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Release: Nov. 4, 2002

UI professor to present clues to 'Neanderthal Mystery' Nov. 9

More than 30,000 years ago, an archaic form of humanity lived on earth that shared some traits of modern humans, yet were distinct enough in their anatomy and behavior to be considered a separate species. Remains of this Neanderthal species were first discovered in a German mining quarry in 1856 and have since become the most thoroughly studied extinct fossil human group.

Despite extensive research, Neanderthals are still an enigma, said Robert Franciscus, a University of Iowa assistant professor of anthropology. He will discuss what is known and what remains to be discovered in his presentation, "The Neanderthal Mystery: Who Were They and Why Did They Disappear?" on Saturday, Nov. 9 at 10 a.m. in Room 40, Schaeffer Hall.

The discussion is the final presentation in the Saturday Scholars series, hosted each fall by the UI College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. The session will last about an hour, including a 20-30 minute presentation followed by a question-and-answer session. Refreshments will be served. In a preview to his presentation, Franciscus will be a guest on Iowa Talks on WSUI (AM 910), on Thursday, Nov. 7 at 10 a.m.

In the last 150 years, scientists have uncovered the skeletal remains of many relatively complete Neanderthals including newborn infants, children, teens, and adults. Abundant stone tools, occupation sites, and the animal remains that constituted a large portion of their diet have also been discovered. Franciscus said new technical developments and discoveries in recent years have sparked renewed debate about the relationship of Neanderthals to Homo Sapiens and their evolutionary fate.

"Their facial anatomy is particularly distinctive in comparison to other extinct human groups and living people and has been linked to specialized adaptation to Ice-age climates, and an unusual use of their teeth as tools," Franciscus said. "This distinctive facial form, more than anything else, has resulted in the widely held notion that they were a species apart from us."

His presentation will highlight the results of recent research into Neanderthal facial anatomy, and what it tells us about their behavior, their relationship to modern humans, and their eventual disappearance sometime between 25,000 and 30,000 years ago.

Franciscus has taught in the UI College of Liberal Arts and Sciences since1998. His primary research focus is paleoanthropology and skeletal biology, and he is particularly interested in the phylogenetic and adaptive bases underlying the shift from pre-modern (especially the Neanderthals) to modern human craniofacial morphology. Franciscus taught at Stanford University from 1995-1998, and when he came to the UI he brought with him one of the largest documented collections of human skeletal material in the U.S. Called The University of Iowa-Stanford Collection, it is now under the care of the UI department of anthropology and Office of the State Archaeologist. Franciscus' research has been conducted throughout Europe, Israel, and Africa, and he has received research grants from the National Science Foundation and the L.S.B. Leakey Foundation.

Individuals with disabilities are encouraged to attend all University of Iowa-sponsored events. If you are a person with a disability who requires an accommodation in order to participate in this program, please contact College of Liberal Arts and Sciences in advance at 335-2610.