The Incredible Human Journey
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Alice Roberts has been travelling the world - from Ethiopian desert to Malay peninsula and from Russian steppes to Amazon basin - in order to understand the challenges that early humans faced as they tried to settle continents. On her travels she has witnessed some of the daunting and brutal challenges our ancestors had to face: mountains, deserts, oceans, changing climates, terrifying giant beasts and volcanoes. But she discovers that perhaps the most serious threat of all came from other humans. When our ancestors set out from Africa there were already two other species of human on the planet: Neanderthal in Europe and Homo erectus in Asia. Both (contrary to popular perception) were intelligent, adept at making tools and weapons and were long adapted to their environments. So, Alice asks, why did only Homo sapiens survive? Part detective story, part travelogue, and drawing on the latest genetic and archaeological discoveries, Alice examines how our ancestors evolved physically in response to these challenges, finding out how our colour, shape, size, diet, disease resistance and even athletic ability have been shaped by the range of environments that our ancestors had to survive. She also relates how astonishingly closely related we all are. As a lecturer in Anatomy at Bristol University, Alice Roberts is eminently qualified to write this book. As a talented artist, she is perfectly qualified to illustrate it, and dotted throughout this lively book are many of the sketches and photographs from her travels.
far north – in modern-day Canada and Alaska. After the LGM, people could once again expand across North America.7 But whether the first wave of colonisation into most of North America happened after the LGM, or represents a repopulation after the initial colonisers were pushed back, it is clear that it happened long before Clovis appears in the archaeological record. How did the first colonisers get down into North America when the way was blocked by ice? The ice-free corridor between the
strong rip current, and there was absolutely nothing we could do. I radioed the support vessels, which were keeping a close eye on us now, while staying a safe distance from the breakers themselves. We stopped paddling and let the current take us – not into the breakers, but right back out to sea again. It was as though Sumbawa had lured us in and then spat us back out. The current was now taking us south, down the coast of Sumbawa, so the idea of landing on the first beach we had spotted was
and all came back with dates of around 40,000 years ago.9 These were older than the original radiocarbon dates, but much more believable than the dates published by Thorne’s team. Mungo Man and Lady were still the most ancient Australians known. Even when I got to Mungo, I wasn’t sure if I was actually going to be able to see the human remains. Ancient skeletons have become symbols of identity for modern Aboriginal people, who feel – and understandably so – that their own heritage and beliefs
boots, so I stuffed my feet into two pairs of thick woollen socks and then into the furry-inside-and-out boots. On my head: a black woollen hat, two buffs around my neck, pulled up over my nose, and sealed with a pair of ski goggles so that no skin showed. I tugged a hood trimmed with wolf fur firmly down and around my well-wrapped face, and pulled on two pairs of gloves: an inner silk pair and an outer, fleece-lined, wind-proof pair. Then I walked stiffly out of the house and down the steps of
gloves for enormous boxing-glove-like down mittens. It would be harder to hold on, but my fingers would be less cold. Before we set off again, I looked up at the sky and saw skeins of bright light flowing and dancing across the backdrop of the stars. It was stunningly beautiful. The last half-hour of that journey was the longest I have ever experienced, and in that time I started to despair. It was too cold, too far, and there was no way out of this situation. I couldn’t put my hand up and say,