Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Watching human evolution

I'm a bit occupied this week with jury duty, so in the meantime I'll simply give a recommendation to the 3 part PBS Nova series Becoming Human

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.

The other programs in the "Becoming Human" series are Part 2: "Birth of Humanity", which profiles the earliest species of humans, and Part 3: "Last Human Standing," which examines why, of various human species that once shared the planet, only our kind remains.
All three parts really are excellent educational resources. Even if you're generally familiar with the subject matter, these shows really bring the material to life and help you to visualize what our ancestors and evolutionary cousins looked like and how they lived. (I found the segment in part 2 about the Homo Erectus fossil Turkana Boy particularly compelling.)

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