Category: Event info

By all accounts, I think we can say that this year’s event was a smashing success!

The panel discussion was absolutely fantastic: the blog questions were stimulating and the audience questions were excellent as well. We had well over 200 attendees, many of them students. Honestly, with how dynamic the discussion was, we could have gone on for another hour. Our sincere thanks to the panelists, Drs. Baker, Nelson, and Jackson, and to the moderator, Dr. Cheryl Logan. They really made the discussion. It was clear from the audience’s questions that many people have a personal investment in the panel’s discussion, focusing as it did on issues of ancestry and how genetic information is used to contruct identity.

The turnout for Dr. Hawks’s keynote address was amazing: there must have been over 300 people! Dr. Hawks gave a wonderful presentation on Neandertals and, yes, many modern humans DO have Neandertal genes! Thanks to Dr. Hawks for joining us.

Check back soon, as we will be posting the video of the panel discussion and the keynote address on the blog.

We’d like to keep the conversation going, so please post your comments on this year’s event here…

The day has arrived!

So, here we are! We hope you’ll be able to join us for our event today (see details in the previous post). We’d like to thank all those who have submitted questions to our participants via the blog: there are some really interesting ones, and many of them will be addressed today. In fact, our participants will be meeting for lunch today to go over your questions, talk about them, and select several to be answered in the panel discussion.

Hope to see you all there, it should be great!

The event is upon us! So, here is the schedule of events for tomorrow (Wednesday, March 23rd; a map of UNCG’s campus is available here):

1. 3-5pm EUC Auditorium: panel discussion featuring Dr. Alondra Nelson (Columbia University; see her bio here, and check out this post and this post), Dr. Lee Baker (Duke University; see his bio here and this post), and Dr. Fatimah Jackson (UNC-Chapel Hill; see her bio here). Each participant will be asked to speak for 10 minutes about how they see their research intersecting with this year’s theme (“Our genetic past and genomic future”), and then a roundtable discussion and audience questions will follow (moderated by Dr. Cheryl Logan, UNCG; see her bio here). Much of the roundtable will focus on questions submitted beforehand via this blog (see below).

2. 5-630pm EUC Kirkland Room: a reception will follow after the panel discussion. Refreshments will be provided (it’ll be a great spread, trust us…). This will serve as an “open house” of sorts,  allowing the participants to interact directly with the student body and the general public. Students from UNCG’s Student Anthropological Society (SAS) will be available to direct people from the panel discussion to the reception.

3. 7-9pm Meade Auditorium (Sullivan Science Building 101): keynote address by Dr. John Hawks (University of Wisconsin-Madison; see his bio here and check out his weblog here). The title is “Neandertime: Deciphering the Secrets of Ancient Genomes”. The talk will consider the state-of-the-art in Neandertal genomics; it should be fantastic. Q & A will follow the talk.

Some general notes:

  • Given the late afternoon time of the panel discussion, we understand that people may not be able to show up right at three or stay until the end. We encourage people to show up at any time and listen to what our panel has to say.
  • Microphone stands will be available for the audience to ask questions at our panel and after the keynote address. However, you are also encouraged to submit questions beforehand to our participants. You can do so here. Keep in mind that you don’t have to attend to submit a question; we’ll be recording the entire event and will post the file on the blog afterwards…so, you will still be able to hear and see your question being addressed!

We hope to see you all at the event!!

Our keynote speaker John Hawks posted on his blog yesterday about his keynote address this Wednesday. It should be really, really great. From his blog:

I’ve got to tell you, the talk I’m giving about Neandertal genetics is the very best I’ve ever prepared. I don’t say this kind of thing lightly, but if you’re in the area and care about Neandertals, this is as good as it gets. We are discovering new stuff every day, the pace of discovery right now is running way ahead of the pace of publication.

So, if you were thinking about attending, then this should give you good reason to definitely come!

Well, we’re all back from Spring Break here at UNCG…and our event is only 8 days away! Check out event details here, and don’t forget to post questions for our participants here.

For those of you who don’t know, all students in UNCG’s 300+ level anthropology courses are reading a book and several articles in preparation for the Harriet-Elliott events. One of these readings, John Relethford’s “Reflections of Our Past,” has a chapter on the peopling of the Americas. Traditionally, most scholars contend that the first humans entered the Americas about 15,000 years ago (or maybe a bit earlier) and came from Asia via the Bering Land Bridge that then existed between modern-day Alaska and eastern Siberia.

Possible migration routes for the first colonization of the Americas

According to Relethford, who was writing in 2003, the genetics strongly supports an origin of Native Americans somewhere in Asia:

1. Contemporary Native Americans and northern Asians tend to have high frequencies of the Diego blood group allele DI*A (this allele is relatively rare among other populations).

2. Based on genetic distance analysis (which takes into account the relative frequency of many different genes simultaneously to look at overall genetic difference/similarity), contemporary northeast Asian populations are most genetically similar to Native Americans.

3. Native Americans share a number of mitochondrial DNA haplotypes (sections of DNA that are inherited together as a single unit) with Asian populations (some from Siberia, some from Japan and Korea).

Relethford also discusses another interesting question: how many migrations occurred? Was it a single migration event? Two? Three? More? The genetic data seem to suggest at least two separate migration events, if not more.

Finally, when did the first colonization of the Americas take place? Here, Relethford shows that the genetic data are pretty cloudy because any estimate based on a genetic clock will be affected by population size and the overprinting of multiple migrations. Indeed, Relethford suspects that “the final determination of the age of the first Americans will be settled by archaeology and not by genetics.”

Well, according to Ernst Mayr’s Biological Species Concept, which holds that species are “groups of actually or potentially interbreeding natural populations, which are reproductively isolated from other such groups,” the newest genetic data (see a previous post on this blog) suggest that perhaps they should be considered the same species. A nice summary of the debate is provided by Ann Gibbons in Science. While some paleoanthropologists (including our keynote speaker John Hawks, who is quoted in the piece; check out his blog post on the subject) consider Neandertals and modern humans to be the same species, others maintain that the two are distinct species because the anatomical, developmental, and behavioral differences between Neandertals and modern humans are much greater than what we see among any modern population.

Check out Gibbons’s piece and tell us what you think. Are we the same species or not (remember, it also depends on what species definition you decide to use)?

It is likely that Dr. Hawks will be addressing some of these issues in his keynote lecture (we now have a title for the talk: “Neandertime: Deciphering the Secrets of Ancient Genomes.”) 


Gibbons, A. (2011). A new view of the birth of Homo sapiens. Science 331: 392-394.

UPDATE 2.10.2011. Dr. Hawks has blogged about the applicability of the Biological Species Concept for extinct human groups.


The Department of Anthropology at UNCG welcomes you to our Harriet-Elliott lecture series blog! We are pleased to announce the 2011 theme, “Our genetic past and genomic future.”

Our purpose in creating this blog is threefold: first, we want to provide students and the public with an archive of current issues pertaining to human genetic evolution and, importantly, its applications to everyday life–from biomedical practice to issues of social identity. Second, we hope you will use this blog as an opportunity to join in on the conversation about these topics. Finally, we will be asking our users—all of you—to supply questions for us to present to our panelists and keynote speaker on the day of the event.  

So, first thing’s first, a little sneak peak on the event…

1. It will be held on Wednesday, March 23, 2011 and is composed of a panel discussion followed by a keynote lecture.

2. Our panel discussion will run from 3-5pm in the main auditorium at the Elliot University Center on UNCG’s campus (see the lecture series main page for information on our panelists). This roundtable-style discussion will focus on the scientific study of human origins, evolution, and variability and the application of this knowledge to everyday life.

3. Our keynote address will run from 7-9pm in the Mead Auditorium in the Sullivan Science Building (Room 101), also on UNCG’s campus. Our keynote speaker is John Hawks, an Associate Professor of biological anthropology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. The lecture topic is pending, but will focus on human genetic evolution within the past 30,000 years. Dr. Hawks hosts a well-known paleoanthropology blog himself, and we encourage you to check it out here.

Ok, so now that you know what the event is all about, check back with us as we begin our conversation on, “Our genetic past and genomic future”…