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Episode 1 of 3

Duration: 1 hour

In the first episode, Dr Alice Roberts looks at how our skeleton reveals our incredible evolutionary journey.

Trekking through the forests of our ancient ancestors, she goes to meet the apes who still live there today - chimpanzees. In six million years we have become very different, and what kick-started this can be found in an extraordinary fossil - Sahelanthropus. A single hole where the spine was attached suggests that our ancestors started the journey to being human by standing upright. We take it for granted, but standing up and walking is surprisingly complex - each step involves the co-ordination of over 200 muscles.

Charting the major advances from Australopithecus to Homo erectus and beyond, Alice tells the epic story of human evolution through our body today. New research has uncovered clues in our ankles, waists and necks that show how our ancestors were forced to survive on the open plain - by walking and running for their lives. From the neck down we have inherited the body of our ancestor Homo erectus, who lived on the plains of Africa nearly two million years ago.

Finally Alice looks at probably the most important advance in our evolutionary story. A fortuitous by-product of standing up was freeing up our hands. With pressure-sensitive gloves, she demonstrates how the tiniest of anatomical tweaks to our thumbs and little fingers transformed hands that evolved to grasp branches into ones that could use tools. And with our dexterous hands, our species, Homo sapiens, would change the world.

The fossil cast at 08:40 in the Bones show is in fact KNM-ER 1813 rather than TM266-01-60-1. However, the information stated about the fossil Sahelanthropus is correct.

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  • Erratum

    The fossil cast at 08:40 in the Bones episode is in fact KNM-ER 1813 rather than TM266-01-60-1. However the information stated about the fossil Sahelanthropus is correct.

  • Interesting facts

    • Your bones are as strong as granite in supporting weight. A block the size of a matchbox can support 9 tonnes.

    • An adult has fewer bones than a baby. We start life with 350, but they fuse together as we grow and we end up with only 206.

    • You use 200 muscles with each step, but only 12 of these are in the leg.

    • The gluteus maximus is the largest and one of the strongest muscles in your body. It keeps the body erect and is the chief antigravity muscle that aids walking up stairs.

    • People in our ancient past may have run faster than Usain Bolt. 20,000 year old fossilised human footprints in Australia show a male was accelerating barefoot at 23 mph in mud. Bolt can reach 26 mph, but only briefly and on a running track wearing high-tech shoes.

    • The skin is your largest organ, with adults carrying about 4 kg and 2 square metres of it, covered by 4 million sweat glands producing about 500ml of sweat every day. Without skin you would literally evaporate.

    • There are more living organisms on your skin than there are humans on the surface of the Earth. Every square inch of skin has about 32 million bacteria on it.

  • BBC TV blog

    BBC TV blog

    Find out what Origins Of Us presenter Dr Alice Roberts discovered when she studied wild chimpanzees in the Ugandan forest: “they were all around us in the forest, and would often pass by very close, sometimes a metre or two away - which was both terrifying and exciting”

    Read Alice Roberts' full post on the BBC TV blog


Alice Roberts
Series Producer
Zoe Heron
Executive Producer
Sacha Baveystock
David Stewart
David Stewart


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