Walking With Cavemen (2003)
Videos in this documentary
Professor Robert Winston meets Lucy, the first upright ape, and follows her ancestors on the three-million-year journey to civilisation. Broadcast in 2003, Walking with Cavemen combined special effects with the latest scientific theories, to show us what it really means to be human.
In the previous Walking with... documentaries, extinct animals were recreated with CGI and animatronics. For Walking with Cavemen, a slightly different approach was taken. While most of the animals depicted were still computer generated or animatronic, the human ancestors were portrayed by actors wearing makeup and prosthetics, giving them a more realistic look and permitting the actors to give the creatures a human quality.
Like its predecessors, Walking with Cavemen is made in the style of a wildlife documentary, featuring a voice-over narrator (Robert Winston in the British release, Alec Baldwin in the North American release) who describes the recreations of the prehistoric past as if they were real. As with the predecessors, this approach necessitated the presentation of speculation as if it were fact, and some of the statements made about the behaviour of the creatures are more open to question than the documentary may indicate.
Each species segment takes the form of a short drama featuring a group of the particular hominid in question going about their daily lives (the search for food, protecting territory, and caring for the sick and injured). The intent is to get the human viewer to feel for the creatures being examined, almost to imagine being one of them (a trait that the documentary links to the modern human brain).
Episode One: "First Ancestors"
In the first episode, we see Australopithecus afarensis, and focus on their evolved bipedality (walking on just rear feet - our legs). More specifically, the story follows the famous Lucy and her relatives, as they first develop a leadership conflict following the death of the alpha male due to a crocodile attack, and then are attacked by a rival troupe. The attack ends with death of Lucy herself, and her eldest daughter caring for Lucy's now-orphaned baby (her sibling), as a sign of the developing humanity in these "apemen".
Time: 3.2 Million Years Ago
* Australopithecus afarensis
Episode Two: "Blood Brothers"
The second episode leaps forward to a time when Paranthropus boisei, Homo habilis and Homo rudolfensis co-exist. H. habilis is depicted as an intelligent omnivore that is more adaptable than the herbivorous P. boisei. The two species are contrasted, with H. habilis being "a jack of all trades", while P. boisei are "a master of one" - i.e. they are specialized herbivores while H. habilis are generalized omnivores. Consequently, though P. boisei are able to eat termites, tall grasses and hard acacia pods in difficult times, they will not be able to survive in the future, when at the beginning of the next Ice Age the climate will change, and these plants will be gone for good. H. habilis, on the contrary, have become smart by eating carrion and bone marrow among other things, and evolving a basic social behavior, which is more firm than that of P. boisei, will continue to survive, until it evolves into Homo ergaster, seen in the next episode, who has developed these traits to a greater extent.
The episode also briefly shows the H. rudolfensis, remarking that albeit they are taller, they are very similar to the H. habilis.
Time: 2 Million Years Ago
Place: East Africa
* Paranthropus boisei
* Homo habilis
* Homo rudolfensis
Episode Three: "Savage Family"
In the third episode, Homo ergaster is depicted as the first creature to master the art of tracking. This was made possible because their diet has grown increasingly more carnivorous, and the nutrients in meat made them even smarter than H. habilis of the previous episode. They also begin to form into tribal societies, with genuine bonds between their men and women, though violence is still occurring.
The episode later shows H. ergaster spreading into Asia, becoming Homo erectus and encountering the enormous herbivorous ape Gigantopithecus, "the original King Kong".
However, for the next million years, H. ergaster is still very much an animal, following its instinct, but then, they are shown harnessing fire and beginning to break-away from their direct dependence on their environment. (This ties neatly into the next and final episode, which is centered on human mind and imagination.)
Time: 1.5 Million Years Ago - 500 000 Years Ago
Place: Southern Africa - China
* Homo ergaster
* Homo erectus
Episode Four: "The Survivors"
The fourth episode talks about the mental evolution of the humanity, as opposed to the physical in previous ones. First we leap forward to a time when Homo heidelbergensis is living in Great Britain. H. Heidelbergensis is depicted as intelligent and sensitive but lacking in the ability to comprehend an afterlife, or anything that isn't in the "here and now".
Next, the episode shows a life of a clan Homo neanderthalensis, how they lived and hunted, including the mighty mammoth during the latest Ice age. They are intelligent but still lack the imagination of modern humans.
Finally, we see modern Homo sapiens (represented by Bushmen) in Africa, who had to become imaginative and inventive to survive the long drought, and finally glimpse the cave painters of Europe, who had "evolved" the idea of the afterlife and the supernatural, and who are now ready to start the human history as it is now known (and drive-out the Neanderthals to extinction).
Time: 200 000 Years Ago - 150 000 Years Ago
Place: Europe - Africa
* Homo heidelbergensis
* Homo sapiens