Highbridge school introduces human evolution society
- Credit: Shane Dean
The introduction of a human evolution society at a school in Highbridge is proving to be popular with its students.
A-level students at the King Alfred School Academy who join the society - which is run by a former paleoanthropologist - complete an advanced course in human evolutionary anatomy that gives top-level preparation for careers such as medicine.
It is believed to be the only one of its kind in the UK that helps prepare A-level students for a range of courses in top universities.
This year the human evolution society student leaders are co-presidents Olivia Earthy, who is applying to read medicine at Oxford, and Grace Huggins who is applying to read psychological and behavioural sciences at Cambridge.
Olivia said: “Being a member of the human evolution society is brilliant preparation for my Oxford application.
“It offers me the chance to study so-called mismatch diseases - those preventable illnesses and ailments such as cancer, heart disease, stroke, type two diabetes, back pain, anxiety, depression, obesity and flat feet that were rare in our ancestors but more common today.
“These studies show how our bodies and anatomy are not well suited for modern environments where we are inactive for large parts of each day."
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Students study museum-grade fossil hominin replicas from the last seven million years of evolutionary history, and conduct comparative anatomical analysis along with skeletons of modern humans and chimpanzees, our closest living relatives.
So far this year, students have focussed on the origins of bipedalism (upright walking) and the genus Australopithecus in particular, a species of human ancestor that lived in East and South Africa from approximately 4.2 to 1 million years ago.
A highlight for many students was having the opportunity to study the fossil remains of the famous 'Lucy' skeleton, a 3.3-million-year-old skeleton belonging to Australopithecus afarensis, which showed clear signs of bipedal walking in the anatomy of her pelvis.
During the spring and summer, students will be studying the evolution of the genus Homo including the famous Neanderthals and the origins of modern humans in Africa before they migrated to settle in all continents on Earth.