Friday, 11 July 2014

Celebrating 150th Anniversary of Neanderthal Man

Local and international guests gathered at NUI Galway in May this year to join a symposium celebrating the work of the first Professor of Geology and Mineralogy at NUI Galway, then Queen's College Galway. The symposium marked the 150th anniversary of the research of Professor William King and his landmark research into the origins of Neanderthal Man, in 1864.

Among the series of events was a visit to the Archives and Special Collections Reading Room of the Hardiman Library by guests of honour, President of Ireland, Michael D. Higgins, his wife Sabina Higgins, Professor Svanto Pääbo, Director of the Department of Evolutionary Genetics at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig and members of the King extended family, where they viewed the original records from the University Archives.

The display included signatures by King in the 'Professor's Declaration Book' in which all staff and academics declared to uphold the ethos and standards of the College and also the noted registration of William King Jnr as a student in these formative years of Queen's College Galway. It is especially poignant to see both records of both King Snr and Jnr on corresponding folios within the College registers and was warmly received by the King family and by President and Sabina Higgins.The guests were greeted upon arrival at the Hardiman Library by John Cox, Librarian and Prof. Pól Ó Dochartaigh, Registrar and Deputy President of NUI Galway.

John Cox, Librarian, President Michael D. Higgins, Sabina Higgins,
Prof. Pól Ó Dochartaigh, Registrar, at the Hardiman Library

Prof. King, a member of academic staff at Galway since its opening day designated Homo neanderthalensis as a separate species from ourselves.  Organiser of the Symposium, Dr. John Murray of NUI Galway, suggested that the research by King in 1864 was both “extraordinary” and “revolutionary”. Placing the discovery in context, only five years previously, Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species had been published, putting King's research, from its base at Galway, to the fore of international thought. The geologist was the first, and one of just a handful since, to name a new fossil human species and establish its antiquity.

Sabina Higgins, President Michael D. Higgins and Barry Houlihan, Archivist, viewing
 the historic University Registers of Queen's College Galway.

Also on display at the Archives and Special Collections reading room was a cast of the skull fragment of Homo neanderthalensis, that was used by King as part of his formative research while at Galway and which now is part of the collection at the Mitchell Museum of NUI Galway.

Prof. Pól Ó Dochartaigh, Registrar, President Michael D. Higgins, Sabina Higgins,
Dr. John Murray, Dept of Earth and Ocean Sciences, NUI Galway and John Cox, Librarian.
The Hardiman Library was delighted to play a part in contributing this great event and extends thanks to Dr. John Murray and organising team. 

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