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June 1st, 2008
Program One: Becoming Us
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photo © Larry Engel, 2008

Premieres January 6, 2010 at 8pm (check local listings)

In the caves and rock shelters of the Dordogne region of France, Alan Alda witnesses the spectacular paintings and carvings that date back some 30,000 years, artwork that archeologists once thought to be the first record of people with minds like our own. When this art was created, Europe had already been peopled for hundreds of thousands of years – and thousands of lifetimes – by humans we call Neanderthals. Alan discovers, from visits to sites where Neanderthals once lived, that Neanderthals were tenacious and resourceful. But they appear to have lived in and of the moment; certainly they produced no art, and employed a stone tool technology that changed little over millennia. The people who painted the caves, our ancestors, were strikingly different, possessed of what we are calling the Human Spark, capable not only of art but of innovative technology and symbolic communication. The questions Alan explores: Where and when did the Human Spark first ignite? In these caves, as archeologists have long believed? Or at a much earlier time – and on another continent?

Finding the answer involves scanning Neanderthal teeth in a giant particle accelerator to learn about their childhood; reading Neanderthal’s genetic code in DNA extracted from 50,000 year-old bones; and discovering and reconstructing the weaponry that made possible – and relatively safe – the hunting of large animals in East Africa. We will also unearth the beads that are the first evidence of our species’ fascination with social status – and a powerful new means of long-distance communication; recover from the teeth and bones of both Neanderthals and our ancestors evidence of what they ate; and explore the Great Rift Valley in East Africa with archeologists who believe that it was there that the Human Spark first began to glimmer, tens of thousands of years before it burst into flame in Europe.

The program is full of vigorously argued controversy, great characters with great passions, and of course the inimitable curiosity and humor of Alan Alda.

  • Richard Howard

    Great website. What a treat to see the behind-the-scenes photos and video of the production. Looking forward to seeing the final product.

  • Kevin

    I just want to say that Scientific American Frontiers was such a wonderful show, and It’s great to see that Alan is coming back to this type of programming. Having been without his presence in the scientific Televisions field, The Human Spark is MUCH anticipated.

  • Lori Reed

    I can hardly wait! I’ve always trusted what Alan does, and this looks like another wonderful installation in his body of work. Of course, the entire program will be fascinating as well. I have already marked my calendar.

  • No.11

    So where can I watch it? I couldn’t find it anywhere online.

  • Human Spark Online

    You’ll be able to watch the programs online after they premiere in January 2010.

  • Fred

    This the best stuff that TV does. Whether PBS, History Channel or whichever. When freed of the insane liberal and conserative political bias of so much that we get, television can be a joy and worth watching. Alan has gone where virtually no other Hollywood type has even considered and should be given some sort of recognition for doing it.

  • Tom Reynolds

    Since we have a a couple months to go, for those in need of an entertaining read, try Daniels Quinn’s “Ishmael”, and perhaps even his “The Story of B.” These books provided a depth of philosophy I believe is appropriate fodder for Mr. Alda and crew’s project.

  • luz

    this is somethingi would what. it peeks ones inters

  • jane

    Will the program be available on DVD soon?

  • John

    A wonderful program, very well done. I also envy Mr. Alda his travels to Europe for the show.

    I hope this is – or becomes – part of a series.

  • Marina

    Is it my imagination or the representation of an African modern human looked like Alan Alda?

  • Roger

    What an awesome program. I hope that this will be repeated in its entirety. All three episodes should be shown consecutively after they have all aired. The follow up program here in North and South Carolina of “North Carolina scientists the Human Spark” was also terrific. I would like to see it repeated also. Thanks.

  • Fletch

    So…’modern’ humans: at least 150,000 years. Monotheism: about 3800 years. An unfortunate anomoly?

  • Kim

    Great first show. I would like to commend the people who made it all happen – funders, producers, technicians, etc. and the person to champion the idea to get the ball rolling – I cannot get enough of this kind of programming. Thank-you and I look forward to more from PBS.

  • Daphne Richey

    Alan Alda is one of a kind. I really appreciate his knowledge and search for more knowledge as well as his sense of humour. He is the perfect host for such a wonderful series.

  • Ruffian Angel

    Watched this show and was impressed with its content; excellent delivery and overall richness.

  • Gerry Lockard

    I was greatly impressed with the optimism of the young scientists who still believe that reason and cooperation will triumph over self-destruction, greed, destruction of other species and war. It is the bonobos that are becoming extinct.

  • Amy

    Is the Pannel Discussion that aired after the first show available to view online?

  • Dale

    Venue was perfect…Alan Alda’s converstional method was so user friendly… it was so easy to follow… and learn from…his informational dialogue kept you focused on the subject matter. really informative… look forward to finding the spark….

  • rich howard II

    A remarkable series with fascinating theme. I have degrees in Anthropology and Biology and have worked in both fields for over 30 years. Alan and the production staff have done a great service in exploring the evolution of “we are us.” Alan should include an important aspect, one of popultion dynamics in relationship to environmental limits. We as a species are rapidly approaching this envirnmental brick wall. This factor combined with climate change will mold adaptions by the human speices that will reshape our species yet again. Migration to other planets comes to mind similar to our long walk out of Africa.

  • Esin

    So interesting, looking forward to the next 2 episodes.

  • Fred

    I keep hoping that the web site for this, and other similar programs, would post at least one or two printed, scientifically sophisticated journal or book references, for further reading by those of us amateurs who enjoy further digging. A list of the primary investigators involved would help as well, to lead to further information. Wonderful programs, the like of which is so rare on TV.

  • Akron

    Amazing show. It really showed how we are truly vastly different than the animals around us. It’s amazing that the more that we learn about the uniqueness of humanity, the more it points away from evolution from animals. We have been amazingly designed.

  • Mike

    Thank you for airing that terrific series. Obviously, that is just the tip of the iceberg on the nature of humans and their evolution. When this series is continued (please!) I’d like to continue the exploration of the study in program #3 where the child chooses the “helper” blue square. Where do we become so violent and hostile after such inherent virtue? It seems that the human intent to victimize and humiliate our own species is another, however unfortunate, progression.

  • Dennis

    This was an AMAZING series. I haven’t stopped talking about it. Very thought provoking and insightful.
    insight + imagination = The Human spark. GENIUS

    I would agree with Mike (Jan 22,2010) please continue the series.

  • David Crownover

    I saw this series on Georgia Public TV! Wow! It answers complicated questions in a straightforward, fact- based manner. It also displays unanswered questions and why the answer has not been forthcoming. Braco! Keep up the great work! Looking ofrward to purchasing the DVDs. Are they available?

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