Pioneering Anthropologist Visits Advanced Biology

Millbrook Science Instructor Dr. Kerry Dore welcomed pioneering anthropologist Dr. Agustín Fuentes to her Advanced Biology class as students transition from their examination of the first primates to the study of the first humans (aka hominins). A longtime friend and colleague of Dr. Dore, Dr. Fuentes is an in-demand expert on topics such as primatology and the complexities of human nature who spends his time writing, lecturing, and appearing in documentaries while teaching and conducting research at Princeton University.
The Advanced Biology students have been studying human evolution, an area of study that continuously yields new discoveries. Dr. Fuentes spoke to the class about Homo naledi, one of the newest human species, discovered just over ten years ago in 2013. The excavation of over 1500 individual fossils of at least 15 individuals of this previously unknown species from deep within the Rising Star cave system in South Africa, along with the presence of potentially symbolic marks on the cave walls and a possible tool, is a revelation. How Homo naledi came to be in this cave system in such large numbers is one of the biggest debates in paleoanthropology today. Some scholars, including Dr. Fuentes, suggest that these early humans buried their dead, a ritual requiring premeditation and the careful arrangement and placement of the bodies - remarkable for a species with a brain size only slightly larger than a chimpanzee! The discovery neatly combines Dr. Fuentes' areas of interest, as these early hominins seem to be demonstrating some very human behaviors and traits.
The class watched a Netflix documentary (Unknown: Cave of Bones) about the Homo naledi discovery before Dr. Fuentes’ visit and were able to ask questions and engage with him directly via Zoom. Dr. Dore’s ongoing research and collaboration with other scientists benefits students by giving them access to new information and discoveries in her field and beyond.
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