Centre strengthens human evolution research

Pleistocene human footprints: Willandra Lakes in southeastern Australia. A close-up view of one foot print from a series of prints that have been preserved on a small wetland surface that has been preserved from the height of the last glacial period.

The Minister for Innovation, Science and the Digital Economy and Minister for Small Business Leanne Enoch will launch the Griffith University Research Centre for Human Evolution at Brisbane City Hall on July 8, 2016.

Centre Director Professor Rainer Grün said the centre wouldhelp strengthen relationships between scientists and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people through research and discovery.

“The centre represents a world first due to its focus on human evolution in Australia and the origins of the First Australians and has already made significant achievements since its establishment in January,’’ Professor Grün said.

“These include the publication of five academic articles in the prestigious journal, Nature and two prestigious Australian Research Council fellowships.”

The centre will hold its first conference – The Challenges and Opportunities for Human Evolution Research in SE Asia and Australasiaon July 8 and 9.

Archaeological experts from Australia, Europe, Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippineswill look at ways to develop partnerships between Australian and international researchers and Aboriginal Traditional Owners.

Professor Rainer Grün said it was important that researchers listened to Traditional Owners to understand their aspirations and beliefs and reach mutual agreement on collaborations.

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“To tell the full narrative of Australia’s history, which began some 50,000 years ago, it is important that the Aboriginal and scientific communities work together to ensure the protection of Aboriginal cultural heritage,’’ Professor Grün said.

The symposium, to be held at Griffith University’s South Bank campus, will also focus on south-east Asia where the ‘Hobbit’ (Homo floresiensis) has now been dated to around 60,000 years and new discoveries include its 600,000-year-old ancestor.

Speakers include:

Professor Chris Stringer — Fellow of the Royal Society, Human Origins Research Leader, Natural History Museum, London. His early research was on the relationship of Neanderthals and early modern humans in Europe, but through his work on the Recent African Origin theory of modern human origins, he now collaborates with archaeologists, dating specialists and geneticists in attempting to reconstruct the evolution of modern humans globally. Books include Homo britannicus(2006), The Complete World of Human Evolution(2011, with Peter Andrews),The Origin of Our Species(2011) and Britain: One Million Years of the Human Story (2014, with Rob Dinnis).

Professor François Sémah Distinguished Professor at the Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle Paris. In 1984 he worked on the chronology of the hominid-bearing sites in Java (Indonesia), where he has continued to excavate since 1987. His current research interests lie in the chronology and the dynamics of human dispersals throughout the archipelagos of Southeast Asia.

Professor Eske WillerslevPrince Philip Chair in Ecology and Evolution, University of Cambridge. Lundbeck Foundation Professorship, University of Copenhagen. He is an evolutionary geneticist recognised for his studies on human evolution and dispersal, microbial long-term survival and evolution, DNA degradation and environmental DNA. He is known for sequencing the first ancient human genome and establishing the field of environmental DNA.