GSN abstracts

The Origin of Our Species
Professor Chris Stringer
Wednesday 26 October 2011, 8 pm

Human evolution can be divided into two main phases. A pre-human phase in Africa prior to 2 million years ago, where walking upright had evolved but many other characteristics were still essentially ape-like. And a human phase, with an increase in both brain size and behavioural complexity, and an expansion from Africa. Evidence points strongly to Africa as the major centre for the genetic, physical and behavioural origins of both ancient and modern humans, but new discoveries are prompting a rethink of some aspects of our evolutionary origins, including the likelihood of interbreeding between archaic humans (for example the Neanderthals) and modern humans. See also Human evolution: the long, winding road to modern man.

James Frederick Jackson (1894–1966): boy genius of Hunstanton. The story of an extraordinary geologist
Ms Cindy Howells
Thursday 17 November 2011, 7.30 pm

In 1910 a small book was published about the geology of Hunstanton. The author was an uneducated boy of 15, who had a natural genius and passion for geology. This talk will reveal the previously unknown facts behind James Frederick Jackson, his Norfolk background, his dedication to collecting, and his moving life story. On view will be a small selection of his fossils, notebooks and other archive material.

The Paul Whittlesea Lecture: Forensic Geology
Dr Haydon W. Bailey
Thursday 19 January 2012, 7.30 pm

Microfossils are playing an increasing role in forensic science and, in reality, a great deal of the day to day work carried out by commercial micropalaeontologists can be described as forensic in nature. The origins of the use of microfossils in criminal and similar cases will be outlined, and then a number of recent, high-profile, criminal trials in which foraminiferal and nannoplankton evidence played a very significant role will be described.

Cannibalism in Palaeolithic Britain
Dr Silvia Bello
Thursday 16 February 2012, 7.30 pm

Cannibalism (the act of eating any type of tissue from another individual of its own kind) amongst sapiens and pre-sapiens humans has been suggested, rejected, accepted and criticised since the nineteenth century. Whilst cut-marks on faunal remains are usually seen as a direct manifestation of butchery activities, those on human remains are not considered an unequivocal evidence of cannibalism. This is mainly because cannibalism among humans has always been a taboo topic, and because cut-marks on human remains can be the product of ritual practices (such as defleshing) without consumption of the body.

The identification of nutritional cannibalism is hard to prove through osteological analyses. One often-used criterion to demonstrate cannibalism is the similarity of butchery traces (frequency and location) on human and animal remains from the same archaeological context.

In this talk, I will present cases of cannibalism around the world and how it has been recognised. In particular, I will provide details of the Upper Palaeolithic site at Gough’s Cave (Somerset, England) which has revealed interesting human behaviour associated with cannibalism. Here, not only humans bodies were cannibalised, but the skulls of some individuals fashioned into drinking cups. The use of human braincases as drinking cups and containers has extensive historic and ethnographic documentation, but archaeological examples are extremely rare. In the Upper Palaeolithic of western Europe, cut-marked and broken human bones are widespread in the Magdalenian (~15 to 12 ka BP) and skull-cup preparation seems to be an element of this tradition. The combination of cannibalism and skull-cup production at Gough’s Cave is so far unique in the European Upper Paleolithic. Direct age determinations on two of the vaults (~14,700 cal BP) make these the oldest dated examples of skull-cups in the archaeological record.