Kindred: Neanderthal Life, Love, Death and Art

Joint Leicestershire Fieldworkers lecture
Dr Rebecca Wragg Sykes
Rattray Lecture Theatre, University of Leicester
Photo of Dr Wragg Sykes, holding a human skull


The Neanderthals occupy a singularly seminal place within human origins, the first hominin to be discovered, the closest to us in evolutionary terms, and with the richest array of evidence to understand their lives. This lecture will explore how understanding of Neanderthals has evolved over more than 160 years, in a context of improved dating and palaeoclimatic frameworks, and in particular, huge advances in science and archaeology over the past three or four decades. All this has revolutionised thinking about their lives, including evidence for technologies, complex cognition and even emergent materially-focused aesthetic behaviours together with diverse ways of dealing with the dead. Far from confined and unvarying, the overall impression of Neanderthal minds is that they were focused on quality and efficiency, yet also flexible and creative. The talk will conclude by reflecting on evidence from Britain, and recent ideas around the eventual disappearance of Neanderthals.

Dr. Rebecca Wragg Sykes is an archaeologist, author and Honorary Fellow in the School of Archaeology, Classics and Egyptology, University of Liverpool. After a PhD at the University of Sheffield studying the late Neanderthal archaeology of Britain, she received a Marie Curie postdoctoral fellowship at Universit√© de Bordeaux, co-founded TrowelBlazers and now combines writing, independent consultancy and collaborative academic projects and publications. Alongside her academic expertise, Rebecca has earned a reputation for exceptional public communication as a speaker, in print and broadcast. Her writing has featured in The New York Times, The Times, The Guardian, Aeon and elsewhere, and she has appeared on numerous BBC radio programmes in addition to podcasts and other media. Her first book Kindred: Neanderthal Life, Love, Death and Art is a critically acclaimed bestseller, winner of PEN Hessell-Tiltman prize for History 2021, a New York Times Notable Book of 2021; and in 2020 was Current Archaeology's Book of The Year, The Times Book of The Week, Guardian Book of the Day. and one of 2020's Best Books for The Sunday Times, New Scientist, and BBC Science Focus.