Ella Al-Shamahi: The fascinating (and dangerous) places scientists aren't exploring
Ella Al-Shamahi is a palaeoanthropologist specializing in fossil hunting in caves in unstable, hostile and disputed territories. In her spare time, she's a stand-up comic. Full bio
Double-click the English transcript below to play the video.
slightly embarrassed to admit to.
to study evolution
that I'm now an evolutionary biologist.
I'm a National Geographic Explorer
and disputed territories.
if I was a guy and not a girl,
that would be a pick-up line.
I do not have a death wish.
does not happen as much
which the British Foreign Office
red zones, orange zones
of a threat warning about.
and say that it is a tragedy
science in a huge portion of the planet.
of some of the most important places
fascinating fossils to be found here.
I was repeatedly told
homo sapiens, or earlier species,
via the Sinai of Egypt.
probably tell from my accent,
very, very Arab on the outside.
so everybody irritates me.
my family are Arab from Yemen,
this really simple question:
could somehow cross the Atlantic Ocean,
that tiny stretch of water?
to near virgin territory.
made the sheer potential for discovery
start using Bab-el-Mandeb?
besides ourselves made it to Yemen?
as yet unknown to science?
who had noticed Yemen's potential.
a few other academics out there.
they moved out, and so I moved in.
are the original prime real estate.
for fossils in that kind of heat,
is always going to be caves.
a really sad turn for the worse,
before I was due to fly out to Yemen,
into a regional conflict,
before I was born:
with the best decision of my life.
in my family have escaped,
are being been bombed
that make you detest your very existence.
and it has led to a humanitarian crisis.
so not a natural famine,
that the UN has warned
the world has seen in a hundred years.
clear to me more than ever
deserve to get left behind.
and I was forming new collaborations
to get back into Yemen,
of a project I could do in Yemen
what was going on there.
because let's be honest,
for a Western team.
a Yemeni island,
local and international academics
proximity to Africa.
when humans arrived on that island.
for a completely different reason.
as the Galapagos of the Indian Ocean,
biodiverse places on this earth.
environment and its people
of both Middle Eastern politics
that Socotra was my Yemen project.
a huge multidisciplinary team.
on foot, camel and dhow boat
once before, and it was in 1999.
an easy thing to pull off.
familiar with British English,
expedition without a recce
without a Facebook stalk.
knowing laughs in this room.
were no strangers to unstable places,
is kind of important
to a place between Yemen and Somalia,
what felt like a million favors,
in the Indian Ocean
their worst toilet story?
with dolphins before.
that I am genuinely less stressed
three raised platforms to sleep on,
let's say there was four team members,
a raised platform to sleep on,
with a few cockroaches during the night,
good luck to you.
and the whole ship,
sleeping on the floor.
the fourth or fifth night,
"Ella, Ella I really believe in equality."
cement cargo ship for three days,
like that start of an expedition.
you jump out of a jeep
there's this possibility,
of who we are and where we come from.
that so many scientists have
are discouraged or all-out barred
and blow themselves into outer space.
working in an unstable place
wasn't brought up on adventure stories?
were actually scientists and academics.
into the unknown.
even if there were risks.
to make it difficult for science to happen
that all scientists should go off
understand security protocol
is an active war zone
into active war zones.
very different from Fallujah.
after I couldn't get into Yemen,
were actually working in Iraqi Kurdistan,
known as Shanidar 1.
we actually brought Shanidar 1 to life,
Ned the Neanderthal.
that Ned was severely disabled.
there is no way he could have survived
of Neanderthals at this time,
those who couldn't look after themselves.
because we're not looking?
they deserve narratives of hope,
can be a part of that.
that it can tangibly aid development,
become a huge source of local pride.
why science has a geography problem.
local academics, do we?
are full of students and academics
it's not a hostile environment;
with local collaborators
hoping upon hope to do in Socotra.
and Rhys Thwaites-Jones could see why.
they're not write-offs,
of science and exploration.
exist here and nowhere else on earth,
of dragon's blood tree,
some of them still live in caves,
is prime real estate this century,
the fossils, the stone tools,
have teamed up with other scientists,
like Ahmed Alarqbi,
to shed a light on this place
need to get back
a really lovely audience.
ABOUT THE SPEAKERElla Al-Shamahi - Paleoanthropologist, stand-up comic
Ella Al-Shamahi is a palaeoanthropologist specializing in fossil hunting in caves in unstable, hostile and disputed territories. In her spare time, she's a stand-up comic.
Why you should listen
Ella Al-Shamahi sometimes calls herself an "adventure-scientist" -- but to her, it's less about the adventure of working in places like Yemen, Iraq, the Nagorno-Karabakh and northern Cyprus. She believes in using expeditions to shed light on some of the most misunderstood and disadvantaged people and places on earth.
Al-Shamahi is a TV presenter and stand-up comic, partly because she realized that it was an incredible way to communicate science. She performs stand-up and nerdy-science stand-up in the UK and internationally. She was named a 2015 National Geographic Emerging Explorer.
Ella Al-Shamahi | Speaker | TED.com