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First Steps Film Assignment Essay

The following assignment is based on the film “Becoming Human Episode 1: First Steps.” You may access the film in the following ways: 1. It is available for free on the PBS website at the following address: http://video.pbs.org/video/1312522241/

2. It is available instantly through Netflix (where you may temporarily set up a free account for a few weeks if you are not a member).

Please use complete sentences to answer the following questions and type your answers on this form. You should submit this assignment to the “First Steps” dropbox using the “Assignments” tab by Sun 4/1 at 11:59 P.M. Please submit this file as a .doc, .docx, .rtf, or .pdf file. Please do not use the “.pages” extension because PCs cannot open it.

1. Where is the Afar located?

Afar is one of the nine Regional States of Ethiopia and is located in north eastern Africa. It is a part of the great rift valley (deep cut in earth where geological forces are ripping Africa apart).

2. How did researchers figure out how old the “Selam” fossil was?

Clues to the age of the fossil came from key features in the landscape; such as the white bands of volcanic ash that dated 3.4 million years ago. If the white bands of volcanic ash are 3.4 million years old then the fossil must be younger because it was found above it. Therefore, the fossil was approximately 3.3 million years old.

3. How did researchers figure out how old the fossil child Selam was when she died? How old was she?

Researchers looked at Selam’s teeth in order to find out how old she was when she died. They did not look at the baby teeth that were visible in her jaw; they looked her adult teeth that were growing inside the bone. From that observation researchers know Selam died when she was three years old.

4. What are the human-like components of the “Lucy” skeleton? What are the ape-like components?

Lucky had both human-like and ape-like components. From the waist down lucy was like humans and from the waist up she was like apes. She walked upright like humans and her pelvis bone resembled those of a human. Lucy’s greater trochanter was short and human-like. Her skeleton showed evidence of small skull capacity similar to apes. 5. What was the ancient environment of the australopithecines like? How does it change by 3-4 million years ago?

Researchers have found that Seguda Valley went through a huge transformation. It was once covered entirely of water, up to an elevation of approximately 580 meters. The valley was filled with a great lake that was steeper than any of the great lakes. The entire African continent used to be a lot wetter than it is present day. Long ago, before even Selam and Lucy’s existence Africa was a wet tropical environment covered with rain forest. Eventually Africa began to dry out and the rain forests shrank. During Selam’s existence, 3-4 million years ago, Africa was a mosaic of different environments. Researchers know that from the fossils that live there, they tell a story of a vanished landscape. Fossils of creatures like a pig and hippopotamus. Today it is a vast expanse of volcanic rock and burning desert.

6. What are some of the different hypotheses presented in the film for why bipedalism emerged?

One theory is that the mammals stood up to be able to see over tall grass. Second theory is that they stood up to be able to pick fruit off low branches of trees. (The way chimpanzees do today.) Third theory is that they stood up to cool more efficiently. – Not as much sun beating on the body. * Most compelling hypothesis is that it saved us energy.

7. What is the molecular clock and how is it used to determine when two species last shared a common ancestor?

It is a simple idea that the rate of change in DNA sequences is more or less constant over time – a way of determining if and when two species shared a common ancestor. By counting the differences in the genetic code between chimps and humans researchers can calculate how long they have been evolving away from each-other. (5-7 years ago humans and apes shared a common ancestor.)

8. What is the clue that the “Toumai” fossil (Sahelanthropus tchadensis) is bipedal?

The vital clue that the “Toumai” fossil is bipedal is how the skull connects to the spine. Researcher Michele could confer that by the shape of Toumai’s skull. If the skull is placed on a neck of an ape that walks on all fours its eyes point down ward (not correct). If the skull is placed on an upright spine of a biped its eyes point straight ahead; for Michele this proved that Toumai walked upright.

9. How are the first stone tools identifiable as tools? Who is currently thought to be the first stone tool maker?

The first stone tools were broken in a very particular way; there is a method behind how the rocks were broken in order to make it into a tool. Homo habilis (1.6-2.5 million years ago) are thought to be the first stone tool makers.

10. What is Rick Potts’ idea about the role of climate in hominid adaptation? How is it different from traditional ideas?

Rick Potts’ observations let him to the new idea, rapid change as a catalyst for our evolution.

11. What was going on with the African climate when Homo habilis evolved?

Africa had numerous climate changed from wet to dry, wet to dry, wet to dry all within approximately a thousand years.


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