Scripps Lecture Tracks Human Evolution through African Desert Discoveries

Travel back millions of years to explore the latest findings in human evolution at a free public lecture hosted by Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego. Renowned paleoanthropologist and Professor of Integrative Biology Tim White of UC Berkeley will discuss his team's amazing discoveries in African deserts and other locations around the world as the sixth recipient of the annual Richard H. and Glenda G. Rosenblatt Lectureship in Evolutionary Biology, scheduled for 3 p.m. on April 26, 2011, at the Robert Paine Scripps Forum for Science, Society and the Environment (Scripps Seaside Forum) on the Scripps Oceanography campus (8610 Kennel Way, La Jolla, CA 92037). The event is free and the public is invited. White and his colleagues, who have worked in the Afar desert of Ethiopia for the last 25 years, have discovered a series of human ancestor fossils dating back nearly six million years. They garnered worldwide attention in 2009 with the announcement of the discovery of Ardipithecus, a human ancestor that lived some 4.4 million years ago, likely soon after the dawn of humankind. The rare Ardipithecus skeleton and the insights it has provided to science, including rich geochronological and ecological contexts in which these beings lived, was the result of meticulous field work and analysis over nearly two decades. A stereolithograph of the restored skull of A stereolithograph of the restored skull of "Ardi," the female Ardipithecus ramidus skeleton from 4.4 million years ago. Following research publications describing Ardipithecus in Science, the journal selected the discovery as its "Breakthrough of the Year" in December 2009. "Human evolutionary history has important lessons for our species," White recently wrote in an essay in New Scientist magazine. "We now know that all of our closest relatives have gone extinct, leaving only more distant African apes. The perspective that this knowledge provides is both timely and essential to the bipedal, large-brained, innovative, technological primate whose grasping hands now hold the power to determine our future on planet Earth." White's primary field work is centered at an excavation site that runs along Ethiopia's Awash River called Middle Awash Valley. The Afar rift area holds ancient sedimentary records that have been accumulating for millennia but recently have been exposed by seasonal floods. White and his colleagues in the Middle Awash project have assembled the planet's longest record of the early evolution of hominids, the branch of the human family tree after the split of the last common ancestor shared with chimpanzees. Tim White (far right) in November 2010 with a field team in the Middle Awash study area of the Afar desert floor. Tim White (far right) in November 2010 with a field team in the Middle Awash study area of the Afar desert floor During the Rosenblatt Lecture, "From Afar: Compiling Earth's longest record of hominid evolution," White will describe the long-term, international geological, geochronological and paleontological research that led to the recent discoveries. At Berkeley, White directs the Human Evolution Research Center and is Curator of Biological Anthropology at the Phoebe A. Hearst Museum of Anthropology. White grew up in the San Bernardino Mountains of Southern California and majored in biology and anthropology at the University of California, Riverside. He received his Ph.D. from the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor. He is a AAAS fellow, member of the National Academy of Sciences and Honorary Fellow of the Royal Society of South Africa.

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