The First People

September 11, 2015

It will go down as one of the most amazing archeological discoveries in history. Homo naledi - a new species of human-like fossils found in South Africa - is already rewriting the story of human evolution. These 15 skeletons are the largest cache of pre-human bones ever found. But so far, scientists don't know how old they are, or why they were placed in this burial site. Grad student Alia Gurtov describes the perilous crawl into the cave, which narrows to 7 inches at one point, in order to retrieve the fossils. And paleoanthropologist John Hawks explains why the discovery overturns decades of assumptions about our ancestry.

What's it like to look at the 30,000-year old paintings in Chauvet Cave? "You're just awe-struck," says renowned filmmaker Werner Herzog, who finds direct connections between these ancient paintings and modern art. The Chauvet paintings also inspired Kim Stanley Robinson to write his novel "Shaman," which is set in the paleolithic era when humans co-existed with Neandertals. Michelle Paver is another novelist who writes about the Stone Age. Her big question: What kinds of stories were told by the greatest storytellers?

In our last segment, we shift gears and reflect on 9/11 and the battles that followed with one of the world's great war photographers. James Nachtwey nearly died taking photos at Ground Zero as the World Trade Center collapsed, and he's waded into war zones around the world.

  1. Crawling Toward History

    Anthropologist Alia Gurtov was one of the first people to crawl into the Dinaledi Chamber to see the Homo naledi fossils. She describes the harrowing climb into the cave, where she had to crawl through tiny passages to retrieve the bones.

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  2. Homo Naledi: Our Newest Oldest Relative?

    How important is this discovery of hominin fossils in the Rising Star Cave?  Paleoanthropologist John Hawks says it overturns many of our assumptions about human prehistory, and also raises profound questions about what these human-like creatures thought about death and ritual.

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  3. Werner Herzog on the Deep History of Chauvet Cave

    Maybe people 30,000 years ago weren't so different from us. That's one of Werner Herzog's takeaways from seeing the ancient paintings in Chauvet Cave. The renowned filmmaker describes his own experience of awe when he encountered this prehistoric art.

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  4. Ancient Shamans and Roving Neandertals

    Kim Stanley Robinson is renowned for his futuristic science fiction, so he surprised lots of people by writing a novel set in the Paleolithic era. He says recent archeological discoveries, as well as his backpacking in the Sierra Nevada, inspired him to write about our ancient ancestors.

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  5. Michelle Paver on Stone Age Novels

    Michelle Paver has had a lifelong fascination with the Stone Age. She's studied anthropology, and she's lived with the Inuit in Alaska and the Sami in Lapland. She used these experiences to write her series of novels, Chronicles of Ancient Darkness.

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  6. Remembering 9/11 Through The Lens Of A Photojournalist

    James Nachtwey is one of the world's great war photographers. For more than 3 decades, he's covered just about every major armed conflict around the world, and he's been wounded several times on the job. He talks about his harrowing work in Afghanistan, Iraq and where those wars bagan - Ground Zero in 2001.

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