21-24 July 2022 Jodrell Bank Observatory

We Were Never Alone

Fascinated by the past since childhood, prehistorian Dr Rebecca Wragg Sykes was especially drawn to the ancient world of the ice ages, and the Neanderthals. Following a postdoctoral fellowship at Université de Bordeaux, since 2015 she has diversified into working outside scientific research including writing and creative consultancy. Her first book Kindred: Neanderthal Life, Love, Death and Art – a deep dive into 21st century science and understanding – is published this year by Bloomsbury Sigma.

Talk: We Were Never Alone

Humans have long wondered whether consciousness is unique in the cosmos. After decades of SETI research, it seems we remain the universe’s only known self-aware creations. But fall back into deep time, and you’ll find we already encountered an ‘alien’ intelligence. Early Homo sapiens walking out of Africa over 100,000 years ago met Neanderthals: sophisticated beings adapted to an unfamiliar biome, with advanced technologies and even an aesthetic sense. We interacted, perhaps fought, but also felt commonality. The result courses through the veins of most living people: Neanderthals aren’t extinct, but genetically assimilated.
For tens of millennia we forgot all about them, until 19th century industrial-military infrastructure blasted their fossils back into the light. Rediscovered amidst seismic scientific and social change, just like ETI whom we began to simultaneously imagine, they’ve captivated us ever since as a foil for our desires, dreams and demons.

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