Welcome to our new Human Evolution Ambassador!
We are very excited to announce that Dr. Rebecca Wragg-Sykes has joined up with Big Heritage as our official Human Evolution Ambassador.
Becky is joining us in an honorary role to support and develop our new school workshops which are designed to engage children with the evolution of Humans and other hominid species.
Becky is a Neandertal archaeology specialist currently working in France at the PACEA laboratory, Université Bordeaux 1, on a European Commission-funded Marie Curie Intra-European Fellowship. Her research is focused on understanding how Neandertals, probably our most famous ancient human ancestor, organised their lives across large landscape scales.
Her postdoctoral research, part of a large landscape project in the Massif Central region of SE France, is focused on examining in detail the stone sources used for tools, and setting them within the wider landscape. By combining the sources seen from tools at open-air sites with those found in caves, Rebecca will map the networks of connections between different parts of the landscape to help understand what kind of territories Neandertals had, and the scale of their social networks.
"I’m excited to be part of Big Heritage’s new project to expand the teaching of evolution in schools, and can’t wait to start creating material with them to bring to life the amazing things we have discovered about our ancient ancestors and relations. I’m especially keen to include my favourite hominins, the Neandertals- there’s so much more to say about the 250,000 years of their success before they became extinct. And now we know that even this isn’t the whole story: thanks to the de-coding of their genome in 2010, we found out that somewhere during our expansion from Africa, we met Neandertals and made babies together- maybe not very many times, but enough that when you add together all the people who now have a tiny % of their DNA, it’s the genetic equivalent of 50 MILLION Neandertals still around today. Human evolution is not just a jaw-dropping story- it’s remarkable, surprising, and true- and in a completely literal way, it makes us who we are today."
Company founder Dean Paton said: "This is a genuine coup for Big Heritage - not only is Becky an expert in her field, but she's a passionate scientist and clearly shares our ethos of presenting scientific truth to the public through the medium of archaeology. As an education Social Enterprise, we've been shocked at the basic lack of knowledge in schools about human evolution, so we're stepping up to the plate now and offering an incredibly exciting one-day workshop to bring millions of years to life in the classroom!"
Read Becky's thoughts on teaching evolution in schools with Big Heritage:
Evolution as a conceptual framework is key to understanding enormous amounts about why our world is the way it is. Physics and chemistry are the building blocks of biology, but without knowing how natural selection works, it’s impossible for children to fully understand why life is so incredibly diverse.
As a child was amazed by natural history, and spent hours watching Attenborough documentaries on TV- learning about evolution helped me to understand why the incredible animals I loved were like they were- and how they all related to each other in a huge web of life. Evolution is what shows us we are intimately connected with all the amazing life-forms on earth, because we all share the same recipe for life, DNA.
Children love to be challenged with big ideas, and teaching the story of life, with the nuts & bolts of how it works, is not something schools should avoid. Human evolution is an essential part of learning about science, both for the facts we have built up about our past, and how this show the way science works and develops. And the story we have now is truly epic: human evolution is one of the most dynamic fields of science- a new find from an excavation can transform in an instant how we think about our great human journey. This is why it is so exciting, and such a brilliant case study for what science is all about: in my own research, the way that we think about Neandertals has been completely overturned since the early 20th century, yet there are still many questions we want to know more about.
Everyone knows that children love hearing about dinosaurs, but they also love to hear about human evolution- this is a topic that grabs all kids I’ve worked with- because children have imaginations that go pinging off in crazy directions, and getting them to imagine life 10,000 or 100,000 years ago is an experience that is all about opening up mental horizons. It’s a shame that the current curriculum barely touches on the immense heritage that we have as a species, and particularly in the UK- we have right now the oldest human occupation in Northern Europe (at Happisburgh, Suffolk, around 900,000 years ago), a world-class ‘Pompeii-like’ preserved ancient hominin landscape (Boxgrove, Sussex, with scatters of flints from tool-making preserving the ‘shadow’ of someone sitting down and working half a million years ago), one of the richest open-air Neandertal sites in Europe (Lynford Quarry, Norfolk, from about 55,000 years ago, which I was lucky enough to study), and at the moment, some of the oldest evidence for the arrival of our own species into Europe from Africa and the Near East (in the form of a jaw fragment from Kent’s Cavern, Devon).
This is a national heritage we should be utilising to teach our children about the big picture of human evolution, migration, settlement and technological development, subjects which cross-over into other aspects of education. Human evolution is based on science, but is also about important questions that are relevant to who we are now- how do we live together in groups, when did we start using material objects to express our identities to each other, what makes us human that is different to other animals?
Becky's current research is supported by the following organisations: