Why have homo sapiens emerged as the only hominid left standing, capable of settling the world? That’s the goal of Gemini Award-winning anthropologist Niobe Thompson’s ambitious, gorgeous three-part The Great Human Odyssey.
Debuting Thursday with “Rise of a Species” as part of The Nature of Things, Thompson’s energetic narration can’t help but keep you interested as he traces mankind’s origins back to Africa and the cradle of life, where our ancestors battled for survival among other beasts in sometimes inhospitable conditions. Why did homo sapiens survive? Thompson—who has no qualms about putting his own life on the line for his studies—joins the bushmen of Africa’s Kalahari Desert where he witnesses how water is gained by watching where elephants quench their thirst and how harvesting grubs that live among the roots of a deadly tree gains poison for their spears and arrows.
Filmed over the course of 18 months, Thompson’s adventures are stunning to witness, a riot of colour, action and education. He and his crew of 22 cinematographers braved some of the most hostile sections of the planet, including Siberian winter, African deserts, remote islands in the Pacific and the ice of the Bering Strait.
Excavations that occurred during filming uncovered a treasure trove of new research. Among the new information gathered is proof that South Africa’s Cape Coast is the source of man’s earliest use of language, art, jewelry and projectile weapon making, and samples of human remains from the Russian Arctic show humans settled far earlier in that area than previously believed.
The Great Human Odyssey airs for three weeks under The Nature of Things banner on Thursdays at 8 p.m. on CBC.