Nova: Season 37, Episode 5

Becoming Human: Birth of Humanity (10 Nov. 2009)

TV Episode  -  Documentary | Biography
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Nova examines the ancestors of man by attempting to to reconstruct what they look like, what tools they used, and how they lived. Special focus is given to Homo erectus.



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Episode credited cast:
Jordi Agusti ...
Himself - Catalan Institute of Paleoecology
Susan Antón ...
Herself - New York University
Viktor Deak ...
Himself - Paleoartist
Christopher Dean ...
Himself - University College London
Ralph Holloway ...
Himself - Columbia University
Donald Carl Johanson ...
Himself - Institute of Human Origins
Susan Larson ...
Herself - Stony Brook University
Meave Leakey ...
Herself - National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence
Richard Leakey ...
Himself - National Geographic Grantee
Lance Lewman ...
Himself - Narrator
Daniel Lieberman ...
Himself - Harvard University
David Lordkipanidze ...
Himself - Georgian National Museum
Rick Potts ...
Himself - Smithsonian Institution
John Shea ...
Himself - Stony Brook University
Mark Stoneking ...
Himself - Max Planck Institute


Nova examines the ancestors of man by attempting to to reconstruct what they look like, what tools they used, and how they lived. Special focus is given to Homo erectus.

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10 November 2009 (USA)  »

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User Reviews

Valuable New Fossils; Worthless Old Claims
21 February 2014 | by See all my reviews

Focuses on Homo Erectus, which appears about 2 million years ago. Tells us that Homo immediately populated Eurasia, including Spain and Indonesia.

Shows us a human family tree--but never so we can read it.

Makes many absurd statements of human "uniqueness"--

Claims that homo's use of technology (stone tools) is unique. (Spiders' webs and beaver dams are far more impressive; bower-bird nests and crows' and raptors' use of bombing to break nuts and bones are as impressive.)

Claims that "symbolic communication" is uniquely human. No: prairie dogs' distinct warning calls for flying predators and ground predators; the two calls of chickadees and the four calls of loons with their separate meanings; flight patterns of bees at the hive, and step patterns on the comb, symbolically telling their sisters what direction and how far the flowers are.

Supposes that homo erectus may have been the first animal to care about what others thought of him. (My pet cat clearly does so.)

Tells us that fire was likely the defining innovation that permitted the evolution of genus homo: fire would've softened some foods, which may have enabled a smaller jaw; plausibly fire enabled our ancestors to keep predators at bay so they could sleep on the ground at night. But this show goes beyond such plausible claims, overreaching to claim that it was "around the campfire" that we became social creatures. To the contrary, baboons, chimps, bonobos are intensely social. The claim that we weren't social until we burnt something sounds like a fantasy of "major funders" ExxonMobil and mining and oil billionaire David Koch.

Claims that humans are uniquely gifted long-distance runners! (We sure can't hold a candle to dogs and wolves.) Shows Bushmen in southern Africa, saying in four hours in the heat of the day they can run to exhaustion an antelope that evolved to outdistance the short sprint of a big cat. Praises humans' ability to hunt in such heat furry animals that need rest. Again: "global warming is good for humans! Brought to you by ExxonMobil and extractive industries billionaire David Koch."

Supposes that a homo erectus-vintage specimen in Indonesia had caretakers chew his food for him, as he had no teeth. (He had stone knives and fire: with these you can make food soft, and mash or cut it small enough to swallow.)

Part of the show has an odd, annoying techno percussion beat, as if to say, "we know this is boring, so listen to this to kill the time."

So, if you want a program to downplay the catastrophic effects of climate change, downplay the similarities between humans and other animals, and exaggerate the importance of burning, go for one presented by the fuel industry.

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