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TV Programs

January - December 2000

Tales from the Hive
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NOVA chronicles a year in the life of a bee colony with stunning images that take viewers inside the innermost secrets of the hive. The documentary team spent a year developing special macro lenses and a bee studio to deliver the film's astonishing sequences. These include the "wedding flight" of the colony's virgin queen as it mates in mid-air with a drone; the life-and-death battle between two rival queens for the colony's throne; and the defeat and death of a thieving wasp at the entrance to the hive. The show also explores such mysteries as the famous "waggle dance" with which scout bees signal the exact direction and distance of nectar sources to the rest of the hive. A vivid picture emerges of the bee's highly organized social life, revolving around the disciplined sharing of construction tasks, the collection of nectar, and warding off enemies. "Tales From the Hive" pushes the boundaries of wildlife filmmaking and opens up an unforgettable window on a strange and complex insect world.
Original broadcast date: 01/04/2000
Topic: animal biology/behavior


Lost on Everest
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On June 8, 1924, near the summit of the highest peak on earth, British climber George Leigh Mallory vanished into the clouds and instantly became a legendary figure. Did Mallory and his companion Andrew Irvine actually make it to the top of Everest 29 years before Hillary and Tensing? Could they possibly have survived the ferocious conditions of the summit, clad only in layers of cotton and tweed and wearing hob-nailed boots? For over half a century, climbing aficionados could only speculate. Then, in May 1999, a NOVA expedition located Mallory's body on a rock-strewn precipice, creating an international news sensation. What light does the new discovery throw on mountaineering's most haunting mystery? NOVA presents the exclusive footage of the final of Mallory's body and the new clues to his final hours on the world's most forbidding mountain.
Original broadcast date: 01/18/2000
Topic: archeology


Secrets of Lost Empires: Medieval Siege
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Our image of warfare in the Middle Ages is of bold knights, gleaming armor, and the clash of steel. In reality, battles were the exception and long drawn-out, withering sieges were the rule. The only sure route to conquest was to starve the defenders of a castle into submission - until the advent of the trebuchet.

The trebuchet was a fearsome, gravity-powered catapult that flung stone missiles with great speed, accuracy and destructive power. It was the first large-scale mechanized weapon, and it transformed warfare 300 years before the age of gunpowder. If ammunition ran low, trebuchets could serve as instruments of terror. Among the projectiles mentioned in medieval chronicles are wagonloads of manure, hives of angry bees, spurned ambassadors, plague-infected corpses and an early form of napalm known as Greek Fire. All these were hurled at high speed over castle walls at the luckless defenders.

Despite its central role in siege warfare, most aspects of trebuchet design and operation remain a mystery. Were these crude contraptions of a type that any mischievous adolescent might concoct? Or did the need for high-power, precise artillery give birth to a genuine science of trebuchet design?

NOVA set two teams of timber framers, engineers, and historians the challenge of building precise replicas of this ultimate thirteenth century deterrent. Armed only with traditional tools, the teams began work in a swampy field beside Loch Ness in northern Scotland, beset by constant drizzle. Finally, the moment of truth arrived as the giant wooden catapults stood poised to fling 250 pound stones high into the air. In thrilling footage of these risky firing experiments, NOVA recaptures all the suspense, violence, and ingenuity that characterized the medieval siege.
Original broadcast date: 02/01/2000
Topic: anthropology/ancient, archeology, technology/engineering


Diamond Deception
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Today science is closing in on an impossible dream: the ability to manufacture gem-quality diamonds in a few days, instead of the billions of years required by nature. These synthetic diamonds are such good copies of the real thing that they not only have the identical atomic structure but can even replicate their flaws. Even the most sophisticated machines can scarcely distinguish the difference. More important, these diamonds can be made and sold at a handsome profit.

In "Diamond Deception," NOVA dramatizes the breakneck battle in the 1950s as a team at General Electric beat its rivals to synthesize the first industrial diamonds. Then the show explores today's race to produce the first artificial gem-quality stones. Surprisingly, crucial breakthroughs have been made with primitive-looking equipment in makeshift labs in Russia and China. These unlikely pioneers are now closing in on their goal of producing bigger stones with fewer flaws and perfect coloration. Their efforts threaten the centuries-old monopoly of De Beers and may transform the marketing of the world's most desirable gem.
Original broadcast date: 02/01/2000
Topic: geology, technology/engineering


Secrets of Lost Empires: Pharaoh's Obelisk
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For over 3,000 years, slender, giant needles of granite have towered over the ruins of Egypt's temples. Kings, popes and presidents have gone to extraordinary lengths to fetch these monoliths from Egypt. "Cleopatra's Needle" required 15 months to complete its journey to New York's Central Park in 1881. Moving the mighty stone shaft proved an enormous challenge to engineers equipped with capstans, steel towers, hydraulic jacks, and steam engines. How, then, were ancient Egyptians able to erect obelisks with only ropes and sand, sticks and stones, levers and inclined planes?

In 1994, a NOVA team successfully reproduced many of the original techniques involved in quarrying and transporting these massive monoliths. However, the final riddle of how to erect a replica 40-ton stone defied the expertise of our team. The first NOVA obelisk lies abandoned today in an Egyptian quarry at a 40-degree angle.

Now NOVA returns to Egypt take on this ultimate engineering challenge of the ancient world. The stars of THIS OLD PYRAMID and the first obelisk show, Egyptologist Mark Lehner and stone mason Roger Hopkins, tackle the problem with a fresh approach. They explore the wood and rope boat technology that was incorporated in such amazing vessels as the intricately fitted Khufu boat, over 100 feet long, discovered almost intact in a pit beside the Great Pyramid. The boats inspire our team to design an ingenious apparatus for pivoting a new 40-ton replica obelisk into position. Hopes are raised until, yet again, an unexpected disaster looms....

This time, Lehner, Hopkins, and the rest of the team will ultimately prevail over the 40-ton monster. But it will take a twist worthy of Agatha Christie to deliver the final solution of this daunting challenge from the past.
Original broadcast date: 02/08/2000
Topic: anthropology/ancient, archeology, technology/engineering


Trillion Dollar Bet
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In 1973, three brilliant economists, Fischer Black, Myron Scholes, and Robert Merton, discovered a mathematical Holy Grail that revolutionized modern finance. The elegant formula they unleashed upon the world was sparse and deceptively simple, yet it led to the creation of a multi-trillion dollar industry. Their bold ideas earned Scholes and Merton a Nobel Prize (Black died before the prize was awarded) and attracted the elite of Wall Street.

In 1993, Scholes and Merton joined forces with John Meriweather, the legendary bond trader of Salomon Brothers. With 13 other partners, they launched a new hedge fund, Long Term Capital Management, which promised to use mathematical models to make investors tremendous amounts of money. Their money machines reaped fantastic profits, until their theories collided with reality, and sent the company spiraling out of control. The crisis threatened to bring markets around the world to the brink of collapse.

Join NOVA in the quest to turn finance into a science. Plus, trace the little-known history of predicting financial markets and go to work with some successful modern traders who rely on intuition as well as mathematical models.
Original broadcast date: 02/08/2000
Topic: mathematics, social sciences/miscellaneous


Secrets of Lost Empires: Easter Island
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The giant statues of Easter Island are one of archaeology's greatest enigmas. Nearly 1,000 of the massive, haunting human sculptures rise from the windswept grasslands of this tiny volcanic island, almost 1500 miles from the nearest inhabited land. How and why did the ancient islanders transport the statues - some weighing 80 tons - across miles of rugged terrain and then erect them on ceremonial platforms?

Countless ingenious theories have been proposed. Thor Heyerdahl, the famous Norwegian explorer, attempted to "walk" a statue along by rocking it from side to side in an upright position. Geologist Charles Love fastened a replica to a wooden sledge and tried pulling it on rollers. But neither met with much success: Love's statue came crashing to the ground while Heyerdahl's broke in transit.

The failure of these experiments inspired Jo Anne Van Tilburg, a leading authority on Easter Island, to seek her own solution to the riddle. Drawing on her painstaking inventory of the statues, she built a computer model of Easter Island's terrain, created a digital statue, and experimented with different transportation and erection techniques in cyberspace. This led her to a solution that seemed flawless. But would it work outside the computer?

To test her theory, NOVA casts a 15-ton concrete replica of a typical Easter Island statue. With the help of 70 Easter Islanders, the statue is then hauled across over a mile of the ancestral terrain, and the challenge of erecting it begins. What seemed so straightforward in the computer now reveals hidden complications that plunge the team into rival theories and disagreement. As the mystery of the builders' methods deepens, NOVA explores the profounder challenges that Easter Island has always posed: Who were the ancient islanders? Where did they come from? And what went wrong with their unique and exotic civilization?
Original broadcast date: 02/15/2000
Topic: anthropology/ancient, archeology, technology/engineering


Mystery of the First Americans
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In 1996, near Kennewick, Washington, a suspected murder victim is identified by forensic anthropologists as Caucasian - but turns out to be almost 10,000 years old. For fifty years our picture of prehistoric America has rested on the premise that the earliest inhabitants of the Americas were east Asians of mongoloid stock, the ancestors of today's Native Americans. But the discovery of the Kennewick Man, along with several other startling finds in recent years, has thrown that once widely accepted idea into question and revolutionized the science of paleo-anthropology. It has also embroiled scientists in a bitter conflict with Native American groups who want the scientific study of early Americans halted. Who and what do Kennewick Man and others represent? NOVA is following the efforts of paleo-anthropologists work to decode the story in the bones of people who died 10,000 years ago.
Original broadcast date: 02/15/2000
Topic: anthropology/ancient, medicine/forensic


Secrets of Lost Empires: Roman Bath
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Two thousand years ago, the Roman Empire was the most powerful civilization on Earth, stretching from North Africa and Asia Minor across Europe to the British Isles. The Romans unified these diverse lands by military might, their unique culture and language, and, not least, their mastery of engineering.

Many of Rome's engineering secrets originated in one of its most important institutions: the Roman bath. A vital focus for leisure and social interaction, the public bathhouse incorporated intricate systems for plumbing and heating, sophisticated vaulted ceilings, and a revolutionary new building material we now call concrete. These buildings represented a new concept of luxury and sophistication in an age more often marked by violence and squalor. Indeed, the bathhouse was one of Rome's most effective tools for converting its conquered subjects to the Roman way of life. Supported by generous state subsidies, the bath functioned as pleasure palace, public health facility and community center in every town under Roman rule.

Surprisingly, despite the cultural and architectural importance of the Roman bath, many of its workings are still poorly understood. Just what recipe of sand, lime, water and rubble did the Roman builders use to make their watertight concrete? How did they design and cast the domes and vaults that resulted in such graceful, airy interior spaces? And how did they create the ingenious plumbing and heating that accounted for the baths' legendary comfort?

Perhaps the most intriguing feature is the hypocaust, or underfloor heating system. One of the Roman engineers' most revolutionary advances, it made possible a clean, dry, efficient form of heating without the problems of smoke and gas by-products. How were the Romans able to eliminate indoor pollution and achieve such fine temperature control?

In Sardis, Turkey, NOVA sets out to recreate a working Roman bath, complete with hot tubs, cold plunges, and underfloor heating, all designed with a meticulous eye for authenticity. As well as academic experts, the team will rely on local Turkish artisans proficient in the ancient techniques of terra cotta tilemaking and metal working—skills still in demand in Turkey because of the country's continuing tradition of community bathing. As with any complex building project, the team encounters glitches and tempers fray. But the builders have a unique reward for their labors: a finished building that enables them to experience at first-hand the vanished sensual pleasures of ancient Rome.
Original broadcast date: 02/22/2000
Topic: anthropology/ancient, archeology, technology/engineering


Lost Tribes of Israel
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At the heart of Jewish tradition lies the haunting mystery of the Lost Tribes of Israel. Ever since their defeat and banishment by the Assyrians in 722 BC., the Lost Tribes fate has inspired countless claims to Jewish ancestry by groups scattered on every continent. But now, surprisingly, new advances in genetics are dispelling myth and fantasy, and raising a curtain on the forgotten reality of the dispersal that happened so many centuries ago. This story will follow the first attempt to use the new tests to investigate a seemingly improbable African candidate for a Lost Tribe. It will dramatize a scientific quest that leads from the gene labs of London to the remote bush country of Zimbabwe and the lunar-like desert wilderness of southern Yemen.
Original broadcast date: 02/22/2000
Topic: human biology/behavior, anthropology/ancient


Secrets of Lost Empires: China Bridge
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Countless items that we take for granted in modern life originated in ancient China, from paper—printing, and silk to gunpowder, kites, mechanized oil wells and sophisticated medical surgery. Nowhere did the Chinese exhibit more skill and ingenuity than in the creation of tens of thousands of bridges that were vital in unifying their diverse land. Two thousand years ago, their architects developed iron suspension bridges and daring arch designs that had no rivals in the west until the coming of the industrial age. Whether spanning a yawning gorge or crossing a placid canal, they were masters at integrating function and aesthetics in their bridge construction.

In China Bridge, NOVA explores the unexpected wealth of China's bridge heritage. The show's experiments will focus on an ancient design that baffles engineers and scholars—the Rainbow Bridge. Its blueprint derives from a renowned 12th century Chinese scroll painting that depicts life in the Song Dynasty capital of Kaifeng around 1000 A.D. It is a panorama that teems with more than a thousand tiny figures bustling about their daily life and involved in weddings, funerals, and war games. At the center of all this activity is the Rainbow Bridge. Lined with shops on both sides, the bridge is an avenue for food hawkers, fortunetellers and street peddlers.

One Song Dynasty historian wrote, "the bridge has no piers, but giant timbers spanning the void, decorated with red paint and curved like a rainbow." The design is neither an arch nor a beam, but rather a delicate hybrid of the two; a series of interlocking horizontal and cantilever beams form a graceful arc. It was a style never attempted in the Western world.

How could such a daring and intricate structure have been assembled above a river? Retired engineer Tang Huan Cheng says he knows the answers. He has carefully studied the Rainbow Bridge for nearly fifty years; now NOVA helps him fulfill his long-cherished dream of reconstructing it. Starting from scratch, Professor Tang is joined by a team of experts who devise a plan for the bridge based on scant historical information and a close analysis of the painting. Working in a lively village in the picturesque Yellow Mountains of central China's Anhui Province, the two teams work from opposing banks, each with a different set of challenges. Their final act is to join the middle section of the bridge together, above the turbulent water. This drama forms the climax of one of NOVA's most evocative shows, which will open a window on the vanished wonders of ancient China.
Original broadcast date: 02/29/2000
Topic: anthropology/ancient, archeology, technology/engineering


What's Up with the Weather?
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Does the release of greenhouse gases threaten the future of human life on our planet? According to many politicians and scientists, the answer is yes; we are already experiencing the first portents of a potential global catastrophe. But is the evidence really so clear? And does it demand drastic changes in the lifestyle of developed countries and in the way their industries operate?

The Clinton administration is one of the strongest advocates of a treaty—the Kyoto Protocol—that would radically alter the way we produce and use energy. The social and financial consequences are potentially enormous, enough to transform the economic landscape of the 21st century. But will the proposed measures work? Can we hope to put a brake on the accelerating amounts of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide and methane, that are escaping into the atmosphere?

In this special two-hour program, WGBH's flagship series' FRONTLINE and NOVA take on one of the most complex and important challenges facing the world today. With searching analysis and probing interviews, this program will explain the science, investigate what is known and unknown, and dissect the acrimonious policy debate. It will take viewers on a dramatic journey—from the Greenland ice cap where scientists can read 10,000 years of climate history, to the equatorial Maldives Islands threatened by rising sea levels; from the corridors of power in Washington to the rapidly growing industrial cities of China and India—a journey to find out how the Earth's climate system works and what the future may hold in store.
Original broadcast date: 04/18/2000
Topic: environment/ecology


Stationed in the Stars
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On December 2nd 1998, the space shuttle Endeavour blasted off from Cape Kennedy carrying the first stage of the world's most ambitious and expensive engineering venture of all time. If all goes as planned, by 2004 the US and its 14 international partners will have launched 460 tons of hardware into orbit 220 miles above earth. These components will be assembled in a space station as big as two football fields and weighing a million pounds. The station will offer at least eight interior spaces for living, storage, or lab research. Its solar panels - among the largest structures ever placed in orbit - will generate 45 kilowatts of power. The bill will come to at least $50 billion.

The International Space Station got off to a shaky start in the early 1980s, when its design was constantly at the whim of fluctuating budgets and successive NASA engineers. In the era of glasnost, the project got a new lease of life when it was perceived as an effective way of reaching out to the beleaguered Russian space agency. Fraught with funding issues and political tensions, the collaboration highlighted the different styles of its engineers. NASA engineers tend to think on a big—sometimes too ambitious—scale, while the Russians have concentrated on low-cost, improvised solutions to such problems as long-term life support for the astronauts on board.

NOVA's profile of the ISS will focus on a crucial turning point in the project as the Russians finally deliver the vital Service Module, which they've been constructing for almost 15 years. NOVA will take viewers inside the excitement and risks of the shuttle mission that will place this third key component of ISS in orbit. Assuming the mission succeeds, NASA hopes that ISS will begin to silence its many critics and start to realize its scientific potential. Our show will paint a vivid picture of the third mission, the risks and hazards of long-term operations in space, and the vision and audacity that lie behind this extraordinary project.
Original broadcast date: 04/25/2000
Topic: astronomy/space exploration


The Vikings
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On 8 June 793 AD, a boat full of Scandinavian raiders landed at the undefended island monastery of Lindisfarne in northeast England. They savagely attacked the monks and pillaged one of Christendom's holiest shrines, sending shock waves through Europe; many believed God had sent the Northmen as an act of divine judgment. For the next century, Europe's kingdoms were locked in a life-and-death struggle against massive onslaughts by Viking fleets and armies. In this bitter fight for survival, the first stirrings of national identity in England, France, and Russia were born.

But who were their aggressors? In this two-hour special, NOVA presents a dramatic investigation of a people who were much more than axe-wielding pirates. It features stunning camerawork in Scandinavia and the far-flung countries that the Vikings penetrated, while historians and archaeologists present us with an image of the Vikings that goes far deeper than their savage stereotype. The latest research shows that they were canny merchants, expert shipbuilders, superb artisans, and bold colonizers of lands that lay beyond the edge of the known world.

The special retraces Viking voyages in faithful replicas of their magnificent ships, probing such questions as how they were able to navigate so far beyond the sight of land in the stormy north Atlantic. NOVA searches for traces of Leif Eriksson's legendary exploits in North America and the poignant extinction of Erik the Red's colony in Greenland. Less familiar is the story of the extraordinary Viking journeys along Russian rivers that led them ultimately to Istanbul and Baghdad. The Scandinavian contribution to the formation of Russia—the very name comes from Rus, meaning Swede or Scandinavian—is one of the liveliest Viking controversies investigated by NOVA.

With state-of-the-art computer animation and fresh archaeological discoveries, NOVA breathes life into the towns the Vikings founded, from Dublin to Novgorod. "The Vikings" strips away the myth of savagery to reveal a compelling portrait of a people who brought fear, prosperity, and new horizons to the world of medieval Europe.
Original broadcast date: 05/09/2000
Topic: anthropology/ancient


Lincoln's Secret Weapon
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This is the story of an armored combat vessel that opened up an entirely new chapter in naval warfare. At a critical moment of the American Civil War in 1861, the Navy commissioned the USS Monitor to test a daring idea—that a mechanical fighting machine could inflict a crushing defeat on Confederate forces. Not long after its legendary confrontation with the ironclad Merrimack, the Monitor sank in stormy seas off Cape Hatteras. Almost a century and a half after these stirring events, NOVA's cameras follow the Navy's risky efforts to salvage the secrets of the Monitor as it lies rusting on the ocean bottom.
Original broadcast date: 10/24/2000
Topic: archaeology, technology/weapons and warfare


Holocaust on Trial
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On January 11, 2000, a trial opened in London's High Court that would prove to be a crucial test of Holocaust "deniers." British author David Irving brought a libel action against Deborah Lipstadt, author of Denying the Holocaust: The Growing Assault on Truth and Memory. In her book, Lipstadt characterized Irving as a "Hitler partisan" who manipulated the historical record to deny the reality of the Holocaust. In seeking damages, Irving claimed that her book destroyed his reputation. Interwoven with dramatized sequences that re-create the courtroom testimony and arguments are documentary segments that explore evidence with the aid of historians Hugh Trevor-Roper and Robert Harris, and Auschwitz authority Robert Jan van Pelt, among others.
Original broadcast date: 10/31/2000
Topic: social sciences/miscellaneous, science/methods, ethics & education


Hitler's Lost Sub
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In 1991, professional diver John Chatterton discovered a sunken German U-boat from World War II, lying undetected only 60 miles off the New Jersey shore, its unexploded torpedoes and the bodies of its crew still aboard. This two-hour special follows Chatterton and his dive partners in their dangerous quest to identify the missing U-boat, a pursuit that takes six years and costs three lives. The U-boat's history involves unusual coincidences and a startling twist of fate.
Original broadcast date: 11/14/2000
Topic: archaeology, technology/weapons and warfare


Runaway Universe
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NOVA presents the first attempt on television to explore the riddle of quintessence - a mysterious repulsive force that some scientists believe counteracts gravity. The program follows the efforts of two rival teams of astronomers as they search for exploding stars, map out gigantic cosmic patterns of galaxies, and grapple with the ultimate questions: what is the size and shape of the universe, and how will it end?
Original broadcast date: 11/21/2000
Topic: astronomy/space exploration


Garden of Eden
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This journey ot the Seychelles, a collection of pristine granite and coral islands about 1,000 miles east of Kenya, reveals a dramatic landscape of natural wealth and scientific value. The islands, among the oldest islands in the world, are home to a dazzling array of exotic plants and animals. One island, Praslin, boasts rare or unique species of geckos, snails, snakes, parrots and bats. Aldabra, the largest atoll in the world, harbors in its lagoon a profusion of wildlife, sharks, frigate birds with seven-foot wingspan, rare robber crabs, spectacularly-colored parrot fish, mangrove forests, and the world's largest colony of giant tortoises, numbering some 150,000.
Original broadcast date: 11/28/2000
Topic: geography/oceanography


Dying to be Thin
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An epidemic of eating disorders is spreading through America's youth, a contagion fanned by the media's obsession with wafer-thin celebrities. For millions of young Americans, the conflict between real and fashionable images of the body can be a matter of life or death. Anorexia has the highest death rate of any psychological illness; over a 10-year period, five percent of all patients will die. Complications can include low blood pressure, bone loss and damage to the kidneys, liver and heart. This program takes viewers behind the scenes at laboratories and hospitals where specialists are experimenting with new approaches to eating disorders.
Original broadcast date: 12/12/2000
Topic: psychology, medicine/disease & research, medicine/health care & surgery, human biology/behavior


Japan's Secret Garden
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For at least 2,000 years, a unique way of life has flourished around the shores of Japan's largest freshwater lake - Lake Biwa - fed by more than 500 rivers that descend from the rugged, forested interior of Honshu Island. To exploit the abundant mountain water, generations of farmers have transformed the foothills surrounding the lake into a maze of ingeniously engineered terraced fields. The balance between humans and nature is reflected in the Japanese name for the cultivated areas: satoyama (sato—"village/people" and yama—"mountain/nature"). This high-definition (HDTV) documentary captures the subtle lessons and lush abundance of Satoyama.
Original broadcast date: 12/18/2000
Topic: geography/oceanography

 

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