by Dale Templar, Series Producer
I have just submitted my copy for the “Human Planet” series book which will be published in 2011 to accompany the series. I was tasked with writing the opening chapter, which tracks the journey of Homo Sapiens across all the eight landscapes that we go to in the series. While the series is not looking at the ascent of man, this chapter gave me the chance to go back in time and really look at all the key factors that led to our unstoppable march across the whole planet.
The series looks at man’s relationship with the natural world and it was not until I got stuck into the research for this chapter that it really dawned on me just how big a part climate change has played in our phenomenal success as a species.
Just this morning on the news there was a report of an incredible archaeological find, another missing link in the chain that follows the evolutionary journey from Ape to Homo Sapiens. The main find is of a female, nicknamed “Ardi”. Just like the famous “Lucy”, this new skeleton was also found in Ethiopia, this time not in the southern Omo valley but in the far northern Afar region. This new animal is called Ardipithecus ramidus and is thought to be some 4.4 million years old and possibly a direct common ancestor of humans.
This brings me back to climate change. The American scientists who have been working at this site believe that when “Ardi” was romping around Afar she was living in a woodland area. Just like chimps today, she would have nested in the trees but she was far more bipedal than even the bonobo. Today the Afar is well known for being one of the hottest places on earth. A dry, largely barren, hostile desert, where only the hardiest of humans eke out an existence.
As the climate changed and rainforest contracted, the walking apes moved further and further into the expanding grasslands. With that, the skeletons of the early hominids evolved to cope with a land-based life. That set of circumstances also allowed our brains to develop and increase in size.
Finally modern humans evolved, some 200 thousand years ago. Here was an ape with such a big brain that it could use its intelligence to adapt and survive in every environment on earth without having to evolve into a new species (well, not so far anyway!). Antarctica is the only place that humans have not yet claimed as an official human habitat.
Every month the teams come back with incredible stories of human ingenuity, adaptation and skill from all over the Human Planet. I know we were the Ape that just got lucky, but what an incredible ape we are!
For more info on “Ardi” go to the BBC News web site http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/8285180.stm