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Walking with Cavemen (2003) - 1x03 - Savage Family

 
Plot Outline
The Africa of two million years ago is a crossroads in human evolution. Half a dozen or more different species of ape-men exist alongside one another. Each of them has exploited the environment in a different way and has developed their own survival strategy .

One and a half million years ago, a new breed of ape-man walks the land. In southern Africa, Homo ergaster has taken the next step to becoming human. They have long, modern looking noses, which cool air as they breathe.

Their hairless bodies, with millions of tiny sweat glands, mean they don't pant anymore to control their temperature - they sweat. And, above all, they have big brains - nearly two-thirds the size of ours.

Savage Family follows the lives of a close-knit group of ergaster on a hunt and discovers how they use are their big brains. They are the first ape-men to have our complex understanding of the natural world, and can recognise and follow the footprints left behind by many different animals. They are expert toolmakers and use a highly refined stone hand axe. But the most important things they use are their big brains for understanding others in their group.

Ergaster live in large social groups and spend their time getting along with each other. Their society is held together not by a dominant male, but by the bonds of family and friends. For the first time, hunters will bring back meat to people left behind from a hunt, using it to forge alliances and reinforce relationships. Their extraordinary social world has led to a new phenomenon in our human story - couples living together monogamously, at least for a time.

Their new found social bonds and understanding of the world has equipped them with skills that enable them to move away from their ancestral home in Africa. Over thousands of years they spread throughout the Middle East and Asia, reaching as far as China and are now known in their new Asian home as - Homo erectus.

But for all their sophistication, these ancestors are still very different from us. Jump forward one million years and they are still around, and so too are their stone axes. Nothing about their exceptional tool has changed. In a million years they have made no technological advancements. Compare this with Homo sapiens who have gone from the Steam Age to the Space Age in under 100 years.

Their brains simply do not work in the flexible way ours do. For them to become like us requires a major change in thinking. It could be we know what triggered this dramatic change. Towards the end of ergaster's time there is evidence that they learnt to control and work with fire as a weapon, for warmth and as a tool.

For the first time in our history the night no longer brought danger, but warmth, security and time for the mind to wander and perhaps time for the mind to change. Fire certainly revolutionised the way our ancestors lived - perhaps it did the same for their thoughts.


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