First Peoples documentary series to air on PBS starting Wednesday

I’ve posted before on prehistorical societies, and the fact that, for virtually all of human history, including the history of our particular sub-species: Homo sapiens, we lived in nomadic hunter gatherer tribes.  The evidence points to anatomically modern humans first appearing in Africa over 200,000 years ago, and that much of what we consider normal human society: agriculture, cities, states, etc, only arose within the last 10,000 years, in other words, in the last 5% of the history of Homo sapiens.

If you find this as interesting as I do, then you might want to catch a new documentary that will be airing on PBS starting Wednesday evening: First Peoples.

Anthropologist John Hawks, who will appear throughout the documentary, has some additional information on it.

I’m looking forward to this series.  The story of where we came from and how the world as we know it developed always fascinates me.

22 thoughts on “First Peoples documentary series to air on PBS starting Wednesday

  1. It is a big surprise to me too. The appearance of language . agriculture. cities. culture etc happened in last 10000 years. I wonder what triggered these things. Also interesting is we see human civilizations across all almost all continents like Australia. north and west america which are separated by other continents by sea. I always think how humans migrated to those continents in the earlier times.


    1. The transition to agriculture is pretty interesting. You might want to look up Natufian culture. They were sedentary (i.e. lived in settlements) prior to agriculture. A plausible scenario is that as the ice age ended (or perhaps entered a recess period), it probably became more difficult in the middle east to just stay stationary and live off the land. They may have started farming as an adaptation to the changing climate. And it spread from there to the rest of Eurasia.

      Although that wouldn’t explain farming’s rise in the new world. (Unless there were prehistoric travelers between Asia and North America, which I suppose we can’t rule out completely.)


  2. Thanks for the heads-up SAP – hope I’ll be able to see it online soon – the ‘Becoming Human’ NOVA series was a favorite!

    (minor omission, the sub-species would be “Homo sapiens [sapiens]”)


    1. Thanks Mark. Hopefully my DVR caught it last night and I’ll have a chance to watch it, either this evening or sometime this weekend.

      I thought about using “Home sapiens sapiens”, but decided too many people would see it as a typo unless I added an explanatory sentence. It never occurred to me to just bracket the second “sapiens” as you did. 🙂


      1. Sorry, I only meant the brackets to indicate inserted/new text, but I can see a compromise of sorts in using them. It never occurred to me that the second sapiens might be seen as a typo. Is that a hint of a shade of false consensus bias on my part checking out the light of day? 🙂

        I watched ‘Dawn of the Planet of the Apes’ the other night(a 2nd time as well) and was a bit blown away to see someone’s interpretation of a species on the cusp of verbal communication. Also got me thinking about mimetic culture and wondering about the limitations of information exchanged prelingually. All fascinating stuff!


        1. I loved that movie! I’m surprised how well it and Rise of the Planet of the Apes managed to capture the spirit of the originals. The apes talking isn’t strictly possible because of where there their larynx sits, but I’m willing to give them a break on that because the rest of it is so well done.

          Liked by 1 person

    1. Hmmm. Italicizing except when I have a visual editor handy is too much work 😛

      Following links off that article, I see where our species is actually Home sapiens, but it’s our sub-species which is Homo sapiens sapiens, with the only known other sub-species being the possibly transitional Homo sapiens idaltu. I’ve always thought of Homo sapiens itself as a subspecies, but apparently all the other Homo species, such as Homo neanderthalensis, are actually considered separate species, despite the fact that crossbreeding appears to have happened.


      1. Italicizing(or not rather) … a perfectly understandable position(lol).

        I think you’ve got it – you just had it off a notch – yes, different species within a genus.

        I may have previously shared these but what I really like about both is they show all species and important highlights(good for quick reference).


      2. This is one of the events from our past I find most interesting but I’ve yet to look into it more than superficially. Check out the light bulb moment for this group:

        Warning: Contains nudity – NSFW(that’ll get you some clicks). (1st 2 mins)

        … or for the theatrical version: (1st 5 mins, for context)

        … and more. I didn’t find the language barrier a problem at all 🙂


  3. It’s striking how modern society is just an eye-blink in human history (let alone Earth history (let alone galactic history)). So many of the curves that describe us have that pronounced hockey stick shape… long, long periods of vanishingly slow growth with an explosive tail that trends exponentially upwards.

    Nothing physical can survive a growth curve like that.

    The question is whether you’re right about it being an “S” curve with a natural asymptote at the top as well as the bottom, or if the explosive upwards growth indicates future catastrophe. I think we might have talked about “dampening effects” recently? (I know I did with someone.) It all boils down to the dampening effects.


    1. It’s always possible that the leveling off of the S curve might come about from a catastrophe, although often it will be more of a gradual thing. (Purely from a science fiction perspective, the catastrophe scenario is probably more interesting.)

      Some S curves are only obvious in retrospect. For example, transportation capabilities had incredible increases from 1904 to 1970. In 1970, the idea that such growth wouldn’t continue at the same pace probably seemed inconceivable. Yet, here we are in 2015, and while we’ve had massive increases in efficiency, increases in actual transportation capabilities appear to have mostly leveled off around 1970.


      1. The scary alternative (common in SF) is the mountain peak curve with a sharp post-catastrophe cliff as society falls back hundreds of years in terms of social indicators (population, level of tech, infrastructure, legal system, medicine, public health & safety, etc.). I tend to believe there is so much “inertia” to modern life that it would actually be very difficult for that scenario to happen…

        …But that said, the other view holds that modern life is way more brittle than we realize and that banging rocks together in caves is just a national power grid collapse away. Or a virus. Or nano-machines. Or whatever.

        As you say, there are things that have leveled off. When I worked in the printing and graphics industry (late 1970s) I realized technology had done about all it could do for the craft of putting mass amounts of ink on mass amounts of paper. The S curve started by Gutenberg had definitely leveled out.

        But populations… don’t they require some sort of predator or other limiting factor to prevent infinite growth? A knowledge domain, or a technology domain, can be tapped out, but a system with a population that grows tends to grow forever.

        The very thing that makes us so incredibly successful — as Gary Larson so brilliantly put it, “Remember that spot!” — may also lead to our downfall. Our ability to build on the past, to keep standing on shoulders, creates growth curves with no obvious restraint.

        But no physical system can have infinite growth, so eventually… something bad happens. As I think I said before, it all depends on those dampening factors. Will we constrain ourselves enough before the system gets to a super-critical state where even a small push collapses it (think house of cards).


        1. I agree every growth curve eventually faces an upper bound. The question is how close we are to it. One ray of optimism might be that as one growth curve is leveling off, another one is often taking off. As the transportation stuff was leveling, the computing one was gathering steam.

          Lots of old SF predicted the transportation stuff would continue apace and totally missed the computing one. I suspect the next upsurge, whatever it may be, is on few people’s radar today.

          That said, I do sometimes wonder if civilization isn’t just a passing fad, that if we could see 20,000 years into the future, we might see a return to the lifestyle that humanity has led throughout almost all of its existence.


          1. Do you mean we’d return to a technology-free lifestyle?

            Hard to say. The cumulative nature of human society seems to suggest increasingly complexity, but it’s always possible we reach a stage of wholesale rejection.

            Did I ever mention the SF series wherein evolved biological life — at least as far as the machine intelligences inhabiting deep space (descended from ancient Von Neumann probes) could tell — served two purposes: It concentrated minerals scattered throughout the crusts of planets into a concentrated form. It often developed machines it sent off into space where they were cannibalized by the machines for interesting ideas and techniques.

            Also, once biological life had completed those tasks, it typically conveniently killed itself off leaving all those tasty piles of concentrated minerals.

            They viewed bio-life as we might view the bread mold that produces penicillin — just a useful natural process to be harnessed.


          2. There’s actually some precedent for it. The aborigines in Australia actually regressed in technological usage over the millennia from what they had when they first migrated to the continent. Of course, climate change was a major factor. Nothing like our current situation I’m sure 🙂

            A lot of people diss Clarke’s later Odyssey books, but one sobering thing I think he might have gotten right in all of them is that a superior alien intelligence wouldn’t necessarily be sentimental about less developed species, even when helping them. Their attitude might be like the farmer’s attitude toward crops, with knowledge that some might need to be pruned back for best overall effect.


          3. I can definitely see the possibility of catastrophe pushing us back if modern life is as brittle as some think. I’m more doubtful we’d ever choose to regress; that’s why I asked what you meant. (I do, in fact, expect global warming to have some long-term effects on our behavior.)

            re Clarke. It may be that the more alien a species is (assuming alien species, in fact, exist at all) the less empathy it might have for those weird Earthlings.

            It could go the other way. People here have strong opinions on the ethical treatment of animals. You can build a morality on the idea of the apparent ability to experience suffering. Perhaps there is some alien equivalent of PETA that advocates for the ethical treatment of primitive alien species.

            Might make a cute SF short story. Starts off looking like an ordinary protesters demonstration (like PETA or Greenpeace would do) but you slowly come to see that it’s on an alien planet. The ultimate reveal is that the endangered species one group is trying to save is humans.

            A prequel short for Hitchhiker’s Guide! A protest against the Vogons constructors and the intergalactic bypass! XD

            Liked by 1 person

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