Geopark supports symposium honouring man who coined term ‘Neanderthal’

Geopark supports symposium honouring man who coined term ‘Neanderthal’

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A three-day symposium taking place in NUI Galway next week and celebrating the 150th anniversary of the naming of Neanderthal man by a Galway-based scientist will feature a field trip to the Burren & Cliffs of Moher Geopark.

The Geopark is one of the organisations supporting  the symposium, entitled ‘From Fossils to the Genome’, which marks the coining of the term of Homo neanderthalensis by William King, Professor of Geology at Queen’s College Galway in 1864.

William King’s proposal was to formally designate Neanderthal people as a separate species from ourselves. His suggestion was both extraordinary and revolutionary for its time – Charles Darwin’s masterpiece ‘Origin of Species’ had been published just five years beforehand. William King remains the first to name a new fossil human species; a privilege afforded to very few scientists.

President Michael D. Higgins will join members of Mr. King’s family at the weekend symposium which runs from Friday May 23rd to Sunday May 25th.

The symposium will also feature a presentation from a Nobel Prize winner and one of TIME Magazine’s 100 most influential people of the year at O’Flaherty Theatre on the NUIG campus at 5.30pm on Saturday. Professor Svante Pääbo, Director of the Department of Evolutionary Genetics at the Max Planck Institute in Leipzig and the first person to sequence the DNA of Neanderthal people, will deliver the main keynote address of the symposium.

On Monday 26th May, symposium attendees will participate in a post conference fieldtrip through the Burren & Cliffs of Moher Geopark with local archaeologists Christine Grant (National Monuments Service), Michael Lynch (The Heritage Council’s Field Monuments Advisor for County Clare) and Michelle Comber (Field Director for the Caherconnell Archaeology Field School). NUI Galway’s Dr. John Murray and Geopark Geologist Dr. Eamon Doyle will be discussing the geology of the Burren.

Dr John Murray, one of the symposium organisers and a Lecturer in Palaeontology, said the upcoming symposium “will celebrate where we have come from as human beings”.

He continued: “Professor King’s work represents a scientific milestone in the history of our understanding of human origins. The term ‘Neanderthal’ is globally recognised and understood, but had King not coined this phrase during his time in Queen’s College Galway, they would most likely be known by a completely different name today.”

“The meeting will welcome the world’s leading authorities in the field of human evolution, a gathering never before seen in Ireland, to celebrate this remarkable achievement. At the heart of it all the organising committee hope the symposium will be a fitting tribute to a pioneer in the field of human evolution, who worked at a time when this field was still very much in its infancy, but who has never really received the scientific recognition he deserves,” added Dr. Murray.

The symposium programme is available at www.neanderthal150.org. The event is supported by the Burren & Cliffs of Moher Geopark, Roche, NUI Galway, The Quaternary Research Association, The Irish Research Council, Galway City Council, Bord Fáilte, The Geological Survey of Ireland, The Geological Survey of Northern Ireland, The Institute of Geologists of Ireland, Beta Analytic Limited, and Connemara Marble Industries Limited.

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