The study of human evolution (palaeoanthropology) began in earnest when William King, Professor of Geology at Queens College Galway, proposed the name Homo neanderthalensis, at the 1863 meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, for fossil human remains discovered in a cave in the Neander Valley of Germany seven years previously. This idea was both extraordinary and revolutionary for its time. Darwin’s masterpiece ‘Origin of Species’ had been published just a few short years beforehand. To his lasting credit, King remains the first scientist to ever successfully name a new species of human.
Continuing advances in our understanding of the Neanderthal genome may yet challenge the contention that Neanderthals were indeed a completely different (reproductively isolated) species to Homo sapiens. However, as the sesquicentennial anniversary of King's remarkable achievement approaches, it is hoped to mark the occasion with a symposium dedicated to the distant prehistoric people he gave a name to, and who shared the planet with Homo sapiens perhaps as little as only 1600 human generations ago.