Curiosity: Mankind Rising (2012) - full transcript

we are the most complex creature on this planet

a big brain two-legged mammal

we've risen from the raw materials of the earth

to dominate and shape it

wind the clock backwards

and the story of how we got to be us

is a puzzle that defies all logic

through nearly 4 billion years

of evolutionary twists and turns

disasters strike

predators threaten to wipe us out

from rodent to reptile

we face extinction at every turn

from the land into the water

fighting to survive every step of the web

from fish to worm back to the very first

spark of life

to a single simple cell

this is the most extraordinary

improbable story ever told

the story of mankind rising


four billion years ago a ball of rock

and dust spins in the frozen vacuum

of space

this isn't Mars or Venus

this hell is earth

this seething lifeless mass of molten lava

will become home to nearly

nine million living species

but generating light from this

will take a chain of events

that defies the laws of probability

there are many theories

nobody knows exactly how or where life began

but it couldn't happen without water

experts believe asteroids or comets

delivered it here

the water is turning with

chemical and organic compounds

lightning strikes the chemical soup

at the right place and the right time

billions of volts of electricity

trigger a chain of improbable coincidences

the chemicals atoms join up in a precise sequence

creating a bundle of genetic material

these fragile genes don't stand

a chance in this extreme environment


but luck strikes again

a blob of oily material engulfs a single chain

to create the first ever cell

now the gene send out messages

chemical instructions

and 3.5 billion years ago

they do something extraordinary

they copy themselves and the cell

to create a perfect clone

this is the very first living thing

every human every animal

every bug every plant

can trace its origins to this single cell

the genes tell each cell to reproduce

guaranteeing their survival as they pass

from one generation to the next

for two billion years the only living things

are simple single cells

but a random accident changes everything

two cells merge their genes combine

the merge cell clones itself

its offspring contains genes from not one

but two cells two parents

we call this accident sex

sex introduces variation


occasionally things go wrong

as the cells reproduce genes get deleted


these cells are mutants

mutations pile up

differences increase until the cells

become so different their separate species

The Tree of Life branches out

into billions of species

but only one will lead to us

mutating and diversifying

spreading out through the oceans

getting bigger more complex

until our ancestor is a 3-inch long water worm

this is us five hundred and fifty

million years ago

mutations create distinct male and

female sexes we produce more offspring

passing on more genes

Mars and Venus boy-meets-girl

it all starts here

but finding a partner is almost impossible

when every living thing is blind

in this sea of darkness

the ability to see will give us

a critical advantage

nature's most perfect innovation

begins to take shape

a handful of skin cells mutate now

we can tell dark from light find more prey

dodge more predators we live longer

and produce more offspring

soon creatures with light-sensitive cells

dominate the population

over countless generations

more mutations refine the cells

this is natural selection in action

the process that allows every living thing

to adapt to the world

and that gives our ancestor eyes


we can see and everything we can see

is descended from that first single cell

but we need to make sense of what we're seeing

behind our eyes a tiny collection

of nerve cells clustered together

they're no bigger than a pinhead

one day this will be nature's most complex

and mysterious organ

521 million years ago

this is the very first brain

we are a fish-like creature called Myllokunmingia

our brain can make simple decisions

process basic information

but we can't outwit or outrun

this Anomalocaris

the great white of the ancient oceans

our odds of extinction are far higher

than survival

of all the species that have ever lived

99% of them are extinct

but a lucky roll of the genetic dice

helps Myllo toughen up

your jaws your teeth

they exist because over 400 million years ago

we face the wrath of a primeval monster

jaws and teeth mean more food

and a bigger stronger body

until 375 million years ago

we're a footlong armored fish

we look invincible

but we're not

now the choice is simple

get out of his way or die


we're safe in the shallow water

or are we on the water stagnant

there's not enough oxygen

starved of oxygen cells shut down

toxic carbon dioxide saturates the blood

we can't go back we can't stay here

there's only one place left for us to go


it takes over 3 billion years

for our ancestor to evolve from a single cell

to a footlong armored fish

now our future looks bleak

but natural selection

throws us a lifeline

over millions of years thousands of generations

our body adapts to we do something

no fish has done before

breathe air

the air travels into a new organ a lung

take a breath and remember it's because

a monster fish chased our ancestor

into the stagnant water

forcing them to breathe air

we're an Ichthyostega

we can breathe air or water

closing off our windpipe

to switch between lungs and gills

today our gills are gone

but the mechanism remains

and sometimes it spasms giving us the hiccups

365 million years ago

we stick our head out of the water

there's a swamp behind us paradise ahead

the choice is simple

but the consequences are immense

we pull ourselves out of the water

and change the course of history

this is the moment we leave the water

for a new life on land

but all this food comes at a price

the fierce sun dries out our skin

the hard terrain tears at our soft feet

Ichthyostega is a fish out of water

we dodged extinction in a stagnant swamp

only to slam straight into

another deadly environment


countless creatures perish

but natural selection helps our ancestor adapt


thicker skin protects us from the sun

and tough claws that will one day

become our fingernails

help us move across the rough terrain

until we're Casineria

we've adapted to life on land

but our eggs haven't

they need a tough shell to stop them drying out of the sun

the problem is males can't fertilize an egg

through a tough shell

but they can fertilize it before the shell forms

inside the female's body

sex as we know it starts here

the result is a masterpiece of evolution

an egg in a tough shell

with all the nutrients the embryo needs sealed inside

sex is the best way to increase genetic variety

and keep our species alive


thanks to sex 340 million years ago

Casineria becomes the first of our ancestors

to live entirely on land

it's a new world

different from anything we've experienced up to now

we breathe air support our own weight

and wrestle with an onslaught of new smells sounds sights

bombarded with information our brains evolve

we're smart and we need to be

from that first creature to set foot on land

millions of species have evolved

more competitors mean less food to go round

a mutation gives us bigger morepowerful jaw muscles

it's a critical advantage

we can eat more food faster

and it shows


we're Varanops

a slab of pure meat-eating power

this little creature is a Protorosaurus

once a competitor

now he's prey

with Varanops for an ancestor

our success seems certain


but our story is a rollercoaster ride

and there's a big dip coming

250 million years ago

thousands of miles away in Siberia

the earth tears itself apart

a giant plume of magma surges up

from deep inside the planet molten rock

boozes through cracks in the Earth's crust

covering an area the size of the United States

under a layer a thousand feet deep

and it continues for half a million years

trillions of tons of noxious carbon dioxide

trapped the sun's heat inside the atmosphere

temperatures soar to over a hundred degrees

plants the plant-eaters

and eventually the meat-eaters perish

95% of all species died

only a tiny handful hang on

among them us and another species

that will one day become the dinosaurs

as the fight for survival winds down

the battle for supremacy begins

30 million years

since volcanic eruptions

wiped out 95% of all living things

when the eruption struck

we look like a large lizard

now we're a cat-size creature

covered in fur called Ecteninion

imagine you've survived the apocalypse

and today is the day it's finally safe

to venture out of hiding

you discover you're not alone

the last thing you want to see

is a dinosaur

a five foot tall Herrerasaurus

she evolved from one of the small reptiles

that survived the mass extinction

her ancestors adapted faster than ours

putting the dinosaurs ahead in the game

and leaving us playing catch-up


this one's fast strong and hungry


we're staring down the barrel

of an evolutionary gun

our only hope natural selection

over millions of years we get smaller

so we're harder to catch

we become nocturnal making us harder to see

we're cold and scared

tiny muscles around the base of each hair contract

making our first stand on end

trapping air as insulation

that's why today when we're cold or startled

we get goose bumps

our sense is sharpened so we can see

hear and smell a dinosaur

before a dinosaur sees us

inside our brain a new structure evolves

the neocortex the home of complex thought

that allows us to analyze a situation

and respond it will one day

give us the power to imagine

create and communicate

66 million years ago

we're Batodon

a two-inch long shrew-like creature

living on our wits in the ancient forests of Montana

humanity's future depends on Batodon

sharp senses and supercharged brain

if these fail we may never exist


the dinosaurs maybe the best thing

that ever happened to us

thanks to them we have powerful senses

and brilliant brains without them

we could still be laying eggs

to protect our offspring from hungry dinosaurs

we evolved to give birth to live young

instead of leaving them to fend for themselves

we nurture them with milk

sweat glands evolved to become mammary glands

it's a major milestone in our journey from cell to human

the birth of a new kind of animal

one that will branch out

into more than four thousand species

from the smallest mouse

to the largest whale to us

the mammals have arrived

the dinosaurs help shape who we are

but we lost the battle for supremacy

the dinosaurs reign for over 165 million years

nothing can stop them

or so it seems

Montana 65 million years ago

an asteroid strikes 1,800 miles away

of Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula

a small rat-like mammal is about to face

the fight of his life

lose and humans may never exist

pulverized rock and dust

engulf the entire planet


the only way out is to dig

smoke and ash from the fires block out the sun

temperatures plummet

vegetation dies

the local disaster becomes

a global catastrophe

for the dinosaurs it's a disaster

they're big creatures with big appetites

and now that's a big problem

as the mighty fall the small rise to the top

bugs tough enough to survive the worst catastrophe

gorge on the dead and decaying

and they make the perfect snack

next time you're about to squash a bug

remember that we wouldn't be here

without them

64 million years ago our bug-eating ancestor

is Purgatorius just under six inches long

this little creature

and the rest of his mammal family

are the unlikely inheritors of the dinosaurs crown

mammals become the dominant animals on land

they spread out

across the newly formed continents

our future rests on their tiny shoulders

from the ashes of destruction

new life begins to sprout

60 million years ago

fruit ripens on the trees


packed full of nutrients

the more fruit we eat the longer we live

we leave solid ground for a new life in the trees

a new world demands a new body

we've come a long way from that first single cell

now at last we're beginning

to glimpse a family resemblance

we're Altiatlasius

one of the first members of a new group of mammals

the primates

by fifty six million years ago

we've adapted to our world


but that world is about to change again

over ten million years

extreme temperature ships ravage the forests

forests get smaller

food gets harder to reach

natural selection intervenes again

our tail shrinks back to the base of the spine

where it stays as the coccyx

a reminder of our days

spent leaping through the trees

instead of leaping we stretch

our arms grow long and flexible

changing temperatures changed our ancestors

and us forever

but the planets not finished yet

deep underground

the African and Arabian plates pull apart

the land between them

drops to form the East African Rift Valley

along its edge a three and a half

thousand mile long mountain chain

rises up


rains from the Indian Ocean

once watered all of Africa

now the mountains blocked their path

the trees get even further apart

the food harder to reach

we're starving desperate

4.4 million years ago

the will to survive

that's driven us from a single cell in the ocean

to a complex primate in the forests of Africa

is about to make us do something extraordinary

something no primate

has ever done before

after three billion years of evolution

we hit an evolutionary dead end

we are Ardipithecus ramidus

four feet tall at 80 pounds

with a brain the size of an orange

our dense rainforest home

has become patchy forest

we can stand on branches move along them

but to reach more food we need to let go




4.4 million years ago

these are our first steps on two legs

walking takes us to the food

and leaves our hands-free to pick it

it catches on fast

Ardipithecus is smart enough

to copy and learn

walking gets passed from parent to child

over the next 1.2 million years

our body evolves so that we can walk

further and faster


finding shelter a mate and food gets easier

but childbirth gets harder

with a narrower pelvis giving birth

to a fully developed infant becomes impossible

babies have to come out early

when their heads are smaller

and they're barely developed

that's why we are one of the few species

to spend years caring for our offspring

protecting them feeding them

and keeping them out of trouble


3.2 million years ago

we're an Australopithecus

our brain is the size of a grapefruit

and we walk on two legs all the time


we got lucky the lion has already eaten

this time

we can't outrun our predators

the only way to survive is to outthink

the smarter we get the longer we live

natural selection promotes the mutations

that improve our brain power

like weaker jaw muscles

released from the muscles vice-like grip

the brain is free to grow it doubles in size

2.3 million years ago

this is Homo habilis also known as 'Handy Man'

walking on two legs with a big brain

we're the first of an entirely new type of creature

we're the first man

we're bigger stronger and hungry than ever before

there's food out there

but it's more likely to eat us

before we can eat it

we're a scavenger working alone

we eat whatever we can find

the edge is razor sharp

we have just made the very first tool

armed with this we will change the world

East Africa 2.3 million years ago

after over three billion years of evolution

we take our fate into our own hands

we are the first species to make tools

in this hostile environment

we need every advantage we can get

we must fight off predators


and our own relatives


there's no meat left

it looks like we're going hungry again

but there's bone marrow locked inside

packed with energy

the tool is the key to a whole new way of life

we'll use it to grow crops

build cities and travel into space

our thumbs become stronger

hold a cup pick up a pen we can do this

because 2 million years ago

tool use changed our bodies

and the course of evolution

we've pieced together our ancestors story

from their bones

but from the vastness of Africa

all the bones of our early human ancestors ever found

would fit into the back of a pickup

less than one bone in a billion becomes a fossil

factor in the chances of finding those bones

across millions of square miles

and it's clear

most of what has lived has been lost

our family tree is a giant puzzle

with most of the pieces missing

but 1.8 million years ago

a piece falls into place

and we find a new species on the scene

Homo erectus

until this point we were scavengers

but now we're hunters

and we've learned how to work

with other members of our species


the hunt is on

the Impala can run fast

but we can run further

low shoulders and long torso stabilizes

powerful buttock muscles

contract expand and push us forward


sweat stops us from overheating

covered in fur the Impala is exhausted


it sparks an idea

that will make our ancestors human

warm life safety is within reach

nature's power is in our hands


protected from the terrors of the dark

our extended family gather round

by working together these earliest families

get food more often so we live longer

this is the advantage of family life

the reason most of us live

as we do today

meat is too precious to waste

and cooked me is easier to chew

the powerful molars used to chew

tough raw food retreat back into the gums

where they'll stay as our wisdom teeth

35% of us never even grow them

a sign that they may be evolving out of existence

with less energy spent on chewing

our ancestors have energy to spare

the brain increases to the size of a softball

50% larger than before the invention of cooking

Erectus is the cleverest

most cooperative ancestor today

but with several adult males

in an extended family

rivalries are inevitable

communicate and will live longer

natural selection kicks in

our tongue changes shape

and moves down our throat

carrying the larynx with it

allowing us to form different shapes in our mouths

making different sounds and ultimately words

speech is our greatest tool

it's the last piece of the puzzle that turns

our ancestors into us

200,000 years ago

after a 3.3 billion year battle for survival

we've arrived

we are Homo sapiens meaning 'Wise Man'

pound-for-pound we have the largest

brain of any creature on earth

armed with tools speech and superior intelligence

we spread out across every continent

we evolve and adapt to new environments

new challenges until we become

the undisputed masters of the world

wind the clock of life back to the beginning

and the chances of us evolving again

are practically zero

change one thing

one predator one lucky mutation

and we wouldn't be here to tell the tale

to piece together the extraordinary story

of our four billion year journey