In this first programme, the intrepid academic journeys to Kenya, Tanzania and South Africa, where he charts the emergence of the first upright-standing and rudimentary tool-wieldng apelike primates, Australopithecus, and our direct, large-brained ancestors, Homo Erectus.
First stop: the Great African Rift Valley in Kenya, where, five million years ago, Australopithecus came down from the trees when climatic changes reduced the size of the region’s then tropical forests.
World-renowned archaeologists and anthropologists provide expert insights throughout the documentaries, and in the series-opener, Dr. Audaz Mabulla leads Gamble to a site in Tanzania where volcanic ash has fossilised the footprints of our dextrously feeted predecessors.
ARTS and MINDS
In this episode, Clive Gamble chronicles the appearance, 200,000 years ago, of Homo Sapiens, whose larger brains enabled them to be better organised and hunt and clothe themselves more efficiently, thus wiping out the competition and colonising the entire world.
To find out how this happened, Gamble travels to Africa, the ‘cradle of civilisation’. Archeologist Chris Henshilwood shows him evidence of fishing implements from 70,000 years ago. Gamble travels to caves with evidence of crafted bone tools, used to make clothes that would enable people to travel into colder climates. They are also full of ochre paintings of the beasts its inhabitants hunted, indicating the capacity for abstract thought that makes symbolism possible.
Archeologist Professor Clive Gamble’s mission to document the evolution of the human race takes him to Australia in this episode. This is where the first human colonists ended up after leaving Africa, the ‘cradle of humanity’.
These hunter/gatherers arrived on the continent around 50-60,000 years ago. In the Northern Territories, they found a fertile land which could provide abundantly for their meagre numbers, full of meat, fish, plants and fruit – and giant marsupials that they soon hunted to extinction. The climate maintained their dark African colouring, and these Aboriginals maintained their distinctive looks and culture as they evolved in isolation.
Soon, these people began painting and carving animals and spirit guides in the caves they sheltered in, paying tribute to the “magic of everyday life”, and providing for future generations “a gourmet guide to the best bits of the local animals.” They began to control and stimulate the growth of the shrubland with fire, as modern Aussies do today, moving between productive areas and treating water-holes as sacred places.
Between the Ice Sheets
In this episode, Professor Clive Gamble goes in search of Neanderthals and modern humans, travelling to Portugal, Spain, Germany, France and England to chart the latter stages of human evolution.
The short limbs, heavy bones and dense musculature of Neanderthal physicality (the arctic body type) differed greatly from modern humans’ slender, taller tropical physique, and evolved specifically for survival in frozen extremes: they lived successfully through hundreds of thousands of years of northern Europe’s harsh ice age.
Neanderthals possessed a short, stocky and robust body, ideal for confrontational hunting with large prey, such as cave tigers, woolly mammoths and bison, but experts believe they also applied strategy to hunting and demonstrated intelligent organisation, which, Clive points out: “contradicts their image as stumbling, hairy brutes.”
However, their relative domination of northern Europe – they only ever numbered 5,000-10,000 diminished 40,000 years ago with the melting of the ice sheets. The milder conditions proved conducive to the survival of more delicate modern humans, who migrated into the region from the east, along the river Danube.
Artefacts such as ornamental sculptures, engraving and cutting tools indicate the degree of modern humans’ creative and technical expertise: skills essential to their survival. And despite living next to modern humans for 15,000 years, the flat-foreheaded Neanderthals eventually became extinct, leaving Homo Sapiens at the top of the food chain.
Pole To Pole
In this week’s programme, globe-trotting archaeologist Professor Clive Gamble travels from Alaska to Antarctica to follow the route taken by America’s original human settlers, who travelled from Asia, across Siberia, to colonise the great continent in two separate waves – 12,000 and 16,000 years ago.
“The great American journey,” as Clive describes the 5,000 year, 15,000km inhabiting process, was the fastest and the longest of all the journeys undertaken by our modern human forebears and, he says, “was actually a thousand, thousand individual journeys.” The semi-Asian features common to Alaska’s indigenous Eskimo population point to their origins, and to the route taken by the hardy pioneers.
The mammoth trip involved traversing the colossal land bridge (Beringia) which once linked Alaska to Russia, but Clive begins this chilly section of his odyssey in a remote Eskimo village on an island in the Baring Straits. Here, he learns how ancestors of the Eskimo people developed stone-chipped blade tools and skills to survive in the frozen conditions, and how they moved east across the towering mountain range, before heading south into America through an ice-free corridor in Canada.
The second wave took humans as far as eastern America, while the original journey, as proven by discoveries in the 1970’s and 80’s, crossed the Andes into Chile and then to Patagonia, which became the southernmost human settlement for thousands of years to come.
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