Video by Claire Riordan, Scientific Engagement Associate at CÚRAM .

In the latest of our series of Research Videos, Dr. John Murray (Lecturer in Palaeontology in the Discipline of Earth & Ocean Sciences) and Prof. Heinz Peter Nasheuer (Professor of Biochemistry) introduce the groundbreaking work of a true Irish Science Hero, William King.

In 1849, William King joined Queen’s College Galway (now NUI Galway) as its first Professor of Geology, publishing more than 70 papers and the establishment of a museum in his time there.

King and Paper
Prof. William King and his groundbreaking 1864 paper ‘The Reputed Fossil Man of The Neanderthal‘.

William King is best known however, as the first person to name a new extinct group of humans, Homo neanderthalensis, more commonly known as Neanderthals. His study of a cast of a recently discovered human skull cap from the Neander Valley in Germany, led him to believe that it belonged to a species different from modern humans. In 1863, just 4 years after the publication of ‘On the Origin of Species‘ by Charles Darwin, he presented his findings at a meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, and published them the following year.

Svante and his lab
Prof. Svante Pääbo speaking at the William King Annual Lecture, NUI Galway (photo credit Aengus McMahon Photography) and a researcher in his lab extracting DNA from a Neanderthal bone in a clean room to avoid contamination with modern human DNA.

King’s pioneering work initiated the study of human evolution which continues to this day. Advancements in molecular techniques such as ancient DNA sequencing has, in turn, led to the discovery that the DNA sequence of modern humans outside Africa, has between 1 and 4% Neanderthal DNA, indicating a much closer relationship between the two species than was previously thought.

Much more information can be found in the recently published Irish Journal of Earth Sciences paper ‘The Contribution of William King to the Early Development of Palaeoanthropology‘ by Murray et al. while the 2017 William King Annual Lecture takes place on the 23rd of March in NUI Galway.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s