Mead ’85 Donates Skull to School


Wendy Carlson

John Mead ’85 presents a replica skull, part of his past research about “Neo.”

It’s not every day that an alum returns to campus wielding a skull. During the annual Augur Lecture last Friday, Mr. John Mead ’85, an award-winning educator and public speaker, presented on recent archeological discoveries and his experience as a scientist in the field of paleontology.

Mr. Mead discovered his passion for science while studying Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution with Mr. Ted Davis, instructor in biology emeritus, at Hotchkiss. Mr. Mead went on to study biology at Duke University. Currently, he works as a sixth-grade science teacher at St. Mark’s School of Texas in Dallas, Texas. 

Aside from teaching, Mr. Mead serves as a National Geographic educator-explorer, and an Evolution Ambassador for the National Center for Science Education. Recently, Mr. Mead received the Texas 2018 Outstanding Biology Teacher Award from the National Association of Biology Teachers.

Mr. Mead began his presentation by describing his encounter with the bones of Homo naledi, a brand new hominid species found in a rocky chamber in South Africa. The set of bones found, nicknamed “Neo,” was remakably complete as  a result of the secluded nature of the chamber, which prevented water flow or debris from disturbing the remains. 

Mr. Mead first invited paleoanthropologist Dr. Lee Berger, who headed the South African expedition, to speak to his science students. On a break from his book tour, Dr. Berger visited Mr. Mead and his students in Texas. 

During the excavations, Mr. Mead compiled hourly updates of the excavation on Twitter. Mr. Mead’s class was also able to communicate directloy with Berger and his team through video chat, learning about the process of gathering the bones. Jay Wright ’20 said, “My initial reaction was shock after hearing him talk about the fossils they found in a place that was just right there in front of them. I didn’t expect to be as enthralled in his presentation as I was.”

At the conclusion of the lecture, Mr. Mead gifted a replica of Neo’s skull to Dr. Susan Park, instructor in biology, who coordinated the event. Dr. Park said, “Although we live in a human-centric world, our existence relies so much on a natural environment that we are often separated from as a consequence of our own sophistication. Recognizing the tremendous diversity of life that has existed on Earth over the course of a 3.7 billion-year span can add a new perspective. It’s helpful to know where we have come from in order to look forward to where our species could be in the next hundreds [and] millions of years.”