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The Incredible Human Journey

Episode 1 : Out Of Africa

Alice Roberts introduces the notion that genetic analysis suggests that all modern humans are descended from Africans. She visits the site of the Omo remains in Ethiopia, which are the earliest known anatomically modern humans, and visits the San people of Namibia to demonstrate the hunter-gatherer lifestyle. In South Africa, she visits Pinnacle Point, to see the cave in which very early humans lived. She then explains that genetics suggests that all non-Africans may descend from a single, small group of Africans who left the continent tens of thousands of years ago. She explores various theories as to the route they took. She describes the Jebel Qafzeh remains in Israel as a likely dead end of a traverse across Suez, and sees a route across the Red Sea and the around the Arabian coast as the likelier route for modern human ancestors, especially given the lower sea levels in the past.

Episode 2 : Asia

Alice Roberts travels to Siberia and visits an isolated community of indigenous people who still practice reindeer hunting. She uses them to ask how ancient Africans could have adapted to the hostile climate of northern Asia, and asks why Asian people look so different from Africans. She explores an alternative to the Out of Africa theory, the multiregional origin of modern humans theory that has gain support in some science community in China. According to this theory, the Chinese are not descended from anatomically modern African Homo sapiens, but evolved from a separate species of humans, called Homo erectus, rather than the Homo sapiens which produced the rest of humanity. Roberts visits the Zhoukoudian caves, in which Peking Man, the supposed Homo erectus ancestor of the Chinese, was discovered. She notes that some Chinese anthropologists and palaeontologists have shown modern Chinese physical characteristics that present in the fossil skulls, such as broad cheek bones, cranial skull shape and shovel shaped incisors which are virtually unique to Chinese people and absent in almost all other humans. Additionally she notes that the stone tools found in China seem more primitive than those elsewhere, showing that only the tools made by Homo erectus was present. However, she argues that the skull evidence is only subtle and interviews an American palaeontologist who believes, and presents, his hypothesis that the ancient Chinese humans used bamboo instead of stone, explaining the absence of sophisticated stone tools, despite no archaeological evidence in support of this hypothesis. Finally, she interviews Chinese geneticist Jin Li, who ran a study of more than 10,000 individuals scattered throughout China from 160 ethnic groups. The study, which hypothesised that the modern Chinese population evolved from Homo erectus in China, concluded that the Chinese people did in fact evolve and migrate from Africa like the rest of world's population.

Episode 3 : Europe

In the third episode, Roberts describes the various waves of anatomically modern humans that settled the continent of Europe. She crosses the Bosphorus and travels up the Danube River, following their likely route. She then describes the already resident population of Neanderthals, and visits Gibraltar, the last known site occupied by Neanderthals. She suggests that the principle difference between them and homo sapiens was the latter's ability to create art, and visits the cave paintings at Lascaux. She discusses the theories about why Europeans have white skin and describes the birth of agriculture and the societal changes that took place as a result, visiting a spectacular Neolithic temple in Turkey.

Episode 4 : Australia

In this fourth episode, Roberts discusses the surprising evidence of the Mungo Lake remains, which suggest, surprisingly, that humans reached Australia long before they reached Europe, even though Australia is further away from Africa. Roberts attempts to trace the journey. She visits a site in India that appears to indicate that humans were present there 70,000 years ago, before the Toba supervolcano deposited ash on the site. She then points to the Negrito people of Southeast Asia, who look different from other Asian peoples, and who may be descendants of the peoples who first left Africa. She describes the discovery of the tiny homo floresiensis on Flores and suggests that they may have been exterminated by modern humans. She describes the crossing of the Torres Strait by experimenting with a bamboo raft. She concludes by visiting a tribe in Northern Australia whose mythology describes their mother goddess arriving from across the sea.

Episode 5 : The Americas

In this final episode, Roberts describes theories about how humans traversed from Asia to the Americas, asking how they achieved it during the Ice Age, when the route to North America was blocked by ice walls. She describes the traditional theory that the first Americans were the Clovis culture, who arrived through an ice-free corridor during the end of the Ice Age 13,000 years ago. However, she then visits archaeological sites in Texas, Brazil, the Californian Channel Islands and Monte Verde in southern Chile which show 14,000 year old human remains, proving that humans must have arrived earlier via a different route. She shows the skull of the Luzia Woman, found in Brazil, which displays Australasian features rather than the East Asian features of modern day Native Americans; an archaeologist explains that these first Americans may have been Asians who migrated before Asians developed their distinctive facial features. Roberts shows that the earliest Americans may have migrated down the relatively ice-free western coastlines of North and South America. She concludes by noting that when Europeans arrived in 1492, they did not recognise Native Americans as fully human, but modern genetics and archaeology proves that we all ultimately descend from Africans.