Renowned scientists to share insights on human evolution at public symposium

A student intern measures a skull while working at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History.

A student intern measures a skull while working at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History.

An international group of experts on research into human origins and evolution will visit Cleveland to participate in a two-day symposium and panel discussion hosted by Case Western Reserve University, the Cleveland Museum of Natural History, the Institute for the Science of Origins and the Leakey Foundation. The symposium coincides with the opening of the museum’s newly renovated Human Origins Gallery.

More than 25 experts are expected to attend a rare gathering to discuss collaboration on human evolution research. A keynote lecture will kick off the programming on Thursday, Sept. 19, at 7 p.m. when Bernard Wood, university professor of human origins and director of the Center for the Advanced Study of Hominid Paleobiology at George Washington University and adjunct senior scientist at the National Museum of Natural History, presents a lecture titled “Relatives and Ancestors.” The lecture will be held at Strosacker Auditorium. The keynote lecture will be broadcast on WVIZ World at 9 p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 19.

Eleven of these scientists will share their insights and research into human origins with the public at a daylong symposium titled “On the Trail of Lucy: A Collaborative Exploration of Australopithecus” on Friday, Sept. 20, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History. The panel of experts will discuss the current understanding of early human ancestors who lived between 3 and 4 million years ago, including “Lucy,” the famous 3.2 million-year-old human ancestor. Lucy is the nickname for the partial fossil skeleton of the species Australopithecus afarensis discovered in Ethiopia in 1974 by Donald Johanson, former curator at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History and Case Western Reserve University professor.

The panel will address questions about ancient human ancestors, including: “Who was Australopithecus? What did it look like and how did it move? And where does it fit in the human family tree?” The next day, the full slate of scientists will gather at the museum for private discussions about future collaborations on human evolution research.

“The museum is delighted to host this outstanding series of events, celebrating one of the greatest discoveries in the quest to understand the evolution of our species,” said Evalyn Gates, executive director and CEO of the Cleveland Museum of Natural History. “We are honored to be joining with Case Western Reserve University, the Institute for the Science of Origins and the Leakey Foundation to bring together the world’s leading researchers in this field, and to invite the public to hear from these experts as they share their latest findings—and discuss what we have yet to learn.”

Glenn Starkman, professor of physics and astronomy and director of the Institute for the Science of Origins, said: “This symposium is a unique opportunity for Case Western Reserve, the Institute for the Science of Origins and our co-hosts the Cleveland Museum of Natural History and the Leakey Foundation, to bring together top researchers studying early hominid evolution to share their findings and their passion with the public. For students and lifelong learners of all ages, these events will provide rare access to scientists operating globally at the leading edge of this exciting field.”

Event attendees will have the opportunity to tour the museum’s newly renovated Human Origins Gallery as it is unveiled to the public. They can meet an amazingly lifelike model of Lucy and see the most scientifically accurate skeletal reconstruction of this ancient human ancestor.

“The Leakey Foundation has a proud history in Cleveland,” said Sharal Camisa, managing director of the Leakey Foundation. “We awarded the first of 15 grants to Don Johanson in 1975, a year after the discovery of Lucy, while he was an associate professor of anthropology at Case Western Reserve University. Our support of Cleveland scientists has continued with funding for former Cleveland Museum of Natural History Curator Bruce Latimer, to today with Curator Dr. Yohannes Haile-Selassie. A seven-time Leakey Foundation grantee, Dr. Haile-Selassie proposed an inspired idea for this partnership. After two years of discussions and planning, 16 foundation grantees will participate in two days of events for the public including school outreach. We are delighted to return to Cleveland to co-host this very special program.”

Tickets for the Thursday keynote lecture and Friday symposium are $10 per person for each event. Special package pricing is $15 for both events. College and high school students will be admitted free with valid IDs. Registration is required. For keynote lecture description, symposium agenda and registration, visit cmnh.org or call 216.231.1177.

WVIZ/PBS – 90.3 WCPN –104.9 WCLV ideastream is the lead sponsor for the events.

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