Becoming Human Nova Essays

NOVA: Becoming HumanPart 2: Birth of Humanity1.What significant changes (compared to earlier hominin species) appeared with Homo erectus?Early African Homo erectus fossils (sometimes called Homo ergaster) are the oldest known earlyhumans to have possessed modern human-like body proportions with relatively elongated legs and shorter arms compared to the size of the torso. These features are considered adaptations to alife lived on the ground, indicating the loss of earlier tree-climbing adaptations, with the ability to walk and possibly run long distances. Compared with earlier fossil humans, note the expandedbraincase relative to the size of the face. The most complete fossil individual of this species is known as the ‘Turkana Boy’ – a well-preserved skeleton (though minus almost all the hand and foot bones), dated around 1.6 million years old.2.What kinds of “big questions” can be answered with a nearly complete ancient skeleton?What did he look like (how close is he to an ape)? and How did he grow up (ape or human)?3.According to new studies of Turkana Boy’s teeth, how old was he when he died? What does this indicate in terms of his growth rate?Estimates of the age at death depend on whether the maturity stage of the teeth or skeleton is used, and whether that maturity is compared to that of modern humans or to chimpanzees. A key factor is that, while modern humans have a marked adolescent growth spurt, chimpanzees do not.

In the final edition of PBS Nova’s Becoming Human: Last Human Standing, they explore the fate of the Neanderthals who demised when modern humans left Africa and took up Europe where the Neanderthals were located.  Scientific evidence has found that the Neanderthals participated in symbolic behavior (burial holes), had a human mindset, heavyset bodies that helped them through the ice age and modern humans’ closest cousin (share a common ancestor with them).  Neanderthals were mostly all meat eaters (carnivores) and showed few differences between locations (in other words, their diet remained the same no matter where they were located).  Other interesting questions that NOVA asked were:

  • Humans suffered from a bottleneck effect (pushed to the brink of extinction – 600 breeding individuals)– due to vast climate change in Africa
  • The meeting of modern humans with Neanderthals – inbreeding with them?

I highly recommend this program and hope that this program had a large audience of viewers, since it is important to know where we came from and why we are the way we are.  Nova did a wonderful job presenting this story clearly and exploring many interesting questions that are not commonly brought up.  This is the story of humans, maybe the most interesting story of all, just part of the Greatest Show on Earth, check it out.

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