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38 of 41 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "We are all Africans under the skin"
In this excellent BBC TV series Alice Roberts follows in the footsteps of our ancestors, who left Africa and ended up populating the whole world. The TV series is very enjoyable, and there is also an accompanying book which goes into much more detail on the scientific debates. I recommend both the DVD and the book. I first wrote this review in relation to book, but it...
Published on 3 May 2010 by P. Webster

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17 of 21 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting, well done, but out of date on some parts
This is a well done production, but I was mindful that recent genetic findings contradict some parts. The Out of Africa view appears predominantly correct, but has been recently modified by evidence of interbreeding with archaic populations.

In May 2010 there was a paper showing that humans of European and Asian descent have between 1 and 4 per cent of our...
Published on 12 Jan 2011 by Viewer


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38 of 41 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "We are all Africans under the skin", 3 May 2010
By 
P. Webster "Phil W." (Lancashire) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Incredible Human Journey [DVD] (DVD)
In this excellent BBC TV series Alice Roberts follows in the footsteps of our ancestors, who left Africa and ended up populating the whole world. The TV series is very enjoyable, and there is also an accompanying book which goes into much more detail on the scientific debates. I recommend both the DVD and the book. I first wrote this review in relation to book, but it applies equally to the TV series.

Roberts shows how the evidence from bones, artefacts and genes tells us that Homo sapiens (modern humans) evolved in Africa between 200,000 and 150,000 years ago and that all non-African humans throughout the world today are descended from one group of Homo sapiens who left Africa between 85,000 and 65,000 years ago.

On her journey Roberts meets people who personify and bring to life many of the debates relating to human evolution. For example, at Pinnacle Point in South Africa she meets one of the archaeologists who have been excavating Blombos Cave. It was here that shell beads and pieces of ochre with carved geometric patterns were found dating back 75,000 years. At the same place other pieces of ochre were found dating back to 164,000 years ago, showing that modern humans were painting by that date. This evidence shot down the theory held by some scientists that art (and therefore modern brains and behaviour) did not appear until about 40,000 years ago in Europe. (For more on this, see my review here on Amazon of Stephen Oppenheimer's book, "Out of Eden".)

Roberts meets some people who still refuse to accept the overwhelming evidence that all humans today are descended from African Homo sapiens. Some still cling to the untenable view that different so-called "races" of people evolved separately in different parts of the world from an earlier Homo species. For example, the Chinese government advocates the view that the people of China are special because they evolved separately from the rest of modern humanity, from Homo erectus in China. This has echoes of the time when Western racists claimed that white Europeans were superior and had come into existence separately from other "races".

But Roberts also meets the Chinese geneticist Jin Li, who "started off wanting to prove the patriotic theory that the modern Chinese had a heritage that stretched back, unbroken, to Homo erectus, a million years ago." To his surprise, Li's research actually proved that this was NOT the case. It showed that the "recent Out of Africa hypothesis" was correct. To his great credit, Li accepts the evidence, and Roberts praises his "open-mindedness and objectivity".

Roberts meets surviving hunter-gatherers and sees their egalitarian way of life. She then looks at the origins, only about 12,000 years ago, of settled societies and agriculture. She shows the contradictory nature of this change. The development of agriculture is usually seen as "progress", and it certainly created the conditions for a massive increase in population by producing a food surplus. This in turn provided the basis for the later growth of cities and "civilisation". But Roberts also shows that farming led to a worse quality and variety of diet and to a "general decline in health". (I would add that farming also paved the way for the development of class divisions, gender inequalities and war.)

Roberts shows that some questions still have to be resolved. For example:
- Were modern humans responsible for the extinction of the Neanderthals?
- Did modern humans interbreed at all with Neanderthals?
- Exactly when and by what route did our ancestors first move into the Americas?
- Did hunting by humans cause the extinction of large animals in various parts of the world?
- Was it natural selection in relation to climate or sexual selection which led to the physical and facial differences between humans from different parts of the world?
- Was it farmERS or farmING which spread across Europe from the Middle East?

Finally, Roberts shows throughout the book how the climate and climate change have had an effect on both the biology and culture of our ancestors. And she ends by warning that global solutions are needed now if we are to avert the dangers that climate change is facing us with today.

Phil Webster.
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44 of 50 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great Series!!, 28 May 2009
By 
P. Gagliardi (Horsham, PA United States) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Incredible Human Journey [DVD] (DVD)
I originally thought this would be just another series about the divergence of our ancestors from the common ape line, but instead its focus is on Homo sapiens, which is great! All the other docs spend so much time discussing our antecedents and spend the last bit discussing "us". Our story is far richer as well as less speculative, and this series so far is doing it great justice! I am three episodes in and just enthralled!! I don't know why they don't show great docs like this in the US. I'm downloading this series but will buy it on June 8th right here!!
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42 of 48 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Required Viewing For All, 15 Jun 2009
By 
F. Tavo - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Incredible Human Journey [DVD] (DVD)
In a very pleasant and viewer-friendly style especially for the average punter on the street, Dr. Roberts uses the latest scientific findings to explain just how 'under the skin, we are ALL children of Africa'. Differences in physical characteristics (e.g. skin colour) which helas have been and are still being used to drive us humans apart, are found to be nothing more than the evolutionary realignment necessary for the survival of our common ancestors from Africa in their new-found yet often hazardous environment they had to call 'home' (Asia, Europe, Oceania and Americas). But the underlying truth that we are ALL related, and a lot closer than we sometimes dare to admit (today's so-called 'non-Africans' ALL descend from only several hundred Africans!) makes me wish that Dr. Roberts' work be made required study if not viewing for all, or at least for those at secondary school level.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Good Journey, 19 Dec 2012
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This review is from: The Incredible Human Journey [DVD] (DVD)
OK its been a few months since I watched, but a lot of it is still in my head. This is not like one of those damned Yank programmes that keeps repeating itself over.
Dr Roberts explains this trip in pretty good detail, letting you know how certain barriers were crossed on the way and the length of time each stage of the trip took. Her quiet enthusiasm in telling the story comes accross well and makes it entertaining. She the does not babble and self repeat, it is a clear, precise entertaining and very informative bit of narrative. I could not stop watching these DVDs and went to bed late in the morning. This will get watchewd periodically.
If you're into ancient history / human origins - you should have bought this ages ago.
My rating 10/10
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28 of 34 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great Series, 30 July 2009
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This review is from: The Incredible Human Journey [DVD] (DVD)
I found this series very informative, and excellently presented by Alice Roberts. I learnt new things, and it gave me a sense of the wonder and diversity of our own vast human family.

I think she makes the point well, that an understanding of human prehistory should cause people to come together for the vast journey they share, rather than kill each other for the small differences they notice. I also felt the current fate of some tribal cultures becomes all the more poignant when we learn more of their own remarkable histories of pioneering exploration and survival across tens of thousands of years. I think kids of any ethnic background can find true stories of their ancestors here to be proud of and share.

I don't agree with comments that she made herself out to be a great expert - I am fine with her discussing her own hunches on the theories, as this personal side of the journey was the style of the series. It was clear that local experts have their own national and cultural biases - and the jury is still out on lots of issues.

Yes, her night in the bush was a bit lame - but it seemed they pulled away from that reality format in time - and yes the "fun cartoon" graphics looked like the result of an overly persuasive graphics company. But apart from such small issues I found the program structure managed to keep you moving nicely through sites and scientists (for which the series clearly worked hard to get excellent access).

Alice Roberts herself is charming with the people that she meets, and I think her warm character gave this series an unusual edge. I really enjoyed it.
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13 of 16 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting, well presented, somewhat padded, 23 Jun 2009
By 
O. G. M. Morgan (Hants, England) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Incredible Human Journey [DVD] (DVD)
Dr. Alice Roberts is an engaging, intelligent and informative host in this series, in which she investigates the way in which our species achieved the seemingly impossible and colonised the world. She demonstrates how tenacious our ancestors had to be to survive and how they adapted to the extraordinarily different environments which they encountered. I am not entirely convinced that she had to travel to the ends of the Earth to achieve this (and, crikey, does she get around in this series!), but I can forgive that, just as long as she isn't berating us for our "carbon footprints" in her next outing.

My one problem with the series is that there is a fair amount of padding. The first serious instance is in the first programme: Dr. Roberts spends a night in the bush (literally in a bush, apparently). Happily, she doesn't get eaten by hyaenas, but quite what the point of the exercise is remains obscure.

In later programmes, Dr. Roberts investigates the notion that Homo sapiens evolved separately in China and Australia from the rest of the world and the idea that some humans today may have Neanderthal ancestry. None of these theories could conceivably be true. A species cannot evolve in two widely separated places at the same time and end up with the same outcome. When the populations of a species are separated by thousands of miles, they evolve, if at all, into different species. Our ancestors evolved, via Homo erectus, within Africa, into Homo sapiens. If the Chinese had evolved separately from Homo erectus, they would not now be Homo sapiens, but they are. Exactly the same applies to the Aboriginal inhabitants of Australia. The simple fact is that all Australians are Homo sapiens, so the fact that they are descended from the same African population as every other human today is self-evident. There is only one surviving human species and Homo sapiens is it.

Just as a species, once separated into two or more scattered populations, cannot evolve into a new species in separate locations, two closely related species cannot coalesce. Species can only diverge. They can't converge. Think of horses and donkeys, lions and tigers. Horses and donkeys can produce mules, which can't breed. Lions and tigers have been bred together (I have never understood why) by zoo-keepers, to create "ligers" and "tigons", but ligers and tigons are no more capable of producing offspring than are mules. As closely related species, Homo sapiens and Homo neanderthalensis could probably have interbred, but they could not have produced a viable population. The idea that anyone alive today could be partly Neanderthal is utter nonsense.

Alice Roberts nails all of these notions about separate developments and neanderthal/human evolution, but she does take her time getting there. I still recommend the series, because she imparts a lot of information, along the way.
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17 of 21 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting, well done, but out of date on some parts, 12 Jan 2011
By 
This review is from: The Incredible Human Journey [DVD] (DVD)
This is a well done production, but I was mindful that recent genetic findings contradict some parts. The Out of Africa view appears predominantly correct, but has been recently modified by evidence of interbreeding with archaic populations.

In May 2010 there was a paper showing that humans of European and Asian descent have between 1 and 4 per cent of our genes from neanderthals.

Some paleoanthropologists have observed a continuity between the skulls of Australian Aborigines and some Southeast Asian erectine populations. And just prior to Christmas a paper came out showing 5% of the Melanesian genome is of Denisovan origin. They picked up significant amounts of genetic materials from the archaics - more than enough to pick up every noticeably adaptive allele. And there has certainly been time enough for adaptive alleles to increase in frequency so it will be interesting to see if anything else is found.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars So humans did get to Australia and the South American Rainforests, 30 Jan 2010
This review is from: The Incredible Human Journey [DVD] (DVD)
I found this series really informative as it shed new light on how humans not only got to North America but more intrigingly how they got to South America, the rain forests in particular and Australia via the Indian sub-continent.
We really are all brothers under the skin. The dvd is very well put together and the explanations are very simple for the lay-person to understand. Rather than a tourist expose and wow! isn't this wonderful, simply to impress, there is a real scientific rationale behind this excellent series.
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10 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The pre-history of the human race., 13 Nov 2009
By 
C. Ward (West Midlands UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Incredible Human Journey [DVD] (DVD)
A superb documentary series that explains in detail how the human race spread across the surface of our planet, from its very beginnings in Africa. A series that if it were to be made compulsory viewing for all children would put an end to the nonsense of racism, for it shows how how racial differences today are just the result of genetic variation, latitude, and time.
A fascinating detective story of how not only archeaology but genetics too can be used to effectively go back in time and understand the pre-history of the human race.
Presented with real enthusiasm and effort by Dr Alice Roberts, who prior to the making of the programme was a lecturer at Bristol University.

I must add that some of the reviews of this excellent series are so irrationally hostile that one can only come to the conclusion that these people are maliciously seeking to discredit the series by posting disingenuous reviews, possibly because it so totally undermines creationism and racism.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent presentation of the spread of 'modern' humans out of Africa., 2 Feb 2014
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This review is from: The Incredible Human Journey [DVD] (DVD)
Very clear and seemingly unrefutable argument for the spread of modern humans out of Africa.
The use of changing climate factors and the effects on humans and their journeying gave a very good explanation of the incredible journey. Incorporating up to date gene research makes the story even more convincing.
A very good presenter with clear diction, and not overridden with music.
Should be comprehensible from teenagers and upwards.
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