I was reminded today of a piece of work I finished just before the holidays. Conversation in the staff room, turned to DNA and ancestry with my mentioning that we have Neanderthal DNA, which was met with shock. Yes, unless a person is of pure African descent, like certain tribes, then the DNA contains, not only Neanderthal, but in some circumstances other hominin species, including one that we have not yet discovered remains of, but our DNA shows us it is there!
So why teach it in history? I had the privilege of doing just that with our Year 7s last year. They can reel off the names of various dinosaurs, but faced with our own human ancestry the only thing they really knew about was cavemen. They were most disappointed when I said that was just in cartoons! However, they were fascinated by our ancestry. Learning about how paleo-archaeologists find our ancestors, and how they fit it into our own history, brings prehistory, and our ancestors, to life.
Neanderthals are sadly still classed as cavemen, hitting people over the head with clubs! This was the Victorian and twentieth century understanding. Now we have reached the 21st, we know differently. They were intelligent, caring, crafts people, in a lot of ways the same as us. A number of their traits are still with us, locked into our DNA.
We need to show that our ancestry is the same across the world, regardless of colour, religion or gender. Our own prehistory is just as exciting as that of the dinosaurs, but unlike them, we are still around to tell the story!
For a copy of my research presentation please email firstname.lastname@example.org