DATE: Saturday, June 2, 2012
TIME: 6:00 PM-7:30 PM
VENUE: Tishman Auditorium at The New School
MODERATOR: John Hockenberry
PARTICIPANTS: Alison Brooks, Ed Green, Chris Stringer, Edward O. Wilson

We once shared the planet with Neanderthals and other human species. Some of our relatives may have had tools, language and culture. Why did we thrive while they perished? Join evolutionary biologists, geneticists and anthropologists as they share profound insights about the origin of man and retrace our singular journey from fledgling prototype to the most dominant species on Earth.

This program is part of The Big Idea Series, made possible with support from the John Templeton Foundation.

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John Hockenberry

Three-time Peabody Award winner, four-time Emmy Award winner, and Dateline NBC correspondent John Hockenberry has broad experience as a journalist and commentator for more than two decades. Hockenberry is the anchor of the public radio show The Takeaway on WNYC and PRI. He has reported from all over the world, in virtually every medium, having anchored programs for network, cable, and radio. Hockenberry is a noted presenter and moderator at conferences such as TED, Aspen Ideas, and the World Science Festival.



Alison Brooks is Professor of Anthropology and International Affairs at the George Washington University and a founding member of the Center for the Advanced Study of Hominid Paleobiology. She has conducted field work in numerous African countries in an attempt not only to understand cultural diversification within Africa but to reveal the cognitive and behavioral transformations that allowed our species to expand throughout the world. Brooks received her Ph.D. from Harvard, where she studied the early humans who occupied Western Europe during the Upper Paleolithic period. These “anatomically modern” Europeans clearly had not originated on that continent, so she began exploring the Pleistocene-era prehistory of Africa. She has traveled to Zimbabwe, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania, South Africa and Botswana, where she studied San hunter-gatherers and documented their long-term history. Brooks has found the oldest evidence for fishing technologies and projectile weapons, as well as early evidence for the expansion of social networks and symbolic behavior.

Brooks is also a research associate in the Human Origins Program at the Smithsonian Institution National Museum of Natural History, a visiting researcher at Harvard University and a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. She co-edited The Encyclopedia of Human Evolution and Prehistory.

Genome Biologist

Ed Green has helped pioneer the use of advanced genetic sequencing technology to read ancient DNA extracted from fossilized bones. In 2010, he and large collaboration of other scientists announced that they had used 40,000-year-old bone fragments excavated in a cave in Croatia to map out the genetic code of Neanderthals, humans’ long-dead ancestral cousins. Later that year he was involved in identifying a new group of archaic human relatives, named Denisovans for the Siberian cave in which they were discovered. These breakthroughs are helping illuminate the relationships between ancient hominin groups—and showing that they may have been more interrelated than once thought.

Green is a professor of biomolecular engineering at the University of California in Santa Cruz, where his lab is also involved in the Genome 10K project, an effort to collect the genetic sequences of 10,000 vertebrate species—approximately one from every genus—to help define how they are related and aid worldwide conservation efforts. Green is a Sloan Foundation Research Fellow and winner of the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s Newcomb Cleveland Prize, and in 2011 he was awarded prestigious Searle Scholarship for young scientists, a $300,000 grant to help him pursue the next generation of gene-sequencing technology.


Chris Stringer is a distinguished paleoanthropologist and a founder of the “Out of Africa” theory, the most widely accepted model for how modern humans evolved and spread across the globe. He has worked for nearly four decades at the Natural History Museum London, where he is now Research Leader in Human Origins. In attempting to reconstruct how modern humans originated, he has collaborated with archaeologists, dating specialists and geneticists and worked on sites in Europe, Asia and Africa.

Stringer is a Fellow of the Royal Society in London and currently leads the Ancient Human Occupation of Britain project, which is investigating how Paleolithic humans dispersed across northern Europe over the last million years and how they adapted to new environments. He has published over 200 scientific papers and authored many books, including The Complete World of Human Evolution, Homo britannicus: The Incredible Story of Human Life in Britain, and Lone Survivors: How We Came to Be the Only Humans on Earth. In 2010, the TIMES of London named him one of the 100 most influential scientists in the U.K.

Evolutionary Biologist, Author

E.O. Wilson is a life-long explorer of the natural world whose pioneering studies of ants have led to revolutionary insights across a wide range of fields, from evolution to animal and human behavior. A founding father of the environmental movement, Wilson teaches us to understand, protect, and celebrate the earth and has greatly influenced the way scientists and nonscientists view the interwoven complexity and diversity of our planet. Wilson is a two-time Pulitzer Prize winner for General Non-Fiction and a winner of the National Medal of Science. He is currently Pellegrino University Research Professor Emeritus and Honorary Curator in Entomology at Harvard University.