Scientific Colloquium
May 22, 2019, 3:30 p.m.
Building 3, Goett Auditorium

"Neandertals in Evolutionary Perspective" 

The role of Neandertals in modern human origins has been a topic of debate ever since the first Neandertal fossil was recognized in 1856. Today we know much more about Neandertals anatomically, behaviorally, and genetically than any other pre-modern human group; but their exact evolutionary relationship to modern people remains controversial. After a summary review of what we know about them, we will examine why Neandertals were ultimately replaced by early modern humans as a part of the latter’s expansion out of their natal continent of Africa. We will also examine the biological evidence indicating what happened when Neandertals and other archaic Eurasian humans encountered the expanding modern people. Much of what we will consider counteracts traditional perspectives on Neandertals and the reasons for their disappearance. Neandertal studies also provide an excellent example of how increased evidence both enhances and complicates understanding of complex phenomena.
About the Speaker:

Fred H. Smith has studied Neandertals and their role in the origin of modern humans for almost 50 years and continues to do active field work in Croatia. His work has primarily focused on fossil human samples in Central Europe which were less well-known than those in Western European when he began graduate work. He is primarily known for his studies of Central European Neandertals and early modern humans, especially in Croatia, Austria, the Czech Republic and Germany, as well as his development of the assimilation model of modern human origins. The assimilation model claimed that Neandertals made small, but not insignificant contributions to early moderns throughout their geographic range and has been largely supported by Neandertal genetic and genomic studies. Educated at the Universities of Tennessee and Michigan, Smith has held faculty and/or administrative positions at the University of Tennessee, Northern Illinois University, Loyola University Chicago, and Illinois State University. He has also taught at the Universities of Hamburg and Tübingen (Germany) and Zagreb (Croatia). Currently Smith is University Professor Emeritus of Anthropology and Biological Sciences at Illinois State University and Adjunct Professor of Anthropology at the University of Colorado, Boulder.  
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