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Secrets of the Dead

Search for the First Human (#301)

In November 2000 a team of French and Kenyan scientists, led by Martin Pickford and Brigitte Senut, excavated a cache of fossilized bones in a remote part of Kenya, a place that is often called "the cradle of humanity." Remarkably, the bones looked surprisingly human. Crucially, they were excavated from a geological formation that had been previously -- and reliably -- dated at 6 million years old. Calling their find "Millennium Man," the scientists claimed they had discovered the oldest direct ancestor of humankind. Today, their discovery is rocking the world of palaeoanthropology -- challenging long held theories about the life of early hominids and the shape of the human evolutionary tree. The bones appear to hold the key to understanding how the human line evolved from apes -- by learning how to walk. Further, the discoverers claim this new species is even more similar to human than one of the most famous finds in the study of human origins -- the 3,000,000 year-old hominid, Lucy. Since her discovery in 1974 by Don Johanson, she has been a symbol for the study of our origins. But if Pickford and Senut are right, Lucy may not, in fact, be our direct ancestor. This film follows Pickford and Senut in Kenya and Paris as they analyze the evidence in support of their claims. In a scientific detective story, the program examines the stages of dating the fossils and interpreting the evidence. It spotlights the techniques and technology used by scientists both in analyzing ancient fossils and in comparing the remains of early hominids to modern apes and humans. [56 minutes] Closed Captioning

This episode has not aired in the past few months on Iowa Public Television.

PBS Video

Information For Teachers

Grade Levels
9-12
Curricular Areas
Social Studies
Series Length
72 episodes
Average Episode Length
59 minutes
Record Rights
Record and retain for 1 year from each broadcast. No duplication allowed.
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Series Description: Part detective story, part true-life drama, SECRETS OF THE DEAD unearths evidence from around the world, challenging prevailing ideas and throwing fresh light on unexplained events. Using the most up-to-date science in the laboratory and in the field, scientists and researchers examine the missing pieces of each puzzle, completing the picture of what had been merely an assemblage of suppositions.

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