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Author to give Lyceum talk on the origins of humans (audio)

By Carolina Astrain
Nov. 10, 2013 at 5:10 a.m.
Updated Nov. 11, 2013 at 5:11 a.m.


IF YOU GO

WHAT: Nicholas Wade, Lyceum lecture series

WHEN: 7 p.m. Tuesday

WHERE: Leo J. Welder Center for the Performing Arts, 214 N. Main St.

COST: Free

AN EXCERPT

Here's an excerpt from New York Times science writer Nicholas Wade's "Before the Dawn."

Genetics and Genesis

"Information from the genome has helped tell paleoanthropologists when humans lost their body hair and when they gained the power of speech. It has clarified for archaeologists their long quandary as to whether Neanderthals and modern humans peacefully interbred with each other or fought until the Neanderthals' extinction. It has furnished anthropology with information about human adaptation to cultural practices like cattle-herding and cannibalism. The cascade of DNA data is even benefiting historical linguistics, though indirectly, as biologists apply the tree-building methods developed for gene genealogies to reconstructing the evolution of language. One critical question of the ancestral human population of 50,000 years ago, the last group from which everyone alive today is descended, the techniques of paleoanthropology and archaeology are powerless to say anything about a people that has vanished without trace. But geneticists, by rummaging around in the genome's rich attic, can fill in all kinds of unexpected detail. They can estimate how large the ancestral population was. They can say where in Africa it probably lived. They can put a date, though a rough one, on when language emerged. They can even infer, in one instance, what the first language sounded like."

Source: "Before the Dawn," 2006

Nicholas Wade, 71, has long had a curiosity for the unknown.

In his 2006 book, "Before the Dawn," Wade examines the past 50,000 years of the ancestral human population.

Wade, a veteran journalist with 45 years of experience in the newsroom, will visit Victoria as part of Victoria College's Lyceum lecture series at the Leo J. Welder Center for the Performing Arts on Tuesday evening.

By pulling together several articles he had written about genetics, particularly about the genome, Wade was able to publish "Before the Dawn."

He said he wanted to provide a new perspective on the recent human past.

"Most books are about fossils and bones and refer to a much more ancient period," Wade said. "But by the last 50,000 years, we've become more modern, and the bones don't really tell you very much."

When he first began his research, the author found himself in despair because of the overwhelming amount of information at his fingertips, Wade said.

"But what helps is mapping it out into chapters," Wade said. "Then, each chapter becomes one long article; that makes the task much more manageable."

Before working at the New York Times, Wade wrote for Nature, a weekly scientific magazine based in London, and Science, a weekly scientific journal published in Washington.

Wade was born in Aylesbury, England, and earned his bachelor's in natural science in 1964.

Wade is the author of several other books. including "The Ultimate Experiment" (Walker, 1976), "The Nobel Duel" (Doubleday, 1980), "Betrayers of the Truth" (Simon and Schuster, 1982, written with William J. Broad), "A World Beyond Healing" (Norton, 1987) and "Lifescript" (Simon and Schuster, September 2001).

"Before the Dawn" was written to help readers understand the way the world is, Wade said.

"That's what I've always been interested in," the author said. "To understand human existence."

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