Best known for her TV presenting on factual programmes such as Coast, Professor Alice Roberts was in Worthing on the last night of her book tour promoting Tamed: Ten Species That Changed Our World. 

Roberts began her talk describing early nomadic groups in the Ice Age, wearing a magnificent warm woollen jacket reminiscent of Henry VIII’s square silhouette, which she slipped off theatrically as she described the Earth warming up.

She used pre-recorded voiceovers and slideshows to imagine the first time a human and a wolf connected, noting that human children and wolf pups share curiosity and playfulness – and speculated that the first human to try riding a wild horse was probably a risk-taking teenager.

Roberts introduced current debates in the worlds of archaeology and genetics, including the controversies around the new scientific ability to analyse genetic fragments found within ancient deposits of mud. She discussed evidence of material culture such as bones and tools, alongside genetics research and the spread of Indo-European languages.

We learned that it’s not just humans who artificially select characteristics of other species: modern apple trees evolved in response to the bear population in Kazakhstan. 

Delightfully, an “archaeologist lobster” discovered and began excavating artefacts from an unknown Mesolithic site submerged at the bottom of the Solent!

A fluent science communicator undeterred by microphone problems that prevented her striding across the stage, Roberts lightened her talk with jokes about her husband, an archaeologist who archives everything; and animal puns, leading into a discussion of gift horses’ mouths, and the revelation that an early horse tooth showed the use of a bit far longer ago than was previously supposed.

Although the Assembly Hall wasn’t completely full, the appreciative audience hung on every word throughout both halves of the evening, and debates continued into the foyer and beyond.

Rosie Clarke