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There is broad agreement in the scientific world today that all humans share common origins in Africa. When Charles Darwin first suggested it in 1871, few European scientists took his theory seriously. When the Taung child skull was found in South Africa in 1924, Raymond Dart supported Darwin’s theory, but it did little to shift scientific opinion. In the 1980s, when genetics research concluded that all living humans can trace their maternal ancestry back to Africa 200 000 years ago, many scientists were slow to accept his claim. Scientists and their research are often shaped by the prevailing social and political context at the time. In this lecture, Christa Kuljian will explore this trend and review the history of genetics and palaeoanthropology over the past century. The lecture will provide insight on the search for human origins in South Africa and share stories that shed new light on the past.
Christa Kuljian is a Research Associate at WISER (Wits Inst. for Social & Economic Research). She graduated with an MA in Creative Writing from the University of the Witwatersrand in 2007 and studied with palaeontologist Stephen Jay Gould for her BA in the History of Science at Harvard. This provided inspiration for her book Darwin’s Hunch. She also holds an MA in PublicAffairs from Princeton (1989). In 2010, Kuljian gave the Ruth First Lecture about the refugee crisis at Central Methodist Church in downtown Johannesburg, which led to her first book, Sanctuary.