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NOVA: Becoming Human: First Steps - Part One

Airs Wednesday, August 31, 2011 at 8 p.m. on KPBS TV

Above: This definitive three-part special on human evolution combines interviews with renowned scientists and the most recent, groundbreaking discoveries with vivid images of our earliest ancestors to tell the first comprehensive story of our human past. Pictured: A group of workers digs in the area where earlier searches uncovered one-million-year-old hominid fossils called Homo antecessor in Atapuerca, Spain.

Building Faces From Fossils: Paleoartist Viktor Deak works from casts of fossil skulls to put faces to Turkana Boy and other ancient hominids. 
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Above: Building Faces From Fossils: Paleoartist Viktor Deak works from casts of fossil skulls to put faces to Turkana Boy and other ancient hominids.

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Where did we come from? What makes us human? An explosion of recent discoveries sheds light on these questions, and NOVA's comprehensive, three-part special, "Becoming Human," examines what the latest scientific research reveals about our hominid relatives.

Part One, "First Steps," examines the factors that caused us to split from the other great apes. The program explores the fossil of "Selam," also known as "Lucy's Child." Paleoanthropologist Zeray Alemseged spent five years carefully excavating the sandstone-embedded fossil.

NOVA's cameras are there to capture the unveiling of the face, spine, and shoulder blades of this 3.3 million-year-old fossil child. And NOVA takes viewers "inside the skull" to show how our ancestors' brains had begun to change from those of the apes.

Why did leaps in human evolution take place? "First Steps" explores a provocative "big idea" that sharp swings of climate were a key factor.

The other programs in the "Becoming Human" series are part two: "Birth of Humanity," which profiles the earliest species of humans, and part three: "Last Human Standing," which examines why, of various human species that once shared the planet, only our kind remains. These episodes will air on Wednesday, August 31, 2011 beginning at 8 p.m.

Video

Video Excerpt: NOVA: Becoming Human, Part I

Watch the full episode. See more NOVA.

Above: Part one, "First Steps," examines the factors that caused us to split from the other great apes. The program explores the fossil of "Selam," also known as "Lucy's Child." Paleoanthropologist Zeray Alemseged spent five years carefully excavating the sandstone-embedded fossil. NOVA's cameras are there to capture the unveiling of the face, spine, and shoulder blades of this 3.3 million-year-old fossil child.