Homo naledi right hand dorsal and Curiosity Rover
Feb 16 2016 Posted: 09:30 GMT

NUI Galway will host two special lectures by leading international experts from 19-20 February, examining where and when humans first arose, and where they hope to travel to in the future.

On Friday, 19 February at 7pm, Dr Tracy Kivell of the University of Kent will deliver the William King Annual Lecture on the ‘Mysteries of our newest extinct relative: Homo naledi and the Rising Star Cave’. Dr Kivell is a senior member of the scientific team which discovered this new South African fossil human species, making international news headlines last year. These particular fossils potentially represent some of the earliest representatives of the group to which all people today belong and they were unearthed in an area known as the Cradle of Humankind. The team which described Homo naledi noted that these ancient humans may have deliberately and intentionally disposed of the dead members of their community deep inside the Rising Star Cave system.

The William King Lecture is an event run by the School of Natural Sciences in NUI Galway which brings an international expert to Galway each year to deliver a talk on human evolution. William King was the first Professor of Geology at Queens College Galway and became the first scientist to ever name a new and extinct species of human when he proposed the name Homo neanderthalensis in 1863. This was an important step in the birth of palaeoanthropology, or study of human evolution. The naming of Homo naledi by Dr Kivell and her colleagues represents the latest addition to the human family tree.

Event co-organiser, Dr John Murray of NUI Galway’s Earth and Ocean Sciences, said: “The revelation of Homo naledi to the world represents one of the most significant recent advances in the study of human evolution. These distant ancestors may have lived some two, or perhaps even three million years ago, and the proposal that they may have carefully disposed of their dead fundamentally changes our perception of what it truly means to be ‘human’.”

On Saturday, 20 February at 6.30pm, Professor Sanjeev Gupta of Imperial College London will deliver a lecture on ‘The Geological Adventures of Curiosity in Gale Crater, Mars’. Professor Gupta is a Participating Scientist and Long Term Science Planner on NASA's Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity rover mission and has played a leading role in this epic voyage of discovery to the Red Planet. This talk is co-sponsored by the Geological Survey of Ireland and Geological Survey of Northern Ireland.

For over three years, the car-sized rover Curiosity has been exploring the surface of Mars and the ancient rock formations exposed there and has made many important discoveries. Recently, Professor Gupta and his colleagues reported evidence for a long vanished ancient lake at Gale Crater, implying the presence of relatively wet climatic conditions on Mars in the distant past.

Emmett Hart from the NUI Galway Galway Earth and Ocean Society, which is also involved in organising the event, said: “The exploration of the surface of Mars represents one of modern science’s greatest achievements. Mars holds considerable promise as a future planetary destination for humans, and, remarkably, appears to have had surface conditions amenable to life in the past.”

Both of these lectures will take place in the O’Flaherty Lecture Theatre, on the Arts Science Concourse. A limited number of free tickets for both evenings are available to the general public, and these must be booked in advance at https://naledi-mars.eventbrite.com.

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