us. But here at the Museum, the onset of dreary winter is kept firmly at bay by our magical outdoor Ice Rink which opened today, 4 November, on the front lawn for the season.

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Opening event: Children from Docklands' Cyril Jackson primary school with The Snowman from the Sadler's Wells show adaptation recreate the famous character's gliding pose on the ice (it's the actual stage costume).

At dusk it becomes even more dazzling out there when the 76,000 Christmas lights twinkle out from the lofty plane trees framing the rink, pictured below.

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76,000 lights provide the twinkling canopy for the Ice Rink that opened on 4 November for its winter season on the Museum front lawn.

This year's Ice Rink is even more bedazzling with the addition of an olde worlde Sweet Shop (every parent's nightmare) by the main 950-square-metre skating rink and the sparkling vintage carousel returns again for rides. There is also the adjoining children's rink for little skaters and even more penguin skate aids and skating marshals than last year to help learners small and large.

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Kids rush! The Sweet Shop, new to this year's Ice Rink, overflows with sticky delights and below, the vintage carousel returns with its sparkly horse rides and there are more penguin skate aids for learners.

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The Ice Rink isn't just about skating, however. It's a wonderful place to socialise and soak up the ambience of this historical seasonal setting, or just watch the action from the viewing platform of the Café Bar. The bar serves a festive choice of hot and cold drinks including gluhwein and delicious hot chocolate, with the promise an extensive food menu and music nights.

 

At the launch party on Thursday 3 November, guests and excited children from the Docklands' Cyril Jackson primary school (above) were greeted by The Snowman character from the current Sadler's Wells stage adaptation of Raymond Briggs' classic.

 

Later on at the evening event, various celebrities showed off their skating skills including Olympic swimmer Sharon Davies and top alpine ski racer Chemmy Alcott - both initiating incredibly brave young family members to the rink.

 

The Ice Rink and Café Bar stays open until 22.00 weekdays and weekends and you can book tickets online, prices start from £8.


Read more about the Ice Rink in the latest news story

 

Find out all about the Ice Rink on the website

Enjoy some of the photos from the launch party below. Select images to enlarge.
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A lucky schoolgirl gliding on ice with The Snowman

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Chemmy Alcott, current British no. 1 alpine ski racer, with family and The Snowman

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Sharron Davies, Olympic swimmer, with one of her kids - who was seen dashing over the ice later on

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Tupele Dorgu, Coronation Street's Kelly Crabtree

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The Only Way is Essex star Lydia Rose Bright with little sister, and below hugging The Snowman

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Laura Hamilton, who finished 2nd place in Dancing on Ice 2011

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TV presenter Lizzie Cundy and Hayley Tamaddon, actress and winner of Dancing on Ice 2010

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Antony Costa of boy band Blue

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Ben Adams of A1 with friend

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Stars get together for final photos

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The sun shone on the first day the Ice Rink opened to the public on 4 November