« Previous | Main | Next »

Origins Of Us: Studying chimpanzees

Post categories:

Dr Alice Roberts Dr Alice Roberts | 15:39 UK time, Monday, 17 October 2011

Filming for Origins gave me the opportunity to do something I've never done before: to observe our closest cousins, chimpanzees, in the wild.

Earlier this year, on 5 March, I met up with a crew I knew very well - we'd filmed before on Incredible Human Journey - in Heathrow's Terminal Five.

We flew to Entebbe in Uganda, then drove some six hours to Kibale - the famous wild chimpanzee research station.

We arrived at the research station at dusk.

We were given a very serious health and safety induction which included: how to behave if a chimpanzee charged at you (stand up tall and wave your arms); how to behave if a forest elephant headed straight for you (stand aside); how to deal with army ants (don't stand on them).

The next day, we set off around 7am, walking into the forest, up a dirt track at first.

We were led by field guide Francis, who had worked at Kibale for 19 years.

On our team, assistant producer Mags Lightbody had been there in those early years, helping to habituate the chimpanzees to human presence.

Dr Alice Roberts with a chimpanzee

Dr Alice Roberts holds a chimpanzee at the Uganda Wildlife Education Center. Strict rules in the National Parks mean that no one ever touches a wild chimpanzee in Kibale.

Five field assistants came with us to help carry all our gear into the forest. We turned off the track, down a steep and narrow path.

The forest was dense but the paths were well-used - by animals but also researchers.

Still, there was some pushing through undergrowth and our porters carried machetes to clear awkward or dangerous branches.

The forest was wet and getting steadily warmer as the sun climbed higher above us.

I was getting steadily warmer as well, as we trekked up and down through a series of thickly forested ridges and valleys.

At the bottom of the valleys, we would find ourselves splashing through small streams, or almost getting mired in boggy patches, which had been made even boggier by elephants, their massive, round footprints forming deep puddles.

Climbing a steep slope, Francis paused and whooped loudly, and I heard an answering whoop not too far away.

He was calling to the field assistants who were already out in the forest, with the chimpanzees.

We were very close, and in fact, when he pointed to the top of a tall fig tree just over the crest of the hill, I could see movement amongst the leaves.

Leaving the porters and the bulk of our gear behind, we carried on, as a smaller team, and came across the four field assistants and postgraduate students, all armed with notebooks.

Six or seven chimpanzees were high in the tree, eating a breakfast of figs.

They lay in the crooks of forked branches, reaching out to pick the fruit, and occasionally moving to a new branch, with a rustle and a small shower of falling leaves.

After about half an hour, they started to come down from the tree, and then they were off, knuckle-walking at a fast pace through the forest, and we followed them at a discrete distance.

They didn't stay move as a group. They came down out of the tree singly, although little ones stayed close to their mothers, jumping onto their backs for a lift once on the ground.

They kept in touch with each other with occasional grunts and pant-hoots as they dispersed in the forest, but they also seemed to know where they were headed.

Francis said the fig tree was a favorite place to start the day, but they'd stop off at other trees throughout the day.

They liked eating fruit in the morning, and ate leaves on the ground in the afternoon.

There were about 1800 chimpanzees in the whole forest; the group we were tracking comprised around 50 chimps, but this was also broken up into smaller groups of 15 to 20.

And all the time, groups would be splitting and fusing, with individuals moving between groups - chimpanzee society is very dynamic.

As the chimpanzees moved between trees, 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.

Francis was very aware of where the chimpanzees were around us and would warn us - "There's someone over there," he would say.

The Kibale chimpanzees aren't hunted for bushmeat, and they're never fed by the researchers in the forest, so these chimpanzees viewed humans neither as a threat nor as a source of food.

Getting so close to the chimpanzees whilst they effectively ignored us was a huge privilege.

They were behaving naturally, just getting on with chimpanzee things, whilst we watched them.

Observing chimpanzees in this way is valuable and fascinating in its own right, but it also helps us understand ourselves.

We start to see where the real similarities and differences lie, we can identify the things about humans that are truly unique, when we compare ourselves with our ape cousins - with whom we have a common ancestor, going back some six to seven million years ago.

We had a good day's filming; cameraman Paul Jenkins was delighted that he'd been able to capture so much footage of the chimpanzees.

So, while it was still light, we started to head back to the research station.

We may only have been about a mile away from the compound, as the crow flies, but it took about an hour and a half to get in and out of the forest.

We were all happily tired at the end of the day, and settled down for a well-earned beer and a hot supper.

Going to bed early, I made sure that my mosquito net was safely tucked in under the mattress, and listened to the sounds of the forest again as I dropped off.

We'd be back in the forest again in the morning.

Dr Alice Roberts is the presenter of Origins Of Us.

Origins Of Us starts on BBC Two on Monday, 17 October at 9pm.

For further programme times, please visit the upcoming episodes page.

Comments made by writers on the BBC TV blog are their own opinions and not necessarily those of the BBC.


  • Comment number 1.

    I tried to watch this program and I couldn't. It started all wrong. What we need to know is where the apes came from i.e. the origin/beginning of things. Either scientists admit that they don't know, that God exists and he created the universe. Your version of human evolution is not going to repair the damage caused by scientists that black people are apes, the insults which you are aware of. You will still have to explain how the different races, languages came about, ended in specific places. Unfortunately contrary to scientific belief the bible answers this simply and clearly whereas science does not have a simple and straightforward explanation/starting point. Its all about fossils, dna, genes

  • Comment number 2.

    All white people in Africa came from Europe if they knew that they originated from the dark continent they would know it whereas the bible traces everybody clearly from Israel how they split up and ended up where they are now. I am not a religious fanatic but it makes sense to me and unless scientist offer something more believable I'm sticking by it. There are bound to be similarities between humans and animals but it does not mean that we came from them. I think scientists must despise the human race to think so low of them.

  • Comment number 3.

    Interesting to hear how the different parts of the body are different from those considered our nearest relative, so I felt I did learn something interesting and useful. However, I was disappointed, although not surprised, that the Aquatic Ape theory is ignored and simply covers the Savannah theory. Of course it is very difficult to cover all the questions we are likely to raise and there are so many different theories. Would like to see a programme covering some of the alternative theories though. As always, good try BBC!

  • Comment number 4.

    Lizzie I'm afraid the problem appears to be as you say: "I tried to watch this program and I couldn't."

    Lizzie, I would implore to actually watch a lot more of these programs - the cosmos, evolution of the earth, evolution/extinction of species on it. It's fascinating stuff and, most importantly, backed up by lots of evidence that makes it factual. So much evidence that it would be impossible to demonstrate it in just one one-hour documentary. It's far more inspiring than the evolution of an idea over 2,000-4,000 years that came from the minds of influential spiritual leaders / prophets - ideas that have been reshaped, segregated and contradicted themselves over that very short time in human history.

    Unfortunately none of this evolution evidence was available 2,000 years when humans became evermore inquisitive about the stars above, the world around them and how they came to be. They needed answers as much then as we do now but today the answers are far more convincing and proven. The most exciting part is we can always add to that and there's more yet to be learned.

  • Comment number 5.

    Now I’ve watched the programme. I do not mean to be disrespectful and have appreciated where science was presented as science however please allow me to express my problems in understanding. It seems that we started to run and therefore developed the necessary physical characteristics to run and because animals such as lions were around in our Savannah environment at the time we needed sweat glands so that we could endurance run so we developed sweat glands which enabled us to outrun the lions and so we survived (then why was Dr Roberts afraid as she walked in the Savannah?). Then we started to use tools so we developed thumbs that could grip - so that we could use tools. All this twisted logic and leaps of faith and way- out conclusions of what happened without even a hint of being able to explain the mechanism by which we made such changes take place! Would this not have involved impossibly dramatic changes in our DNA? The excuse that “it took millions of years” still does not explain the mechanism. Then we only saw a handful of remains - compared with the millions that should have been found by now exhibiting the claimed self-motivated gradual changes to our present form. Were it not so sad it would be comical. Some scientific answers please Dr Roberts, not pure conjecture – or be honest and humbly accept that we are fearfully and wonderfully made!
    Comment prior to watching:

    Whilst I enjoy the variety and general production quality of BBC science and nature programmes I feel it necessar,y in the interests of fair representation
    and truth, to comment on an underlying and unwarranted bias.

    Comment prior to screeing:
    As I write "Origins of Us" has not yet been screened but, based on the annotated picture of a skeleton on p39 of the radio times, I anticipate a continuation
    of the BBCs rigid support of those who, in the name of science, claim evolution as fact rather than as a theory.

    In the picture, similarities in skeletal structure are taken as reasons for jumping to massive conclusions. A time period of 2 million years
    since "our ancestors Homo erectus" is quoted. Since we have presumably found the remains of Homo erectus then presumably we have also dug up millions
    of remains which clearly prove that the gradual changes claimed to have taken place have indeed done so. If this is not the case, then presumably the possibility has been proven by
    scientific demonstration. If neither are true then it can only be claimed as a theory - and a very tenuous one at that!

    This bias is not without implications and hence responsibility. The theory of evolution ultimately leads to a lack of absolutes, moral chaos and a meaningless existence.
    It would appear that the BBC chooses to ignore that body in the scientific community which recognises that the beauty and complexity of nature are not the highly unlikely
    product of chance but point to a creator and hence the opportunity for finding true meaning in life.

    Are you willing to present the other side and recognise the right of licence holders to unbiased programming?

  • Comment number 6.

    I'm not an anthropologist, and I'm not a cynic. Maybe that's why this programme made me happy! Whether the science was correct, or whether a certain theory was given an adequate airing, for me was irrelevant. It revealed the fundamental beauty of our origins. Thank you, Dr Roberts!

  • Comment number 7.

    I have just checked the comments regarding "Origins of us." There are many mixed views and I am sorry, but I must add mine. In my own way I have also been researching the origins of us, but down a much different path. Dr Roberts did a very interesting and absorbing description of how we arrived to where we top the evolutionary scale. She rightly concentrated on the physical evidence, after all what else is there? My research however is about the intelligence factor, which preceded all that, which her programme was about. Without which the programme could not have been made. This takes us back to the very beginning and I have to ask myself: did it all happen randomly or was it designed from the very first life-form? I am referring to a natural source. If this is so, our inheritance is mind boggling! The Reality That Will Explain The Whole!

  • Comment number 8.

    A great programme, beautifully photographed! It's a shame that some people find the idea of evolution so threatening - I think it's a beautiful thing! So much diversity of life. There are lots of interesting debates to be had, though. I too am always a little disappointed that the role of water is often overlooked in human evolution, although I do think the full blown aquatic ape hypothesis has some serious flaws - the early appearance of bipedalism in ape species that had no clear association with water, for example. But, wading is often overlooked as one possible motivator and selection pressure for upright gait - might confer a significant advantage if fish became an important source of food. Also, it seems unlikely that we would evolve sweating as a means of cooling unless we had a plentiful supply of water. Fascinating questions - can't wait for next week's episode :-)

  • Comment number 9.

    Interesting point LizF (re: "it seems unlikely that we would evolve sweating as a means of cooling unless we had a plentiful supply of water.")
    ...though the African landscape was very different 1-4 million years ago and there was a lot more water/river supplies then. But as you rightly say they would have needed water to sweat, well if this water dried up (which it did in many areas) they would have needed to move out of those dried lands (which they did)...and spread to asia and europe they did but only in the last 100,000 years i believe

  • Comment number 10.

    An interesting program and some very amusing comments. If people like Lizzie and Alan have such little minds as to need a creator to feel comfortable with life, then as long as they dont use that as a reason to hurt others I say leave them off. None of us can escape our own minds and if we need a crutch to get through the day so be it. That said, I'm not 100% on the side of Dawkins and his self proclaimed big brained lot either (and only partly because of his appalling public personality), I mean if your willing to believe in a creator, then you could believe she made the world 5 minutes ago, fossils in the ground and memories in our head. (although I wish she hadnt created me with this shoulder pain that is keeping me up if thats the case). If she did create the world on Sunday 24 October 4004BC (happy birthday world!) then she put some serious interesting messages in the ground for us to work out. Generally I think science V religion is a very poorly formed debate. Sells a lot of books though.
    Anyway, Alice if you do read down this far, there was a serious point I've always thought of whenever people talked about what marked humans out as special. As a heating and lighting engineer, I would naturally think that using fire was the big break through for us. I mean if beavers became the number one species they would point to their dam building history and say it was their teeth that marked them out. In fact nature seems full of creatures using things in a cleaver way. But only one creature made use of fire and thus opened their up some many new environments to develop into. Is there some chemical process in the brain that suppresses our fear of fire? If so how did this evolve?

  • Comment number 11.

    Well, that was my fist blog and this is my second. It is amazing what conclusions were jumped to about the size of my mind and my religious beliefs! I only ask for some serious consideration of the points I made on a scientific basis. By the way on entering this blog I was intersted to note that the caption under the picture reads ""How our bottoms are DESIGNED for running".

  • Comment number 12.

    In response to Tim - I fully acknowledge that the programme was enjoyable based on its production quality, lovely scenes and the very pretty Dr Roberts for whom I have the greatest respect as a person – but surely truth also matters . An analogy might help. Once there was a van carrying small tins of oil paint and it crashed, accidentally and the paint tins fell off and broke open and you arrive at the scene and there you see a very beautiful painting. Would you come to the conclusion that all that paint had somehow fallen precisely so as to create the painting? – just possibly. Would it matter to you how it got there? Perhaps not - from the point of view of your being able to enjoy it. Then suppose, whilst you are absorbed in admiring the painting someone, by the name of Rembrandt, tapped you on the shoulder and said are you enjoying my painting? Would it matter to the artist? Would the artist matter to you? How much more complex is the human body than a painting! Once I too was blind and could not see but the artist tapped me on the shoulder - may He do so to you and to Dr Roberts and to all who partake in this modern pastime of blogging - then what joy there would be in knowing the "artist".

  • Comment number 13.

    As the implausibility of our ancestors running around the Savannah at breakneck speed has been alluded to by (Alan 17/10) may I make the following point? The clip of Doctor Roberts running in the heat started with her wisely covering herself in “Blocker” I believe. If that were the case then unless our primitive ancestors had access to similar products our species would have surely died out there on the Savannah, would they not?

  • Comment number 14.

    Davsut, did you not watch the program? Doctor Roberts is not what you would call a typical specimen of Homo Erectus from over a million years ago(nor our ancestors further back from the African continent). Homo Sapiens (i.e. us humans with physical characteristics like us) have been around for 200,000 years. As is evident those that moved out to the Asian and European continents in that time have developed different superficial characteristics.

    Up to 30,000 years ago there was even a completely different species to us, Neanderthals whose bones have been found all across Europe. It seems they died out as our Homo Sapiens spread across Europe 30,000-60,000 years ago

    As for humans outrunning lions, that's not what was being demonstrated. There are many animals that share lands with lions in Africa today that have found the skills to survive and thrive. In a head-to-head situation they wouldn't stand a chance, nor would we. One of our ancestors key advantages that was being demonstrated is the ability not to outsprint them but to run for long distances...thereby when you see a threat in the distance(another survival advantage of standing on two legs) you can get running and keep running.

  • Comment number 15.

    Amongst religions, Christianity seems to have a special problem with science in general, and evolution in particular. I was fascinated to find this quote from an 18th century Muslim scholar, Ibrahim Hakki Erzurumi; "between plants and animals there is sponge and between animals and humans there is monkey". Darwin may have been a little late :-) BTW, I'm an atheist so have no axe to grind!

  • Comment number 16.

    i was dissapointed with this programme,it seem to me that the big questions were just ignored and twee pictures of chimps were shown instead,i.e mammals are the only creatures with hair and i think that the way our sweat glands were just barely mentioned astonishing,the human sweat gland is a wonder,every hair on our body has one and they all have a 17 components to work,how did these evolve?i know that the soft tissue from our ancestors will never be known but the way this programme skipped this and other vital things was in my view a let down

  • Comment number 17.

    I watched this program last night and quite frankly I was extremely disappointed. I have never heard so many "if's", "Buts", "Maybe", "Could Have", "probably", "We Think", “almost certainly” and perhaps in a factual program. an then mixed with "Not a Shadow of Doubt" The program has done very little for the theory of evolution.

    As usually with these evolutionary programs nothing mentioned about biogenesis or the unproven abiogenesis. That is that life has only ever been see to be created by life and despite decades of research no one has ever been able to create life from non-life, an absolute must for evolution to be faceable.

    There is a section showing the most important skull ever found as it showed when man started to walk upright as the spinal cord came out of the base of the skull and not the back. Just one skull. I have a friend who was severely deformed at birth whose spinal cord comes out of the back of his skull like a monkeys. If they dig up his skull in a million years’ time will the say that we all walked on all fours.

    They found the next very important skeleton of a 3 foot girls and said that she walked upright as could be seen by the joints of the bones in the ankle because it had a square shape. Only one foot was present on the skeleton and I cannot recall seeing a skull. Once again my friends ankles are very similar to a monkeys allowing him to walk on all fours comfortable. If they find his bones they will almost certainly conclude that we walked on all fours.

    Lastly, not a shred of evidence. No details as to how they dated the bones, no transitional fossils, no direct link between ape and man. Complete assumptions. No mention of the Cambrian explosion, a monumental episode in fosil records. Nothing mention about the extinction of Homo Erectus long before the appearance of modern man.

    So many questions that were simply not answered or even mentioned. Evolution is still very questionable despite the fact that our government allows it to be taught in our schools. This program has shown just how volatile evolution is and has done more for Darwinian objectors than anything that I have seen. Sorry, but if I watch next week it will be to see if the same charade takes place.

  • Comment number 18.

    Our ancestors became bipedal due to plummeting temperatures with climate change - apes walk upright in snow as they don't like their 'hands' getting cold. See last winter's You Tube of Gorilla walking in snow at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YXHQNKABKs8

  • Comment number 19.

    Sorry Alan, but anyone who comes out the the type of tripe you do deserves to be called small minded, because you obviously haven't read very much of worth and you are so insecure about not having a god to believe in. "The theory of evolution ultimately leads to a lack of absolutes, moral chaos and a meaningless existence." is a quote from someone who has never read a book on humanist values. If you want to seriously question science then at least understand it. Science (and the maths it is based on) do not prove things right. They prove them 'wrong' and 'not yet proven to be wrong'. There are no truths in science. Look up Godel's incomplete theorem if you doubt me. If you want to make a serious argument for religion, dont go spouting rubbish about beauty you can see and no-one else can. Science has produced some of the most wonderfully beautiful things in existence. Had Rembrandt or deVinci been alive they (of all the artists) would have been scientists as their art is rational and very mathematical. Instinctive artists, such as Titian or Monet, would still have been artists. If you want to develop an argument for religion worth putting forward read the work of William James. Some of the most interesting, intelligent and challenging people I know are religiously minded. I'm not running you down because of that, I running you down because ... never mind. Not worth the hassle.

  • Comment number 20.

    I don't think you are being honest here. Science, what is it? It is man's interpretation as to how our planet and universe works. Science holds no certianties it uses hypothesis to determine the answers to problems. It then makes tests, collects information and then analysis it. It then does it all again to insure that the result are what they should be. If they are not then it changes the hypothesis. For some reason over the last few centuries science has decided to turn it's attentions on what happened in the past, something that it is ill equipped to do. Nothing that was shown on this documentary is testable. Absolutely nothing. Unless you can observe a transition from one species to another you have nothing. Unless you can replicate such a transition, test it and measure it you have nothing. That is the fundamental nature of science, consequently, evolution is not a science. At best it is educated guesses. Religion is irrelevant to the documentary. This is man overstepping the mark and forcing a falsehood to be the truth. The sad part is that parents are allowing guess work to be taught as fact to their children.

    The program did nothing to convince me that my ancestors were monkeys. This girl said that 99% of a chimps DNA is the same as our. What does that mean. A bananas DNA is 67% the same as ours. Have we defended from a banana? Take a ford cortina and a ford corsiar. Many of the parts are interchangeable as am intelligent designer used the same parts on both vehicles. Would you say that the corsair evolved from the cortina. No of course not they are separate models but both are cars. The documentary made a poor job of convincing the audience that we evolved from apes. I suspect that there will be some cartwheeling going on in the creationist movement after watching that

  • Comment number 21.

    Since the beginning of time, humans have searched for answers. Where do we come from and how did we get here? Anthropological study, the theory of evolution, explanations of how humans could continue to learn about our beginnings. To try and say that evolution can be easily attacked without religion is just a front.

    Organization does not mean that there must be an organizer any more than a correlation doesn't prove causation. In the game of randomness, all scenarios are given equal weight, and just like you find the image of Jesus on a slice of bread, you can find something else which appears structured in a random world. I have met so many people in West Valley Detention Center who learn to believe creationism because that's how inmates deal with their life's perils. We on the outside have a better chance to sort out why our DNA is similar to a banana without blindly accepting it.

    That isn't an argument for evolution, but the argument against is worse. Evolution pretty well explains small adaptations and adjustments in a species as the years go by. As far as going from one species to another, no theory is fail safe there, certainly not creationism too. Keeping an open mind and searching for the answer is the best we can do.

    Let's also not forget that science isn't all about theories. It's about proving them too. That's what the scientific method leads you to, a proof of a hypothesis.

  • Comment number 22.

    I am sorry to tell you that science is all about theories. That is exactly what it is. When it is proven it then becomes technology. Antibiotics is no longer a science. It is a proven fact and is now a commodity. It took science to discover it. The theory of an intelligent Designer using DNA from a living organism to create another living organism is a scientific theory. It can be replicated and tested and retested giving the same results. The is only one variable missing, the intelligent designer so it remains a theory.

    Of course you cannot mix evolution with religion. They contradict each other.

    You do also realise the most religions believe in a creation which makes them creationists. It is not a religion it is a belief in a litral creation

  • Comment number 23.

    I also forgot to mention. The adaption you speak of is microevolution which is a fact proven by science. Macroevolution, on the other hand, has no evidence to substantiate the hypothesis. Transition from an ape onto a human is macroevolution and contrary to what this lady says there is no definitive proof for it. I am not religious I just don't like to see falsehoods force on society as the truth. It is better to say we could have evolved from apes as we could but to say we did as though it is fact is dishonest.

  • Comment number 24.

    What an interesting and illuminating programme, carefully and clearly presented. Well done BBC and Dr Roberts.

    Curiosity about where we came from and how we fit into our world seems to me to describe quite nicely the ancient texts that are being blamed for closing other viewers' eyes and minds to the evidence. Keep using the big brains, and (if you've grown up in the UK) be cautious about lions.

  • Comment number 25.

    Excellent programme! Exactly the reason why I pay my licence fee! However I am bit disappointed by the quality of the debate from the Creationists - reactionary and derivative...as a teacher I would say "5/10 - could do better".

    Anyway, I feel that standing up on branches to reach fruit is not the reason for longer leg bones...I'd like to see if the evidence supports that.

    I feel that climate change is the driving factor for evolutionary change: forest becoming savanna requires a different skillset for survival. In that environment there is a need to see long distances, view potential predators/leadership challengers etc.

    Savannas are often covered in long golden wheat like grass (Maasai Mara/Serengeti ecosystems) and so standing upright/longer legs would certainly by an evolutionary adaption that gave survival/reproductive advantage.

  • Comment number 26.

    As there appears to be a block on the number of words I am posting this in two parts. Part 1

    Here are some questions. If these questions can be answered convincingly by present mainstream theory then I would find it compelling, but I doubt they can be.

    Why do we humans use only about 10% of our massively supercharged brains, yet savants can somehow access parts of the remaining 90%? I realise the exact figure is open to dispute but there is vast untapped power in the brain.

    Why is our skin is so poorly adapted to the amount of sunlight striking Earth?

    Why are we are so physically weak compared to our closest genetic relatives?

    Why cannot megalithic structures like the Pyramids and others all round the world be duplicated today?

    How could the ancient Sumerians know Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto existed when we discovered Uranus only in 1781, Neptune in 1846, and Pluto in 1930?

  • Comment number 27.

    Part 2
    Why do humans have a gene pool with over 4000 genetic defects, while our closest genetic relatives, chimps and gorillas, have very few?

    As we share a common ancestor as the apes why is it, given that we do far more walking than they do, that we adopted a less efficient way of walking?

    Why is the human genome clock only about 200,000 years old but anthropologists insist we descend from creatures 6.0 million years old?

    Why do humans in no way resemble those ancient so-called “pre”-humans?

    Why do humans have 46 chromosomes while our closest genetic relatives (sharing over 95% of our DNA) total 48?

    Why did homo sapiens appear along with all his domesticated crops and animals over night in evolutionary terms?

    Why did homo sapiens first appear in South Africa?

    I find this far more compelling because it can answer all the questions and many more without resorting to a supernatural god. https://www.lloydpye.com/essay_interventiontheory.htm

  • Comment number 28.

    Alan - I can answer your questions.

    1) Tools were made and tools were used. Then our thumb lengthened to make using to tools easier. Not having a long thumb does not prevent the invention and use of tools. This was implicit in the programme.

    2) No we didn't become endurance runners to outrun lions, and this is patently obvious because we can't outrun lions. So you've completely misunderstood what was being said. What Dr Roberts specifically said is that we can chase any animal on earth in the hot mid-day african sun until it keels over from exhaustion. This is how some tribes still hunt today. However some animals, like lions, wouldn't run would they? Think about it, they have big claws and big teeth - it is far easier for them to attack us rather than run away. In fact the only mention of lions in the programme wasn't to with this point that you've mixed it up with.

  • Comment number 29.

    I was surprised how much I enjoyed this programme. To see the evidence to back up explanations was fascinating - for example, the adaption of bones for walking rather then climbing. The segment explaining our adaption to hunting in the mid-day sun of the savannah presented the idea very clearly - one of those "now you've explained it, it seems obvious" moments. I'm surprised some commenters found this hard to follow, but I'm glad the programme didn't pitch itself at the lowest common denominator like so many science programmes like Horizon do these days. I'm looking forward to the next episode.

  • Comment number 30.

    Well I am really glad to know that I did not start life swinging from a tree. That I am fearfully and wonderfully made. If the question is do I believe that there is a creator you bet your life I do! Its so great to know that I was created and did not evolve.

  • Comment number 31.

    In looking at further contributions to this blog it is encouraging to see that not all support the theory of evolution – based, as it was presented, on a scientific basis. There does however seem to be a common thread of connecting a creationist view with religion and that religion and science should not be connected to which I’d like to respond. I have not, I believe, appealed to science in the true sense of the word, in support of creationism – whereas the programme presented evolution as being based on science. In terms of a connection with religion I think there is a connection in both views.
    The major role of science has been, and is, the use of our abilities to examine and observe what exists. The results of scientific investigation be it medical, industrial etc. is to use the knowledge gained to manipulate what is there to our advantage.
    As the more scientific contributors have said science involves observation and the formulation and testing of hypotheses. Further I would say it generally requires the reproduction of experiments to prove the hypotheses under laboratory conditions. Since this has not been, and I submit cannot, in view of the time periods quoted, be applied to proving the theory of evolution it therefore remains a theory. There is therefore a need to believe that which cannot be proven which we may call “faith”. If we take it further and acknowledge that what we believe influences what we do then we may say it is a “religion”.
    So, in reality the evolutionist and creationist, are on level ground – science cannot be appealed to and both need faith and involve religion.
    So we may resort to partial science i.e. observation and the examination of evidence.
    In terms of belief in creation it is based partly on the evidence of the extraordinary complexity and beauty of creation – only one part being the human body – which would be remarkable if there were nothing else. In addition we have the progress of scientific discovery (since Darwin’s very primitive understanding), including the discovery of DNA - the most complex code in the world. We may mention irreducible complexity – an organ such as the eye which depends on all parts being present in order to function – why and how would a retina develop without a lens and vice versa.
    In terms of evolution, I submit that the evidence is not very convincing – relatively few bones (considering the time elapsed since Darwin) whereas there should be millions of remains of intermediate species and of development within species. No explanation of the mechanism by which major change takes place – only an appeal to millions of years for a possible process to happen. In fact belief has to override the science of mathematics since, in statistics, it is generally accepted that a statistically highly unlikely event will not take place. In evolution theory not just one, but an immeasurable number of highly unlikely events, would be necessary firstly to initiate life and then to produce the variety we see today.
    Why then this tenacious belief in the theory of evolution despite the increasing evidence against it? Well, as I am aware that logic is not sufficient, I appeal to the most trustworthy evidence, not mentioned so far, - the Bible, which contains the creation account and the answer to that question. Just read it!
    No doubt that will initiate a condemnatory response from those who have bigger brains and are very broad minded, except when it comes to the Bible (but have never read it!) – but it’s worth the hassle because who knows what the final outcome may be :)

  • Comment number 32.

    digressing from the human evolution debate, meet the giraffe, a wonderful example of evolution (or very bad intelligent design!):

    Very interesting stuff!

  • Comment number 33.

    Post 31. Alan

    Genesis in the Bible is a confused and condensed account of the original creation story told on Sumerian clay tablets which never mentioned a supernatural God creator.

    The Sumerians never referred to God, capital G. They referred to gods, small g. They called them the Annunaki (people who from heaven to earth did come). They knew that these people were flesh and blood beings from another world. In fact they freely intermingled, has sex with them, and on occasions married them producing hybrid demi-gods who were sterile.

    Genesis does give an indication in
    6:1 And it came to pass, when men began to multiply on the face of the earth, and daughters were born unto them, 6:2 That the sons of God saw the daughters of men that they were fair; and they took them wives of all which they chose.

    They had been created in the image of the gods by a process we know today as genetic engineering and invitro -fertilisation using sperm from hominoids and implanting the eggs in Annunaki females known as birth goddesses. They were initially created as slave labour to carry out mining and farming operations and all were initially sterile. The best hominoid candidate is the Alma of the Tibet region which researchers are 95% certain they have traced. This critter is our real ancestor.

    Transitional fossils showing man gradually developing a pronounced forehead with a larger brain have not been found because there are none. Homo sapiens appeared over night in evolutionary terms together with his domesticated crops and animals because they were all genetically engineered. The writers of Genesis attributed this to a supernatural god because they had lost the knowledge of the Sumerians.

    The Sumerians introduced to the world, art, music, literature, science, astronomy, mathematics, writing, high rise buildings, geometry, law, the principles of printing etc. They knew how the our solar system was formed, the number and composition of the planets and how our earth occupies its present position close to the sun. They knew about the asteroid belt and the appearance of the outer planets before we rediscovered them. In fact their writings allowed Zechariah Sitchin to announce on TV that Uranus and Neptune would look watery and blue/green before Voyager sent back pictures.

    They could not have obtained all this sophistication within such a short period of time or gained knowledge of our solar system unless someone with advanced technology had told ‘em.

  • Comment number 34.

    I love these programmes and think Dr Roberts presents in a clear and defined way, in particular she is audibly clear. So many presenters speak in muffled tones. However, and it's a Big However... Why, after listening and watching to programmes such as the 'Origins of Us, am I left thinking that there is a wealth of material omitted. I often believe that many or most of the questions or unanswerable aspects and threads are disregarded and this in the interest of a 'smooth running programme' that is a functional-fit and will keep the Presenter as 'on top of their game'. Thus only material that is neatly tied together is presented. I can't help thinking that the material,research,questions and subject-specific considerations which are left out from a production would make a riveting and thought provoking programme. After all, this is what such programmes aim to do,otherwise there is no point to them.

    The music is brilliant.

    How about it BBC. A programme focusing on the omitted material!!!.

  • Comment number 35.

    Thank you, Dr. Alice Roberts, for so beautifully presenting this fascinating series in which the origins of Homo sapiens, their ancestral species and their relatives are mapped through time. The links to key adaptations which have helped them survive in challenging environments is fascinating, including the difference between climbers and upright species. The jigsaw of evolutionary events over several million years has been beautifully presented with sound supporting scientific evidence including the fascinating differences in anatomy between different hominin species. This is a real gem of a series and the truth about our origins is such a pleasure to learn about with the support of so many skilled and dedicated scientists seeking the truth about our origins and their place in history. This is such an important chapter in becoming more enlightened about our place in the history of life on Planet Earth! Brilliant work BBC in gracing our TVs with this wonderful series and for the choice of such a knowledgeable, enthusiastic and skilled presenter!

  • Comment number 36.

    Roz 01 message 34

    You have a point. There are claims that orthodoxy tends to ignore and marginalize, even suppress, discoveries that don’t fit their theories.

    I wonder what Alice Roberts and her team would make of this?


    No genetic trace on the male side! Probably not connected with the Sumerian gods because they were said to be like us only quite a bit bigger, or rather we like them, but the evidence so far gathered from DNA analysis is already very compelling. A full genome recovery is anticipated to be conclusive. My guess is that they will be connected to the little grey fellows prevalent in encounters of the third kind so popular with sci-fi writers.

    If the genome is conclusive it won’t prove the Sumerian stories as true but it will prove that we have been visited and probably that genetic manipulation has been going on quite recently, for a purpose unknown.

    I wish that someone would arrange a meeting where the traditional Darwinists could go head to head in a debate with someone like Pye about these alternative theories. That really would be interesting. No point in involving Creationists because you can’t prove or disprove any supernatural god claims.

    Pity no one has thought to do a DNA test on some of the more extreme cone heads found throughout the world. These may turn out to be all be down to head bandaging but why not find out? That would also make for a very interesting programme.

  • Comment number 37.

    I watched this programme with interest but was disappointed to find no mention of the Aquatic Ape theory. Our nakedness and our bipedalism, for instance, are inadequately explained by the taking-to-the-savannah theory. It would have added immensely to the debate if Elaine Morgan (The Descent of Woman) had been interviewed for the programme.

  • Comment number 38.

    Really enjoyed this show, including the fact that it was pitched toward a reasonably educated audience. Unfortunately that seems to have left a few of the commenters on here struggling to keep up with its actual content.

    I though that it did a good job of presenting the relevant scientific evidence that related to the theme of the show - i.e. what our bones tell us about our evolution from pre-human to human.

    It saddened me to see some people on here reacting against it out of utter misunderstanding and superstition.

    It is not the job of science programs to humour the religiously deluded by giving any weight to or wasting any time on the fairy stories that they and their religious leaders want to perpetuate.

    One of the most concise and eloquent rebuttals of creationism I have ever encountered is the simple one-panel cartoon at this link: https://saintgasoline.com/2007/07/09/wheel-of-misfortune

    Even if we accept that the fossil evidence for evolution isn't 100% (the fossilisation process is such that it would actually be extremely rare for them to be formed, so lacunae are hardly surprising), there are these things called genes which have pretty much made the case, for anyone who has the desire for overwhelming evidence. (As an aside, it always make me chuckle that creationists deride evolution as not being 100% proven whilst asking us to believe instead in something for which there is absolutely no evidence whatsoever)

    I don't know where we actually came from in the first place (i.e. how life, the universe and everything came to be). The big bang theory takes a good bit of swallowing and I can't pretend to genuinely understand it. I'm happy to just admit I don't know and that we most likely never will.

    However, there is no need to posit a magic man in the sky who made everything, even if the occasional imaginative leap is required in many a scientific theory.

    Good work Alice et al. Looking forward to watching the next episode.

  • Comment number 39.

    Great stuff, and the presenter is so beautiful

  • Comment number 40.

    I have been trying to explain to my friends at work the experiment that Alice carried out regarding the theory on why we cook food - the part with the carrots!

    Could you provide a brief explanation of what happend as they think I am talking rubbish!!


  • Comment number 41.

    Congratulations, Dr Roberts, on a very intersesting and thought-provoking programme, clearly and slowly explaining human evoluution. Not the full picture, of course: you can't pack everything into a series like this.

    I don't want to get into the Creationist-Evolutionist debate here (it would be endless), except to say that I was once a Creationist, but having closely studied Genesis I really can't see how science can be based on it. (I'll come back to this later of anyone's interested).
    What I want to ask you, Dr Roberts, is to clarify something about human evolution. On the basis of the classic Darwinist model, I understand that the evolutuon of any organism is the result of genetic mutation acted on by natural selection. For example, a particular ape develops amylase in its saliva, which enables it to digest starch, and this helps it to diversify its diet, thus increasing its chances of survival. Its offspring inherit the amylase gene and so this characteristic gradually spreads throughout the population. But the script of programme didn't explain it this way. Dr Roberts, you seemed to be saying that early hominids started eating tubers and thus (as a result) developed saliva cotaining amylase. Similarly, you seemed to be saying that by eating meat we developed sharper teeth, and by behaving in various novel ways (e.g. running, making tools) we developed certain anatomical characteristics. This is surely putting the cart before the horse. Could you clarify? Thank you!

  • Comment number 42.

    It makes me laugh thinking about Darwin's ideas. Has anybody from this sirious scientist thinking about how the recombined DNA can exist? Does anybody really eat up this tale about the fortunate electric shock in to the warm sea of ammonias what suddenly created such a sofisticated information system. I want to believe. :-)

    What if you people are souls? What if two or more atoms will never think that "I am"?
    What if they have never seen thoughts in those photos just like thermo scans of a running processor these show electric flows in a hardware called brain? What if there is no evolution - by the way why should it be? Why an atom or two would want to move together toward showing higher survival potential? Why people cannot see from their eyes the existence of life? Peace.

  • Comment number 43.

    I was simply appalled that someone who calls herself an anthropologist could conflate evolution with a notion that there is such a thing as cultural evolution. First year undergraduates are disabused of this 19th century myth. I refer of course to dr. Robert's presentation of a group she visited as some sort of prehistoric survival, living at the edge of civilisation, clinging on and spending their whole time hunting and foraging. Need I say any more? It was depressing in the extreme to see the BBC pedalling the same nonsense that was not even forgiveable a century ago.

  • Comment number 44.

    I am enjoying this series immensley. Watch first two episodes so far and am looking forward to the third.
    One aspect I find particularly exiting is the great advances that are being made with the aid of modern technology. For example the animated 3D graphs of Alice's gloved hand with pressure sensors revealing the importance of the enlarged thumb for using tools.
    I think the scientists are doing a great job in piecing together the past with clues like this.
    BTW evolution is no less a fact than that of the case that Earth orbits the Sun. The evidence is overwhelming. Only religious prejudice continues to doubt it.

  • Comment number 45.

    Hey Alice, my daughter wants to marry a chimpanzee. Should I tell her
    a) No, you shouldn't marry your cousin
    b) No, think how the hairy kids will get bullied in school
    c) No way, first sign of a row and he'll rip your face off
    d) No dear, he'll never get a job
    e) Look I've told you, stop anthropomorphizing!
    Whatcha think Doc?

  • Comment number 46.

    As the series producer for Origins Of Us, I would like to thank everyone for taking the time to post your comments. The content of the programme has clearly ignited a lot of interest. Human evolution is an area of much debate, even within scientific circles, and we worked hard to present some of the best respected scientific research and thinking that has emerged in the last few years.

    There have been some really interesting points raised.

    #8 LizF and #37 Linderella both asked why we didn't include the aquatic ape hypothesis. It is an interesting idea, but whilst the theory is well known in the popular science literature, it's not one that has much support amongst physical anthropologists. There's an interesting critique in the Journal of Human evolution: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0047248497901469

    #10 Tangoruffian is spot on that the use of fire was a major breakthrough - the ability to cook food opened up a whole new range of foodstuffs and increased the calorific value of food. But as far as I'm aware there is no specific mechanism to suppress the fear of fire - apart from the cognitive ability to control it.

    #25 Bundu you are right that standing up to reach branches isn't going to make an animals legs longer. The theory (based on the work of Robin Crompton on brachiation in orangutans: (https://www.sciencemag.org/content/316/5829/1328.abstract%29 is that reaching branchings is purely about an upright posture. Longer legs are thought to be an adaptation to walking - longer legs are more energetically efficient - and there's little doubt in scientific circles that a changing climate and more variable habitat were crucial factors in the evolution of walking.

    #40 Justin Cannon asked about Alice and the carrots... Alice did a simple test - eating half a days worth of calories in carrots, first raw and then cooked - to illustrate the wealth of research that is underway in both animals and humans on the energetics of eating raw versus cooked food. What scientists have found is that although cooking doesn't alter that calorie content of food, the net energy gain from cooked food is greater - up to 30% greater (depending on food type). This is because cooked food is easier to digest, so you spend less energy breaking it down.

    #41 David Monkcom thank you for your kind comments. Apologies that there was lack of clarity about the increase in salivary amylase in the homo genus. As you know, the work is looking at how our diets have changed since our ancestors left the forests, by comparing our salivary amylase with that of chimpanzees. Both chimps and humans have salivary amylase - it's simply that humans have 6-8 time more. This is due to a simple mutation that has led to multiple copies of the amylase gene, that then spread throughout the ancestral human population. There must have been a significant advantage in human evolutionary history to digesting starch - and the current thinking is that is related to tubers.

    #43 AJ the Hadza are a modern human population. What makes them of interest to anthropologists is purely that they are living in the same environment and on the same foodstuffs as early hominin populations. It's thought that the way this affects their society may tell us how it affected the society of earlier hominin people.

    #7 Derek - there's no doubt that human intelligence is a critical factor in the success of our species, and I hope you enjoy tonight’s programme looking at the evolution of our large brain.

    Finally thank you # 6 Tim, #29 sanity, #24JGAR, #35 Shandchem, #38 Stu, #39 hguillemain, #44 PSH for all your kind comments - I'm glad you've enjoyed the series so far - and that you enjoy the final episode tonight!

  • Comment number 47.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 48.

    This wasn't high on my priority to watch - don't know why - but I'm so glad I did. Now watched the first 3 episodes and I have to conclude that this series totally kicks butt! Human evolution and evolutionary psychology are fascinating subjects and its good to see some of the latest ideas in such an accessible series. Alice Roberts explanations are exceptionally clear and along with her pleasant and distinctive voice makes a great narrator. The music is good as are the graphics. Top stuff!!

  • Comment number 49.

    Such a refreshing look on human evolution. I wished there were more episodes to watch. I have taken the lesson to look at my body in a different way, and yes maybe to appreciate it a little bit more as it carries that much history with it.

    Dr. Alice Roberts wins you over with her enthousiam and eloquence about the subject and the overal look and feel of the series feels to me like everyone in the team shared the same passion. Well done.

    Furthermore, to all my fellow posters; I guessed that if the programme engaged you to think in a new way, either about our evolution or maybe how you use your body, no matter what your beliefs are, then please agree to congratulate the makers. Being able to think about this is also an attribute that makes us all human.

    If there is anywhere I can contribute to help you guys win awards/ vote etc etc, please do not forget to post where!

  • Comment number 50.

    Thank you for all the interesting ideas and feedback. Series Producer Zoe Heron has already responded to many of the comments here, but I'd like to respond personally in relation to a few subjects.

    #3 We didn't just cover the savannah theory; in fact, we presented this as one of the alternatives but spent more time discussing Rick Potts' 'variable selection hypothesis', as well as mentioning new research on the possible origins of bipedalism in an arboreal context. The 'Aquatic Ape' doesn't stand up to scrutiny, as I think most researchers in this area would agree, despite popular enthusiasm. More on this in a short essay on my Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/topic.php?uid=116907601691195&topic=169

    #5 I don't want to get into creationist debates; I'm a scientist and this was a science series. In response to specific comments, though - of course evolution is a theory, and it's the theory which best fits the evidence. "Some scientific answers please Dr Roberts, not pure conjecture" - I object to this. None of the content was conjecture - unless absolutely, explicitly stated. The series is based on current research, published in peer-reviewed journals. I have listed just of few of the relevant references on this Facebook page:
    "Since we have presumably found the remains of Homo erectus then presumably we have also dug up millions of remains which clearly prove that the gradual changes claimed to have taken place have indeed done so. If this is not the case, then presumably the possibility has been proven by scientific demonstration. If neither are true then it can only be claimed as a theory - and a very tenuous one at that!" Whilst we not have millions of fossils, we have plenty of specimens of H erectus, and later species such as H antecessor, H heidelbergensis, H neanderthalensis and early H sapiens that show exactly the changes you allude to.

    #13 As a pale-skinned European, it would be foolish for me not to use sunscreen in Africa. Skin colour maps well onto latitude; it is likely that our ancient African ancestors had dark skin.

    #43 "I was simply appalled that someone who calls herself an anthropologist could conflate evolution with a notion that there is such a thing as cultural evolution." I think a PhD in physical anthropology means that I'm not misleading anyone by calling myself an anthropologist.
    Last year, the Royal Society saw fit to schedule an entire day of talks by leading researchers entitled 'Culture Evolves': https://royalsociety.org/events/2010/culture-evolves/
    I visited the Hadza group to talk to modern people who are subsisting by hunting and gathering. I did not suggest that the Hadza could be viewed as a model for human ancestors, merely that we might learn something from this comparative cultural anthropological approach, especially in the context of food provision.

  • Comment number 51.

    People should be aware that science does not claim to have definitive absolute answers to questions such as "are we descended from apes?". Without a time machine it is impossible to be 100% sure about any events in prehistory. All we can do is form the best explanation for the evidence we see around us today. Theories are constantly changing and being refined when new ideas or evidence arise - this is why science is so exciting!
    I felt that the series raised some interesting topics for debate, I especially found the information about neanderthals fascinating. I would be interested to learn exactly how much DNA we share with them, and whether the proportion of neanderthal DNA varies in different parts of the world. I'm sure we all know someone who looks like they have a fair amount!
    I read an article a while ago about a 24,000 year old burial of a child that appeared to have both human and neanderthal traits (at the Lagar Velho site in Portugal). If interbreeding was fairly common, could it be possible that modern humans are a hybrid species of Cro Magnon man and neanderthals?
    This would make neanderthals part of the same species, but a different race, as only members of the same species interbreed naturally. You could make a TV series about this topic alone!
    Overall, a thought-provoking series, at a time when few of these exist.

  • Comment number 52.

    The Dr presented her own opinion on the fossil remains as if it were fact (see episode 1). She would say things like "We now know x, y and z", whereas a good scientist would be honest and use phrases such as "It is now thought" or "In my opinion" or "There is concensus" etc etc. I am clever enough to realise that not all statements made by scientists are scientific statements, however many will be misled. The fact is that there is a wide spectrum of opinion in relation to the fossils the Dr produced in episode 1, many experts disagree with her opinion. The BBC should not allow this woman to get away with making dogmatic statements about the nature of the fossils and what they allegedly prove. She should of course be allowed to provide her opinion, but not to be dishonest and pretend that her humble opinions amount to scientific fact. A misleading and therefore dishonest display of arrogance.

  • Comment number 53.

    Well done for a fascinating series. For me the ground-breaking highlight came in the third instalment when Alice Roberts was interviewing the mother in the remote African village and the interview transformed into real dialogue. The mother's interrogation of Dr Roberts about her own childcare arrangements enabled the mother to be seen as a full human being with an equally inquisitive intelligence and not merely as an informant. Delightful. I hope this lead will be followed.


More from this blog...

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.