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At the weekend I went to see a couple of exhibitions at the Natural History Museum. The first was Britain: One Million Years of the Human Story, inspired by the Ancient Human Occupation of Britain (AHOB) project, a three-phase study investigating humans from Palaeolithic and Mesolithic northern Europe.

The exhibition told a chronological story from the earliest evidence of human presence in the British Isles, through to the first appearance of Homo sapiens in Britain. I found it fascinating to learn about the presence of early humans. Among the items on display were a skull from the earliest known Neanderthal in Britain, bones from the animals that lived during that time, and tools and other evidence of human habitation. Over the last million years, humans have been present in Britain on and off, depending on weather and other conditions. Other amazing creatures have been here too, including mammoths, rhinos and lions.

Evidence of human presence has been found mainly in the south: the north and Scotland experienced longer and more severe freezes, meaning that evidence could have been destroyed. Finds have been discovered at places such as Kent’s Cavern in Devon and Happisburgh in Norfolk.

I was interested to learn that when Homo sapiens superseded Neanderthals, the latter’s genes were not wiped out entirely. Apparently most humans (except for those most closely descended to the original Homo sapiens who came out of Africa) have some Neanderthal genes. Two purpose-built models show how the species differed.

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Neanderthal man

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Homo sapiens

At the end of the exhibition, there was a video with six celebrities talking about the results of their own DNA analysis. It was interesting to see the huge range and scope of their DNA origins, from Scandinavian and Asian to Native American. I wonder what mine would say?

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