Aired Tuesday November 3rd, 2009 at 7:00 pm on KUED HD Ch. 7.1
NOVA: "Becoming Human"
Nothing is more fascinating to us than, well, us. Where did we come from? What makes us human? The first in-depth televised investigation documenting an explosion of recent discoveries, NOVA's three-part special, Becoming Human: Unearthing Our Earliest Ancestors, examines what the latest scientific research reveals about our hominid relatives-putting together the pieces of our human past and transforming our understanding of our earliest ancestors. Becoming Human premieres Tuesdays, November 3, 10, 17 at 7 p.m. on KUED Channel 7.
Featuring interviews with world-renowned scientists, each hour unfolds with a CSI-like forensic investigation into the life and death of a specific hominid ancestor. Becoming Human was shot "in the trenches" where discoveries were unearthed throughout Africa and Europe. Dry bones spring back to life with stunning computer-generated animation and prosthetics. Fossils not only give us clues to what early hominids looked like, but, with the aid of ingenious new lab techniques, how they lived and how we became the creative,"behaviorally modern" humans of today.
"Having an understanding of human evolution is key to so many of the issues we face today," remarks Paula Apsell, Senior Executive Producer for NOVA and Director of the WGBH Science Unit. "Becoming Human offers a vivid picture of human evolution that highlights the latest groundbreaking discoveries and, more important,explains how each new finding fits together with earlier ones to reveal a truly compelling story of survival."
The first hour of Becoming Human premieres nationwide on Tuesday, November 3 at 7 p.m. and examines the factors that caused us to split from the apes. The film explores the fossil of "Selam," also known as "Lucy's Child"-an amazing, nearly complete child fossil 3.3 million years old, which helps shed light on our ancestors' early development and how we began to depart from that of chimps.
Why did leaps in human evolution take place? Becoming Human explores a provocative "big idea" that sharp swings of climate were a key factor in driving human evolution. Layers of rock showing evidence of extreme shifts in climate, combined with fossils unearthed at those locations, indicate that great steps in human evolution were taken in periods when climate was swinging wildly from hot and wet to dry and cold. Today, many think of abrupt climate change as the biggest threat to humanity's future, but this theory suggests that such sudden flips may have been an essential creative engine that helped shape the emergence of our ancestors.
In gripping forensic detail, the second show in Becoming Human 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 ancestors are thought to have developed many key innovations such as hunting, use of fire, and extensive social bonds. NOVA examines a theory that it was long distance running-our ability to jog-that was not only crucial for the survival of these early hominids on grasslands filled with vicious predators but also gave them a unique hunting strategy: chasing and running down prey animals such as deer or antelope to the point of exhaustion. "Turkana Boy" also marks the first time in human evolution that there is strong evidence of an extended period of childhood and parenting. As anthropologist and primatologist Sarah Hardy explains, "Because they had longer childhoods, there was a wonderful opportunity for big brains to evolve."
The final program 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 and/or exterminate them? The program explores crucial new evidence from the recent decoding of the Neanderthal genome. So how did modern humans take over the world? New evidence suggests that they left Africa and colonized the world 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, as far back as science can take us, many different kinds of hominids co-existed and shared the globe simultaneously. Becoming Human examines why "we" survived while those other ancestral cousins died out. And it explores the question: In what ways are we still evolving today?
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