Cinderella’s Secrets

The Unexpected Story of Human Evolution and Ecosystem Change in Africa

Wednesday, April 19 @ 5:00 – 6:00 pm

  O.C. Marsh Lecture Hall

  • Talk
  • Edward P. Bass Distinguished Lecture
  • Open to Public

Pioneering paleoarchaeologist J. Desmond Clark once described what is now the country of Malawi as the “Cinderella of central African prehistory”. Nearly 70 years later, teams led by Yale professor Jessica Thompson are proving it. In this year’s Edward P. Bass Distinguished Lecture, Thompson offers an on-the-ground view of what she’s uncovered in this small nation and, after nearly two decades of research, how much there is still to learn. 

The Zambezian biotic zone of southern-central Africa, between the better-studied eastern and southern regions, has historically sat at the fringes of paleoanthropological and paleoecological research. Its ancient granite and overlying acidic soil make fossil preservation rare and archaeological and paleontological deposits challenging to date. But Thompson and her international partners are revealing that this tiny nation may have been at the center of critically important periods of human evolution.

Fossils and stone tools found there hint at a 4-million-year-long record that includes some of the first members of our genus, Homo. Millions of stone artifacts and signs of dramatic changes in vegetation nearly 100,000 years ago are the earliest evidence for intentional landscape management by humans. And ancient DNA indicates that, at the end of the last ice age, human interactions became more local in scale—potentially revealing early cultural boundaries. These patterns of human biological and behavioral evolution are set against a backdrop of ecological change, with expanding and contracting grasslands drawing populations together—a beating heart in ancient African biogeography.

This event is co-sponsored by the Yale Institute for Biospheric Studies.


Event Location

O.C. Marsh Lecture Hall