The big clues to our past come from these chimpanzees - our closest living relatives. Until 50 years ago we wrote them off as dumb animals, but since then we’ve had to change our tune. The more we study them, the more we realise just how much we have in common. And the resemblance isn’t just skin deep. The evidence that we really are descended from a chimp-like ancestor is deep within the workings of our bodies – in our genes. Amazingly we’re more similar genetically to chimps than Indian elephants are to African elephants: 99% of our key genes are exactly the same. That’s just 1% different. So what’s the story in that 1% that has taken us from ape to man? Do we at least behave a little differently? Our table manners are marginally better than this... But our lives are lives are so much more complicated: presenter Steve Leonard reminds us that he flew to get here. He drives a car, watches TV, uses a mobile phone, a laptop. All these chimps have to do is eat, groom and play. Something amazing must have happened to our ancestors to let us dominate the world. What triggered that transformation into the super-intelligent beings we are today? Surprisingly it was nothing to do with our brains. Between four and five million years ago our ancestors started to spend more time on the ground. And two different strategies emerged. Chimps evolved walking on their knuckles as a way to get around. But we took a more radical approach – and since then we’ve never looked back.
Available since: Wed 27 Jan 2010
- Key talent
- Steve LEONARD
- Jo SARSBY
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