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Thursdays 25 January - 8 February 2007, 21.00-21.30

An exploration of the latest ideas and discoveries in the quest to understand the origins and evolution of humanity.

In the year 2000, zoologist Aubrey Manning presented a series of three programmes on human evolution for Radio 4. In the last seven years, palaeoanthropologists and archaeologists have made a host of stunning discoveries, many of which have defied expectations and overturned cherished theories.

The three programmes of Origins Revisited bring listeners up to date on the latest fossil finds and new ideas about human evolution.

Ron Clarke and the Sterkfontein hominid
Ron Clarke and the Sterkfontein hominid

Programme 1:

Aubrey meets the scientists investigating the first four to five million years of human evolution – from the point in time when our branch on the great ape family tree split from the chimp branch.

In the last few years, fossils of the first human ancestors to walk upright on two legs have been unearthed in Chad, Ethiopia and Kenya. This has pushed evidence for human origins beyond six million years ago.

A spectacular excavation has also been underway in South Africa, where Ron Clarke of the University of Witswatersrand is working on an historic fossil – the first complete skeleton of an Australopithecine.

This 3.3 million year old ancestor is a close relative of the famous Lucy creature. Its perfectly preserved hand is adding fresh insights about how our ancestors evolved the ability to make stone tools. 

Related links:
Human Origins at the Smithsonian
Fossil Hominds at Talkorigins
Tim White’s research in Middle Awash of Ethiopia
Daniel Lieberman

Listen again Listen again to programme 1

Programme 2:

In the field of human evolution, two particular places in the world have got origins researchers buzzing with excitement and new ideas.

The first is a wooded hilltop at site called Dmanisi in the Republic of Georgia. Here Georgian and American scientists have unearthed an unprecedented five complete skulls, numerous other bones and stone tools of early humans, from about 1.8 million years ago.

The other is a cave called Liang Bua on the Indonesian island of Flores – once home to the extraordinary miniature humans, popularly known as the Hobbits.

The finds at both have researchers rethinking the timing of one of the most significant events in human evolutionary history – our ancestors’ first move out of Africa to become a globe-trotting family.

Related links:

Leverhulme Centre for Human Evolutionary Studies
BBC News: 'Hobbit' human 'is a new species'

Listen again Listen again to programme 2

Programme 3:

Aubrey goes to Gibraltar in search of the Neanderthals.

New research from this corner of the Mediterranean suggests this big brained, heavy browed bruiser of a human species survived there until at least 28,000 years ago. Elsewhere in Europe, their fellows had disappeared, many millennia before.

Neanderthals had had Europe and west Asia to themselves for 300,000 years. Many researchers think it’s no coincidence that their disappearance happened at about same time as another equally large brained species of human spread across Europe. That species was us - Homo sapiens.

Did we somehow outsmart the Neanderthals into extinction? Or did we absorb them through interbreeding? Or did we manage to weather dramatic climate change at that time whereas the Neanderthals succumbed to the environmental tribulations.

Related links:

Human Origins at the Natural History Museum
Gibraltar Museum
Blombos Cave

Listen again Listen again to programme 3
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