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Downward Memorial Lecture

Posted in School News

This year's Downward Memorial was delivered by the one and only Ella Al-Shamahi. A world-renowned paleoanthropologist and archaeologist, Ms Al-Shamahi specializes in Neanderthals, and finds no shortage of courage when searching for fossils in caves in disputed, hostile, and unstable territories. She believes that large parts of the planet's potential contribution to science are overlooked due to political instability. Wishing to bring her knowledge closer to the general public, she works with the BBC and National Geographic, having made the mini-series Neandarthals:Meet your Ancestors and with many more still in the pipeline.

During the lecture, the Sixth Form were able to witness Ms Al-Shamahi's incredible experiences. We learned about how we evolved into who we, as homo sapiens, are now, but also how far we can reach in the field of genetic science and how important it is to look beyond the limits caused by war in high-risk territories, given that we may never know how many secrets those places are hiding that could change the course of humanity. It was fascinating to hear about her work in the Nagorno-Karabakh region, Iraq and Yemen, and how she was inspired to undergo intense and dangerous expeditions, in an effort to test a theory that early humans may have migrated out of Africa via land bridges between East Africa and Yemen, and whether Neanderthals would go that far south.

Her lecture made us think about the links between social and natural sciences. How history, anthropology, biology and many more work hand in hand to let us in on the history of you and me, of everyone. It was impressive to consider the point she made, that, to understand particular aspects of our lives, we must look tens of thousands of years in the past. Ms Ella Al-Shamahi made every person in the room ponder the idea that, although we may be the sole human species alive currently, in the future we may be joined by the next step in human evolution, whatever that may be.

I felt personally honored to have been able to listen to the words of a woman who embodies the whole point of scientific research: to go beyond the limits of human endeavor in an effort to discover, create and innovate. I am sure I can speak on behalf of everyone present at the lecture when I say that it was a truly unique experience, and that it couldn't have happened without the generosity of the Downward family, thanks to whom we were all able to be transported through time by Ella Al-Shamahi.

Vela Kaludjeroviĉ (U6)