Humans – What Are We And Where Are We From?- A Seminar with Professor Alice Roberts


Humans – what are we and where are we from? This is a question Professor Alice Roberts from BBC’s Coast, Don’t Die Young and The Incredible Human Journey to name a few, attempted to answer in the short space of an hour.

Professor Roberts, who can also be seen on Time Team and Coast, is Professor of Public Engagement in Science at the University of Birmingham.

Biosoc ran the seminar with Professor Roberts for free for students across all academic areas, with refreshments and a book signing afterwards. When speaking to Biosoc committee members at the reception, everyone seemed delighted with the turn out and the content of the seminar.

The audience was made up of around 250 people including lecturers and students from a wide range of subjects including Biology, English, Geology, Geography and Oceanography. This variety of listeners is exactly the reason Biosoc wanted to have Professor Roberts talk; she has been at the forefront of the BBC’s re-branded science coverage which aims to make science accessible and relevant to ordinary people.

This diverse audience made the task even more challenging. With the large range of backgrounds and varying levels of expertise, the presentation had to contain something to keep everyone entertained and informed.

The lecture included recent research on the Megafauna (animals larger then 30kg, roughly the weight of a fully grown Doberman dog) and potential reasons for their mass extinction  – despite the actual answer being “we’re not really sure”. Professor Roberts also began piecing together evidence to try and conclusively identify the origins of the human beings we are today and whether Neanderthals and Modern Humans ever interbred and hybridized.

Professor Alice Roberts

Throughout the lecture, anecdotes on her filming for the BBC, mainly to do with the new BBC 2 program she was promoting, provided a fascinating insight into the real world of television presenting including their accommodation; tents on the edge of glaciers and traditional tepees in Siberia, and the professors which she could only described as “characters”. Yet her opinion was also well informed and based on her own academic views of pieces of research she didn’t fully accept as representing the whole truth.

Professor Roberts was also delivering a talk at the Turner Sims later that evening on The Great Ice Age on behalf of the Royal Geographical Society but wanted to do a talk for free so that students could get more involved in areas outside of their academic discipline.

Trying to cram over 2 million years worth of history into a challenge for anyone, yet Professor Alice Roberts managed to engage us with her animations of reincarnate extinct Megafauna – a personal favourite being the Sabre Tooth Cat (formerly Sabre Tooth Tiger) which has now been shown to be more closely related to a cat than a tiger. The talk was, however,  honest about the lack of concrete evidence and the vast amounts of vital research that still need to be done before we conclusively separate fact from fiction.


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