What is Human?

2004, Science  -   16 Comments
Ratings: 7.27/10from 66 users.

This episode of National Geographic's Naked Science series examines one of humanity's greatest unanswered questions - when exactly was the transitional moment in our evolutionary history in which we became men?

Experts examine the fossils of three of our predecessor species - Australopithecus afarensis, Homo erectus and early Homo sapiens - while asking which traits qualify as essentially human. Citing bipedalism as one of the primary identifying traits, Australopithecus afarensis (nicknamed "Lucy"), stood erect and walked on two feet some 4 million years ago. Noting the small brain and protruding jaw, archaeological researchers and makeup artists construct a mask that mimics what they believe Lucy may have looked like.

In a rather comical sequence, the researcher tasked with modeling the scientifically accurate Lucy mask and matching full-body suit brings this ancient ancestor to life by walking the streets of London, interacting with people, and merging our distant past with the modern world.

1.8 million years ago Homo erectus emerged, also bipedal but sporting a larger brain, albeit still only 2/3 the size of that of Homo sapiens. Homo erectus is noteworthy for having discovered toolmaking and mastering the control of fire. Again, the filmmakers send a model Homo erectus into the modern world to interact with the public, and in yet another demonstration of bringing the past into the present they ask butchers to attempt to use the simple tools of the Homo erectus era with less than stellar results.

Homo sapiens are distinct from these earlier species due to their large brains, as well as creativity and an ability to problem solve. The film suggests that climate change, specifically an ice age, played a vital role in "survival of the fittest" by reducing the population of early Homo sapiens, requiring a change in the way the surviving population used tools, approached problems, and communicated, paving the way for modern humanity and developed society.

Through a series of interviews and creative demonstrations, this installment of Naked Science asks what it was about earlier hominid species that allowed them to survive a near-extinction and progress into the intelligent, advanced human beings of today.

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16 Comments / User Reviews

  1. Knowledge is Power

    Even if we have much of the same DNA as most things in existence which we probably do it does not mean we had to evolve from one another. Everything in existence like starchild has said is made up of matter released from the big bang so of course our DNA will match the DNA of many things. I think we are all so much further from the truth and the facts then we seem to think we are... some of us on here think they are so certain they know the answer and they seem the most ignorant to me.

  2. Starchild

    We humans (like all other life) evolved from inanimate matter released by the Big Bang. Our evolutionary journey has so far progressed through bacteria, fish, and ape-like creatures, among many other stages of development. Being human is just another step along an accelerating path toward a divinity that we imagine and invent as we go along. If you recognize that homo sapiens isn't the end state and look forward to further progress, then you are a transhumanist.

  3. Starchild

    Lisa – Lol is our common ancestor? ;-)

  4. John

    ROFL @johnston " man IS an ape right now lololol i dont even know how to begin". I would suggest by picking up a biology book, and learning about a lil thing called DNA sometime. yeah that's right you share more DNA with a fruit fly, than you do chimpanzee's libs. UT oh..

  5. Lisa

    It bothers me how vague this film is. And btw no we didn't decend from apes. We have a common ancestor. Lol. Also there were many more subspecies that existed besides these 3 they discuss. As well as the fact that homo sapiens and homo erectus coexisted for many years. It's been proven that many people of European decent do not only have homo sapien genes which is evidence that the 2 species did cross paths more just occasionally. If you want better, more thorough information try reading The Story of the Human Body: Evolution, Health, and Disease. There's a wealth of information in a format easy enough for most people to understand and enjoy.

  6. johnston

    man evolved from fish and worms and bacteria

  7. Patricio Lagos

    Technically, thomas guy is right. Humans do not descend from an ape. Men and apes both descend from a common ancestor, who lived some 7 million years ago.

  8. charles coryn

    'Evolution leads to immorality' you say Thomas?. How bizarre........ Actually evolution is both a fact and a theory is the truth of it. Sorry TG you must have skipped science classes in school.

    1. knowledge is power

      Actually evolution is not a fact and if it were it would no longer be called the theory of evolution and yet that is what it is still called... facts are not theories I think you missed out on science period

  9. JPremji

    Thomas Guy is right. Man didn't evolve from ape! Man evolved from ape like creatures. Present day apes evolved from their ancestors. We evolved from ours. We are closely related & are part of the same tree & mammalian root. All creatures are constantly evolving through the time. We are all changing & our branch of hominids continue to evolve just like all other animals. The present day apes continue to evolve & do we on our branch. So he is right. We did not evolve from apes.

  10. johnston

    if you like this doc there is some on youtube called evolution of eyes ,evolution, of digestion, evolution of blah blah breaking down each like that and showing how it applies all species and why and how amazing like say sight, did you know eagles have much much more better vision than us? and dogs have much much better hearing? everything we do an animal does that one thing better even 100 times better this is what you would expect form a system like evolution, for the story of invisible man in clouds with holloween costime on and white hair and lightnig bolt staff to be true , you would see humans doing everything they do better than any animals each individual function of the body would work completely different and be better in every wway , this is of course opposite of reality. anything a human does , animals do same way but better, i'm talking individual things here from digestion, to sight to smell to taste to hearing to touch sensitivity, no humans do a couple things better with our frontal cortex that why we are in the position we are , there are individual things we do better but most other animal does that thing identically but better this is because the system of life how its parts work as a system are the same for us as all animals and living things just as you would expect if we evolved on earth . lets face it everything changes over time that is the definition of time. evolution is just the changes over time on large scale that deal with the systems we call life for short.

  11. Saleh

    Human evolution is such an interesting topic. We can truly learn much from our ancestors & it is so inspiring.

    This documentary is good but there are better ones out there.

  12. johnston

    imagine a person said " a computer isn't made of a motherboard , a cpu ram sticks ....... a computer has a invisible man inside that projects changing images on the screen when you use the mouse" this type of situation is same as people that say humans did not evolve and instead where created by a invisible god that no one can ever seen , no evidence that exists and all the information we do have about reality says the invisible man is not even a possibility.

  13. johnston

    hahaha "man never descended from the ape" what? man IS an ape right now lololol i dont even know how to begin to respond ,except read about evolution in detail, watch some docs on it for an overview there is like 100 of them , there is plenty amazing books on it. all life is the same life look at DNA research same dna that solves murders to 99.9 percent accuracy you can trace your own ancestry back to fish then before that worms before that single cells then before that a basic cell with soft membrane.

  14. thomas guy

    Man never descended from the Ape, Their never was any exact proof of this and you still can not
    fabricate the missing pieces, or dream up or conjure enough evidence. And in my opinion all your theological reasoning has proven only one thing : And that is your theories of evolution have and are responsable for most of the immorality that we see in life today.

    1. Hoc

      Thomas Guy,Man never descended from apes...but a common ancestor millions of years ago and there is a lot of evidence in many different fields of science,try to loose the confirmation bias you have and look objectively at the evidence,firstly ignorance is not an excuse and your complete lack of knowledge on what a scientific theory actually is.Firstly educate yourself in the the difference before making such ludicrous statements,and what evidence do you have to support your theory to which is the exact opposite of what a scientific theory is...Great example of irony...you have zero evidence just speculative dribble and your words "fabricate" "dream" and "conjure" explain the myth of religions aptly,try to take lessons from history "real history"..The inquisitions,witch burnings refuteing real science (galileo etc) trials by drowning and the list goes on,then look at what actual science has done for humanity.Its sad that (seems majority are from the U.S.A) that stone age bronze age and iron age religious beliefs can still be relevant in the 21st century