Becoming Human – Essaylink


Film viewing guide for Becoming Human, Episode 1: First Steps
This documentary film examines the factors that caused us to split from the other great apes millions of years
ago. The program explores the earliest fossil hominins, some of which date as early as 6-7 million years old.
These questions will serve as your class notes for the day. Answer each question completely as you watch the
film. I have put an approximate time for when the answer is discussed (these independent YouTube videos
may not match the time marks though).

1. What sort of fossil did paleoanthropologist Zeray Alemseged discover in the Afar region of northeastern
Ethopia, and how did he determine its age? (5 min)
2. To which hominin species do the fossils “Selam” and “Lucy” belong? What can we learn about how these
human ancestors lived by studying their bones and teeth? (11 min)
3. What was the environment of the Great Rift Valley like 3-4 million years ago, when species like “Selam” and
“Lucy” were alive? What evidence have scientists used to reconstruct these paleoenvironments? (15 min)
4. What are some of the theories to explain the development of bipedalism (walking upright)? (17 min, and
more discussion later in the film)
5. What is the “molecular clock,” and why is it significant for understanding human evolution? (21 min)
6. Name and describe some of the “small-brained, bipedal apes” that lived in Africa 3-6 million years ago. (24-
30 min)
7. What can brain casts tell us about “Selam’s” brain growth and development? Why is this significant? (30 – 35
8. How was the human ancestor Homo habilis different from species like Australopithecus afarensis (e.g.
“Selam” and “Lucy”)? (35-40 min)
9. According to paleoanthropologist Rick Potts, what is the relationship between environmental change and
human evolution? (42 min, and more discussion later)
10. What does the study of diatoms and deep sea sediment cores tell us about climate change during the
course of human evolution, and why is this significant? (43 min, until the end of the film).



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