The History Channel is showing its new human evolution program, "Ape to Man" this Sunday, August 7, at 9:00 EDT / 8:00 CDT. The show has a website, which gives the list of interviewees (Leslie Aiello, Joe Cain (history of science), Chris Stringer, and Colin Menter (fossil sites of South Africa). There is also a quick synopsis:
Highlights of APE TO MAN include:
Reenactments of the work of Eugene DuBois, an Amsterdam physician who left his practice in 1890 in search of the Missing Link and found what would be called Homo erectus, a 500,000-year old ape-like skeleton, in Sumatra. DuBois' assertion that he has found the Missing Link results in his rejection by the scientific community. Only later did people realize the impact of the discovery.
Examination of the key elements that marked the evolution from ape to man, including the ability to walk upright, the use of tools, the harnessing of fire, the ability to form communities, and the ability to reason and plan.
The story of Piltdown Man, a skeleton discovered in England in 1912 which was, for a time, considered by many to be the definitive Missing Link, but later discovered to be one of the greatest hoaxes in the history of science.
Raymond Dart's 1924 discovery of Taung Child, a fossilized brain in Africa, nearly two million years old. It was the oldest finding to date, but was completely ignored by the scientific community because people still believed in the erroneous story of Piltdown Man.
The two key shifts in thinking that led to our understanding today: the shift to Africa as the birthplace of the human species and the shift from the thinking that brain size was the driving force of evolution, to the understanding that the use of tools was really the key step.
The online preview shows a Dalmatian running in front of a Land Rover, so I assume they'll have reenactments of the Leakeys also.
I found the online game to be strangely entertaining, since you have to navigate a little Indiana Jones-looking archaeologist around his campsite to find fossils, while avoiding spiders, bees, and quicksand, and returning to the water bucket every couple of minutes for a drink. Of course, when you do it the third time around, and "Zhoukoudian" looks exactly like "Olduvai Gorge" except with more spiders and bees, well, you get the picture. The "quiz" I found less entertaining since several of the questions give out slightly wrong information, and one is really wrong (Dubois' Trinil discovery is around a million years old, not 50,000, in case you're wondering).
But at the end of the game, there is a cool newspaper, with the headline, "MISSING LINK FOUND!", a photo of the Bone Clones version of Toumaï, and the story:
One of the greatest riddles in human history has been solved after leading anthropologist Dr. John Hawks found The Missing Link in human evolution. The discovery came after a grueling quest that spanned three continents, and tested the very limits of human endurance.
Almost enough to get me to watch!