Dr. Alice Roberts travels the globe to discover the incredible story of how humans left Africa to colonise the world — overcoming hostile terrain, extreme weather and other species of human.
She pieces together precious fragments of bone, stone and new DNA evidence and discovers how this journey changed these African ancestors into the people of today.
Alice travels to Africa in search of the birthplace of the first people. They were so few in number and so vulnerable that today they would probably be considered an endangered species.
So what allowed them to survive at all? The Bushmen of the Kalahari have some answers — the unique design of the human body made them efficient hunters and the ancient click language of the Bushmen points to an early ability to organise and plan.
Humans survived there, but Africa was to all intents and purposes a sealed continent. So how and by what route did humans make it out of Africa?
Astonishing genetic evidence reveals that everyone alive today who is not African descends from just one successful, tiny group which left the continent in a single crossing, an event that may have happened around 70 thousand years ago.
But how did they do it? Alice goes searching for clues in the remote Arabian Desert.
The Incredible Human Journey is a five-episode science documentary and accompanying book, written and presented by Alice Roberts. It was first broadcast on BBCtelevision in May and June 2009 in the UK. It explains the evidence for the theory of early human migrations out of Africa and subsequently around the world, supporting the Out of Africa Theory. This theory claims that all modern humans are descended from anatomically modern African Homo sapiens rather than from the more archaic European and Middle Eastern Homo neanderthalensis or the indigenous Chinese Homo pekinensis, and that the modern African Homo sapiens did not interbreed with the other species of genus Homo. Each episode concerns a different continent, and the series features scenes filmed on location in each of the continents featured. The first episode aired on BBC Two on Sunday 10 May 2009.
In the final episode, Roberts describes theories about how humans traversed from Asia to the Americas, asking how they achieved it during the Ice Age, when the route to North America was blocked by ice walls. She describes the traditional theory that the first Americans were the Clovis culture, who arrived through an ice-free corridor towards the end of the Ice Age 13,000 years ago. However, she then visits archaeological sites in Texas, Brazil, the Californian Channel Islands and Monte Verde in southern Chile, which show 14,000-year-old human remains, proving that humans must have arrived earlier by a different route. She shows the skull of the Luzia Woman, found in Brazil, which displays Australasian features rather than the East Asian features of modern Native Americans; an archaeologist explains that these first Americans may have been Asians who migrated before Asians developed their distinctive facial features. Roberts shows that the earliest Americans may have migrated down the relatively ice-free western coastlines of North and South America. She concludes by noting that, when Europeans arrived in 1492, they did not recognise Native Americans as fully human, but that modern genetics and archaeology proves that we all ultimately descend from Africans.
In the first episode, Roberts introduces the idea that genetic analysis suggests that all modern humans are descended from Africans. She visits the site of the Omo remains in Ethiopia, which are the earliest known anatomically modern humans. She visits the San people of Namibia to demonstrate the hunter-gatherer lifestyle. InSouth Africa, she visits Pinnacle Point, to see the cave in which very early humans lived. She then explains that genetics suggests that all non-Africans may descend from a single, small group of Africans who left the continent tens of thousands of years ago. She explores various theories as to the route they took. She describes the Jebel Qafzeh remains in Israel as a likely dead end from a crossing of Suez, and sees a route across the Red Sea and around the Arabian coast as the more probable route for modern human ancestors, especially given the lower sea levels of the past.
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