Where did we come from? What makes us human? An explosion of recent discoveries sheds light on these questions, and NOVA's comprehensive, three-part special, "Becoming Human," examines what the latest scientific research reveals about our hominid relatives.
Part 1, "First Steps," examines the factors that caused us to split from the other great apes. The program explores the fossil of "Selam," also known as "Lucy's Child." Paleoanthropologist Zeray Alemseged spent five years carefully excavating the sandstone-embedded fossil. NOVA's cameras are there to capture the unveiling of the face, spine, and shoulder blades of this 3.3 million-year-old fossil child. And NOVA takes viewers "inside the skull" to show how our ancestors' brains had begun to change from those of the apes.
Why did leaps in human evolution take place? "First Steps" explores a provocative "big idea" that sharp swings of climate were a key factor.
In "Birth of Humanity," the second part of the three-part series "Becoming Human," NOVA investigates the first skeleton that really looks like us--"Turkana Boy"--an astonishingly complete specimen of Homo erectus found by the famous Leakey team in Kenya. These early humans are thought to have developed key innovations that helped them thrive, including hunting large prey, the use of fire, and extensive social bonds.
The program examines an intriguing theory that long-distance running--our ability to jog--was crucial for the survival of these early hominids. Not only did running help them escape from vicious predators roaming the grasslands, but it also gave them a unique hunting strategy: chasing down prey animals such as deer and antelope to the point of exhaustion. "Birth of Humanity" also probes how, why, and when humans' uniquely long period of childhood and parenting began.
In "Last Human Standing," the final program of the three-part series "Becoming Human," NOVA examines the fate of the Neanderthals, our European cousins who died out as modern humans spread from Africa into Europe during the Ice Age. Did modern humans interbreed with Neanderthals or exterminate them? The program explores crucial evidence from the recent decoding of the Neanderthal genome.
How did modern humans take over the world? New evidence suggests that they left Africa and colonized the rest of the globe far earlier, and for different reasons, than previously thought. As for Homo sapiens, we have planet Earth to ourselves today, but that's a very recent and unusual situation. For millions of years, many kinds of hominids co-existed. At one time Homo sapiens shared the planet with Neanderthals, Homo erectus, and the mysterious "Hobbits"--three-foot-high humans who thrived on the Indonesian island of Flores until as recently as 12,000 years ago.
"Last Human Standing" examines why "we" survived while those other ancestral cousins died out. And it explores the provocative question: In what ways are we still evolving today?
Via Dr. Stefan Gruenwald