On Hobbits and Hominins

How might we tell the story of our species?


Our understanding of human evolution has changed drastically over the last twenty years. We now know that Homo sapiens have, for the majority of our existence, shared the planet with many other species of humans: living alongside them, interacting with them, even interbreeding with them. Increasingly, archaeologists and palaeontologists have found themselves looking to fiction to understand what life must have been like for prehistoric humans — from J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle-earth to Jean Auel’s Earth’s Children.

Authors and archaeologists Tom Higham (The World Before Us) and Rebecca Wragg Sykes (Kindred) join literature and science expert John Holmes to discuss the role of the imagination in the science of prehistory, and how we tell this radical new story of human evolution. Includes a chance to buy signed copies of the panellists’ books.

Entry is free, but please book your tickets in advance.

About the panellists:

John Holmes is a Professor of Victorian Literature and Culture at the University of Birmingham. He is an honorary associate of OUMNH and has worked extensively with the Museum on projects like Visions of Nature, Ruskin 200, and Truth to Nature. His most recent books include The Pre-Raphaelites and Science (Yale University Press, 2018) and Temple of Science: The Pre-Raphaelites and Oxford University Museum of Natural History (Bodleian Library, 2020). 

Dr Rebecca Wragg Sykes is an archaeologist and author, and an Honorary Fellow in the School of Archaeology, Classics and Egyptology at the University of Liverpool. Her first book Kindred: Neanderthal Life, Love, Death and Art (Bloomsbury Sigma) is a a critically-acclaimed bestseller and winner of Current Archaeology’s ‘Book of the Year’ in 2020. 

Tom Higham is a Professor of Scientific Archaeology at the University of Vienna. He has previously held the position of Director of the Radiocarbon Accelerator Unit at the University of Oxford. He specialises in radiocarbon dating using accelerator mass spectrometry, especially the dating of archaeological sites up to 50,000 years old. His research work has focused on the dating of Neanderthal sites and the dispersal of Homo sapiens across Eurasia over the past 50,000-30,000 years. He is a member of the team working at the Russian Denisova Cave where a new species of humans, the Denisovans, was discovered in 2011. His recent book, The World Before Us: How Science is Revealing a New Story of Our Human Origins tells the story of the Denisova Cave and late human evolution.

Accessibility information:

Wheelchair accessible? Yes
Hearing loops? Yes
Seating? Yes
Refreshments? No
Flashing lights? No
Loud noises? No

For more information, please visit our accessibility webpage, or contact Chris Jarvis (chris.jarvis@oum.ox.ac.uk).