Professor Alice Roberts talks about the Prehistoric Autopsy Exhibition (Transcript)

Interviewer: Andy Tootell
Guest:  Professor Alice Roberts
Recorded: 25/10/2012 
Broadcast: 25/10/2012

Andy: Hello, today we’re at Thinktank, Birmingham Science Museum, for the first day of the Prehistoric Autopsy Uncovered Exhibition which has arrived here straight off the back of the three part BBC series, the final part of which was broadcast last night on BBC2.  I’m here with Professor Alice Roberts, the University of Birmingham’s Professor of Public Engagement in Science who co-presented the series with Dr George McGavin. First things first, Alice, huge congratulations with the series. How pleased are you with the final results of these fantastic recreations which are being exhibited here today?

Alice: I’m really pleased with them. I was blown away actually.  I was involved with the reconstructions at a very early stage so helping the model makers at Crawley Creatures to assemble the skeletons in the correct anatomical way and then put them in lifelike poses and I was also there when we started putting muscles on, we use clay to build the musculature.  But then I didn’t see the final phases so when we revealed them in the studio and lifted the veils, it really was a revelation for me and it was brilliant because I think they’re all incredibly lifelike.  We’ve got a Neanderthal, we’ve got a member of the species Homo Erectus Nariokotome Boy and we’ve got this little tiny Lucy who’s an Australopithecine and it is remarkable because these are people who lived a long time ago and yet it looks as though they’re here with us again and it’s lovely and I think that they are so realistic and one of the really impressive things about them is that you get up very very close and perhaps you don’t get this from watching them on television but when you get up really close and personal with the models, the skin texture, the hairs which have been individually placed on those models, it just looks very realistic. It looks like they’re just going to get up and walk away and what’s really nice about it is that we have these fossil remains of our ancestors and sometimes I think it’s very difficult to get from those dry, inert bones, to imagining what that person might have been like because these are people, they’re members of our own human family and so it’s fantastic I think.  I think this exhibition is great and it’s lovely that off the back of the programme this exhibition is now touring the UK and people can get an opportunity. Also to spend a bit of time, you know, because I think we only saw those models for a brief few minutes at the end of the programme and it’s actually nice just to spend time and walk around them and think about what it means to uncover this evidence for our ancestors and what it means for us today in terms of how we know about how we came to be human, how we evolved. 

Andy: In terms of public engagement, it’s great that this tour is happening straight off the back of the series because it will still be fresh in everyone’s minds.  How important is it for people to get out and come and visit this exhibition and like you say, get up close and personal with the amazing models on display? 

Alice:  I think it’s a great opportunity. I think if people were intrigued by those models that were unveiled at the end of each programme then this is a fantastic opportunity to actually see them in the flesh as it were and it’s brilliant actually that the BBC is doing this because so often the programmes go out and that’s it, that’s the end of this kind of engagement with the wider community.  But this means it carries on long after the programmes have gone out, you can still go and see the models that were created and learn more, so it’s not just the models that are in the exhibition, there’s a lot of the science from the series there as well.  You can even learn to walk like an Australopithecine. 

Andy: This exhibition is on at the Thinktank till 25th October, 10am till 5pm every day and it’s free to everyone to attend. Where else is the tour going after it’s finished in Birmingham?

Alice: Well next week, the 27th to the 30th October it will be Manchester Museum, then from the 1st to the 4th November it will be at the Great North Museum in Newcastle. From the 8th to the 11th of November it’ll be at the National Museum in Cardiff and then from the 14th to the 18th of November at the Horniman Museum in London and finally the 23rd to the 25th November you can catch it at the National Museum of Scotland. So it’s going on a good UK-wide tour. 

Andy: I wish you all the very best of luck with the tour.  I hope it goes really, really well and thanks so much for spending time with me this morning. 

Alice: That’s a pleasure. I hope lots of people come and see the models. 

The BBC has full details of the Prehistoric Autopsy Tour on their website. You can also read more about the thinking behind the exhibition on the BBC Blog.