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Telling a story of three women

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british science week 2015, women in time, trowelblazersOne of the women died, one went on to great things, and one disappeared.

British Science Week (BSW) is a ten-day programme of science, technology, engineering and maths events and activities in different places in the UK for people of all ages, and will be running from 13 – 22 March 2015.

Anyone can organise an event or activity, and the British Science Association helps organisers plan by providing free activity and support resources.

One such event, Woman in Time, is an exploration of humanity from its earliest days through to the turbulent middle years of the 20th Century, using poetry and spoken word performance to tell stories of three women.

One of these women died, one went on to great things, and one disappeared.

Their lives intersected on one day 80 years ago, leaving a scientific legacy that speaks to the fundamental question of what it means to be human, and a cultural legacy which stretches from the arts to activism.

The woman who died was a Neanderthal, now known as Tabun 1. Her skull and skeleton were discovered in 1932, on the slopes of Mount Carmel, Israel, by young Cambridge graduate Jacquetta Hawkes and local Palestinian archaeologist Yusra.

Jacquetta would go on to be a successful archaeologist, science communicator, playwright and poet as well as one of the founders of the CND, and her most admired poem Man in Time vividly describes her emotional awakening during the excavation at Mount Carmel.

Yusra had hoped to take up a Newnham College Fellowship at Cambridge, but her life fell prey to the tumultuous history of the Middle East, and after her village was depopulated in the 1948 Arab-Israeli war she disappeared. We remember her only by her scientific legacy and a few poignant pictures that remain.

The story of the Neanderthal woman, Tabun 1, is controversial.

She is one of the oldest Neanderthal skeletons from the Israel/Palestine region, and was found alongside the skeleton of a baby – possibly hers.

Tabun 1’s time and people may have been the first to encounter our own species on its excursion out of Africa over 120,000 years ago. But whether these two groups of humans really met, and possibly even competed, for the resources and territory of Mount Carmel remains a fascinating mystery.

It’s a contested story about what is still a contested piece of land, and one which resonates up through the ages to the present day.

Dr Tori Herridge, from the Natural History Museum and TrowelBlazers, and Alison Cullingford, who works with the University of Bradford Special Collections, will weave science with history and real-life human experience telling the story of the excavation of Tabun 1 in Jacquetta Hawkes’s own words, capturing the thrill and emotion of scientific discovery.

They will explore the science behind one of the most important ancient human fossils ever found.

And through the poignant story of Yusra, will help to highlight the scientific contributions of a much overlooked group: that of Muslim women in the early 20th Century.

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