Museum human origins expert makes most influential list

15 November 2012

The Natural History Museum's Research Leader in Human Origins, Professor Chris Stringer, is one of London's 1,000 most influential people in 2012, the Evening Standard announced this week. 

Chris Stringer joins Brian Cox, Stephen Hawking and 7 others in the group Innovators, Scientists. Chris is Britain's leading expert on human evolution and 'he is a pioneer in this rapidly changing field,' the newspaper reports.

Chris has been a palaeoanthropologist at the Museum for 43 years in total, and 39 years continuously, investigating human evolution through the study of fossils - carrying out fascinating research, publishing award-winning books, and devising important theories. He was one of the architects of Out of Africa, the theory that all humans living today share a recent African origin.

'It's great to see Chris and other scientists recognised on a list like this,' says the Museum's Director of Science, Prof Ian Owens.

'We are extremely proud of Chris' work and his impact on how people think. He is not only a world-class scientist, he's also fantastic at helping the public to get involved in science and in scientific debates. He gets people really thinking about their place in the natural world. That's what the Natural History Museum is all about.'

Chris says, 'I am very proud to be on this list and it is a tribute to the Museum as well - the wonderful colleagues, collections and facilities that have contributed so much to my work over the years'.

Last November, Chris presented the Museum's popular Annual Science Lecture on The Origin of Our Species. This is also the name of his latest book that appeared on the Sunday Times bestseller book list. In the book and the public lecture, he explored every fascinating aspect of where, when and how our species, Homo sapiens, evolved.

So far this year Chris' research has revealed more clues about Neanderthals, our closest extinct relatives. A study on microscopic volcanic glass showed that a large volcanic eruption 40,000 years ago could not have caused the Neanderthals' demise.

And by identifying that the world's largest known sample of fossil humans were actually early Neanderthals, Chris reaffirmed that another species, Homo heidelbergensis, was at the heart of human evolution, as the last common ancestor that we shared with Neanderthals.

A study showing how species take refuge from climate change revealed that this may have been a spur for the evolution of different species of humans. And another of his collaborative studies suggested that modern human's sense of smell may have given us an evolutionary advantage over other human species such as Neanderthals.

Chris provides expert comments on external research, such as the exciting developments in DNA studies on the recently discovered Denisovans, and Neanderthals, both of whom have left behind a genetic trace in some people living today.

With more than 40 years exploring the human family tree and yet more research being published in the next few months, what is certain is that Chris will still be very influential for many years to come.

  • by Yvonne Da Silva
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