Prof Ian Barnes is a Research Leader at the Natural History Museum, where he focuses on the investigation of ancient biomolecules to resolve questions in archaeology, palaeontology and evolutionary biology. He has degrees in Archaeological Science (from Bradford) and Molecular Ecology (from York) and for the last 20 years he has been heavily involved in the development of ancient DNA. For much of that time, he has investigated the histories of living and extinct species in the Holarctic – a region from Europe across Asia into North America – between 100 and 10 thousand years ago. Recently, his major focus has been on the role of adaptation and migration in the human settlement of the British Isles.
I think most people really struggle to grasp long periods of time, and the extent to which things – geology, species, people – can change. If we could help people to develop a sense of the depth of time, to understand what events are rare, which are common, the pace of change, then they could see what’s unusual about the present day.