Most researchers agree that modern humans have been around for 100,000 years. However our ancestors ‘primates’ who walked upright in African plains, banded together for warmth and shelter might have lived much longer than us, estimated at around 3.2 million years. The predictions made are based on 42-inch fossil that was found in Ethiopia in 1974 by anthropologist Donald C. Johanson. This skeleton is probably the most popular fossil in the entire world and is named ‘Lucy’ after the Beatles song playing in the tape deck of researchers when it was found.
The discovery story and impact it has on search for essential nature and past of humanity is the focus of the 1st of the 3 episodes of ‘In Search of Human Origins’ a thought provoking and entertaining “Nova” mini-series which aired on PBS. Johanson himself hosted and narrated these series, foretelling the story of 8 year old, easily distinguishable primate named Lucy. She has distinctive attribute from other primates marking the transition from animal to men of the human race, as she could lock her leg straight and walk upright for long durations that started her line on road to humans. Johanson has called her accurately and frequently, ‘the missing link’ between humans and apes.
In Part I of the miniseries, Johanson and his research team re-create their discovery and sedate celebration which led to naming her. An artist, portrays the last days of her life in wilderness, and a detailed audio-animatronically formed Lucy demonstrating use of twig to capture termites in her mounds.
Part II of the series shares the story of the frail creature and her brethren, most of who were close to modern humans and were capable to surviving on the Ethiopian battlegrounds. Early men were not ferocious hunters often depicted in mythology; rather they were timid scavengers whom their made living stealing carcasses after other powerful carnivores were done with them. They used to settle for fruits and termites when there was nothing better to consume.
Part III of the series tells the story of Neanderthals, cast as subhuman, brutish and stupid. They survived for several ice ages and survived for more than 200,000 years. Johanson and his colleagues present new evidence to explain their demise and origin of modern humans. Despite physical similarities between Neanderthals and Modern Humans is an indication of an evolutionary link, mitochondrial DNA tests and fossil evidence suggest that Modern humans evolved from single species of Homo sapiens who migrated from Africa around 200,000 years ago.
These Neanderthals shared several human traits. Johanson said about them that “They ate the same foods, hunted the same way, buried their dead, and built the same kinds of fireplaces”. He argued that Neanderthals were humans and being modern humans is less about appearance and more about behaviour. One issue with this miniseries by Johanson is that it does have broader environmental and ecological context of human evolution which could have been done by sharing insights about the mode and tempo of evolutionary process on a group of mammalians which overlaps with hoimin lineage through their habitat preferences, geographic distribution and body sizes. Other authors like Elisabeth Vrba of Yale University, has proposed that origination and extinction across the mammalian groups occurred in sync with tectonic and climatic changes over millions year.
This miniseries is hosted by respected paleoanthropologist Donald C. Johanson, who through this documentary series of Nova examined the evolutionary chain which led from hairy simians to Homo sapiens. Dating back to 3 million years, Lucy is the oldest hominid skeleton discovered which provided the link provided between Human and Apes. Through the episodes Johanson examined the traits, genetic leaps and behaviours which allowed our species to thrive and develop. This miniseries is an edified look at the effort of Johanson and his colleagues about the prehistoric world and origin of humans. Three episodes comprise of fascinating re-creation of primitive ancestors through use of animatronics and actors.
Hiltbrand, D. Picks and Pans Review: In Search of Human Origins. http://www.people.com/people/article/0,,20107557,00.html. People.com. 1994. Web. 2014
Maugh, T.M. TV REVIEWS : Nova Goes 'In Search of Human Origins'. http://articles.latimes.com/1994-02-28/entertainment/ca-28149_1_modern-human. Latimes.com. 1994. Web. 2014