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NOVA: Human Origins Video Bundle

Mr McNeely
Grade Levels
10th - 12th, Homeschool
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20 pages
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Products in this Bundle (3)


    This bundle includes, at a discounted price, video worksheets to accompany three recent NOVA documentaries that address some of our earliest human ancestors. We learn of the origin of our species, Homo sapiens, in Africa, and its eventual spread throughout the entire earth. Other ancestors documented in these videos is Naia, the 13,000 year old skeleton of a teenage old girl found in a flooded Mexican cave, who represents one of the first people to enter the Americas, and Ötzi, the famed "iceman" of the Italian Alps, who represents one of the first members of a wave of agricultural settlers who entered Europe around 5,000 years ago.

    The download contains one, six-sided video worksheet for Great Human Odyssey, and two, two-sided video worksheets for First Face of America and Iceman Reborn. Added together, the worksheets consist of 218 multiple choice questions, and answer keys are included. The multiple choice format allows students to easily watch the video while quickly recording answers. Files are included in both PDF and MS Word formats. Descriptions of each worksheet and episode are below:

    NOVA: Great Human Odyssey

    Anthropologist Niobe Thompson explores the origin and eventual world domination of our species, Homo sapiens, in this special 2-hour episode of the PBS series NOVA. Niobi traces the paths our ancestors may have taken out of Africa into the wider world, and he visits people who still live in ways similar to that of our distant ancestors.

    The six page video worksheet (three pages double sided) consists of 121 multiple-choice questions, and an answer key is included. This may sound like a lot, but I have found that this format enables the students to pay attention to the video while quickly recording their answers. I try to avoid situations where the students are bogged down by writing long responses during a video. I have also broken the worksheet into the sections listed below, which helps with showing the video in installments to match a particular topic. The Zip file download contains files in both PDF and MS Word format. You will need to obtain a DVD of the video or locate an internet site for streaming.

    I have divided the video worksheet into the following sections (with time stamps) which match those of the video provided by the PBS Internet site:

    Near Death

    The Arrival of Art


    Our Ancient Cousins

    Hostile or Inhospitable?

    A Child of the Past

    Born Sailors

    Master Navigators

    Pacific Sojourn

    NOVA: Great Human Odyssey Overview

    The video begins at Africa’s Great Rift Valley, where the fossilized remains of some of our pre-human ancestors have been discovered. The most famous discovery is Lucy, an earlier form of human from 3 million years in the past who walked upright, yet had a brain similar to that of a chimpanzee. Eventually, larger brained ancestors such as Homo erectus appeared around 2 million years ago. H. erectus was able to fashion stone tools (this species also left Africa and spread throughout Asia and Europe before modern humans).

    People like us, or Homo sapiens, date from around 200,000 years in the past. The oldest known H. sapiens fossil from Africa is that of Herto Man, who dates to 160,000 years ago and was discovered in Ethiopia. Bands of H. sapiens likely lived and hunted in groups. They were even able to hunt large prey such as the hippopotamus. As hairless apes, early humans practiced persistence hunting, the technique of chasing prey for long distances in order to drive them to exhaustion before killing. Today’s San Bushmen perform persistence hunting, and likely live in ways similar to our early human ancestors. The San have perfected living in a desert climate, which is mainly concerned with finding water. The video documents how the San, as well as our distant Homo sapiens ancestors, used ostrich eggs to store water. Caches of water-filled eggs buried at regular intervals allowed long distance travel. The earliest ostrich egg “sip wells” date back to 100,000 years ago.

    A change in climate, from temperate to drought conditions, likely prompted early H. sapiens to leave central Africa. Some humans took residence in seaside caves located in South Africa at Pinnacle Point. Evidence for fires, and the consumption of shellfish, has been discovered in these caves. Archaeologists have also unearthed advanced stone tools in these caves such as thin blades made of silcrete, a hard, brittle variety of microcrystalline quarts. Early humans also invented spears, and the bow and arrow, in order to safely hunt from a distance. What is likely the earliest known art has also been discovered at Blombos Cave near Pinnacle Point in South Africa. Ocher, an early form of paint, has been discovered at Blombos, as well as etched lines in a cross-hatch pattern. The bones of deep-water species have also been revealed, indicating that the inhabitants of the South African coast had perfected deep-water fishing. The ability to hold one’s breath for minutes at a time, a technique called “breath-hold diving”, is practiced in modern times by the Badjao divers of the southern Phillipines. Niobe Thompson visits the Badjao and meets with Satarawi, a diver who as a young man could hunt underwater for five minutes at a stretch.

    The same climatic changes that led humans to populate the South African coast eventually took our ancestors out of Africa. In the 1930s, the oldest H. sapiens remains outside of Africa were discovered in Skhul Cave near Mt. Carmel in Israel. English archaeologist Dorothy Garrad discovered ten skeletons that date to over 100,000 years old. At Cambridge, an old tobacco tin containing a fossil tooth from Dorothy Garrad’s expedition to Skhul Cave was recently recovered from storage. Teeth make excellent vessels for DNA, and Danish scientist Eske Willersleve and his team made an attempt to recover the Skhul people’s DNA. If recovered, the DNA can then be compared to other human remains, as well as modern humans. Everyone’s genome contains an evolutionary history in its DNA. Random mutations leave discernable patterns that can reveal how closely related different populations are. The DNA study can also reveal if the Skhul people were our “out of Africa” ancestors. Unfortunately, Willersleve’s team was unable to obtain a complete sequence for the Skhul people.

    Scientists are searching for the likeliest routes that early humans took to leave Africa. It is likely that early humans followed “green corridors”, temporary watery regions through the Sahara desert that came and went with in a regular cycle linked to earth’s “wobbling” axis. The wobble (called precession) imposes a 20,000 year cycle on monsoon activity, and at times the desert was eliminated when North Africa once received as much rainfall as England does today. After crossing the Sahara, early humans might have crossed into Asia along the Nile Valley, or the Bab-al-Mandeb strait between Africa and Arabia. Jebel Faya, in the Arabian Peninsula across from Africa, is a site that contains evidence of an early human presence. In the video, a team of scientists discovered hand axes dating to 100,000 years in the past, buried under many feet of soil. The climate was also more temperate in the past, and where is now desert once had flowing water which likely attracted animals and early humans.

    As mentioned earlier, an earlier species, Homo erectus, had left Africa about 500,000 years ago. H. Erectus was very similar to modern humans, and it is possible that they developed into two related species, Neanderthal Man and the Denisovans, who inhabited Europe and Asia. Unlike the negative stereotype, Neanderthal Man was nearly as intelligent and capable as modern humans, and they were not the hairy ape-men portrayed in popular media. Neanderthal Man and the Denisovans in Asia disappeared soon after H. sapiens began to populate Europe and Asia. It is possible that modern humans, who had better projectile weapons, killed off the other human-like species. We also know that interbreeding took place, and that many modern humans possess a small amount (2-4%) of Neanderthal DNA.

    Scientists excavating the Hohle Fels cave in southern Germany have made remarkable discoveries concerning early human development of music and symbolic art. Figures carved from mammoth ivory of a horse, “Venus” figure, and a “Lion Man” were found in the cave. The scientists also discovered the oldest known musical instruments, flutes carved from bird bones and ivory. These artifacts date from 40,000 years ago. Their presence is a clue to the differences between H. sapiens and Neanderthal Man, and the possible advantages of artistic and symbolic thought.

    Humanity would again be affected by climatic changes. The earth began to cool, and large ice sheets formed and advanced, covering much of North America and Europe in glacial ice. To demonstrate how our ancestors may have lived in this time, Niobe Thompson visits the Chukchi reindeer herders of Siberia, who are able to make a living in extreme environments. For the Chukchi, migration and sophisticated animal skin clothing makes Arctic living possible. In general, the invention of eyed needles and sewing allowed our ancestors to survive in ice age Europe.

    Another consequence of the ice sheet development was the lowering of sea levels, and the emergence of a substantial land bridge between Asia and North America, a region termed Beringia. Early humans entered North America around 12-15,000 years ago from Asia using the land bridge. They also likely used boats to travel along the ice age coastline. As a demonstration, Niobe visits the Yupik of eastern Siberia, who construct light wooden boats covered with a single walrus skin. A counter theory to the Beringia hypothesis, the Solutrean hypothesis, had also emerged-that the first humans had entered from Europe across the Atlantic—but DNA studies have disproven this.

    The oldest human remains in North America, a representative of the people who would become modern Native Americans, were found in 1968 on a farm in Montana. While extracting dirt for a building project, workers on the Anzick farm uncovered over 100 stone and bone artifacts, as well as the grave of a young child, all of which date from about 13,000 years ago. The Anzick child is a representative of the Clovis culture, named for a location in New Mexico where distinctive fluted stone spearpoints were first discovered. The Anzick cache contained numerous Clovis points, which are remarkable and beautiful creations by master flint knappers. The Clovis people used these spearpoints to hunt wooly mammoths and other large ice age mammals.

    Sarah Anzick was aware of the discovery of the Anzick child on her parent’s land when she was two years old. Later in life she became a molecular biologist who studied DNA with the Human Genome Project. Sarah realized that obtaining DNA from the Anzick child could help solve the mystery of the origin of the Native Americans. After various controversies surrounding the study and repatriation of human remains claimed by Native American tribes, Sarah asked Eske Willerslev to recover DNA from the Anzick child. The unique mutations in the DNA haplogroups of the Anzick child were compared to other human remains from Asia and Europe. It turned out that the Anzick child was related to humans from East Asia, and these results completely refuted the Solutrean hypothesis of a European origin for the Native Americans. Today, close to 80% of all living Native Americans carry the Anzick child’s genome. Sarah and Eske later collaborated with Shane Doyle of the Crow Tribe, and the remains of the Anzick child were eventually reburied with a Native American ceremony.

    By 5,000 years ago, the only frontier that remained unconquered by H. sapiens was the islands of the Pacific Ocean. When European explorers such as Captain Cook arrived at Pacific islands, they found people called Polynesians that had arrived there long before. The Polynesians had been able to travel long distances over water without the navigational charts and full-masted ships of the Europeans. One theory of the origin of the Polynesians, the accidental drift hypothesis, claimed that the first islanders had been accidently taken to remote Pacific islands from South America by the trade winds. In 1947, charismatic Danish explorer Thor Heyerdahl sailed from South America in a reed raft named the Kon-Tiki, and by utilizing prevailing winds were able to reach a Pacific island. The raft had been built only of traditional South American boat materials, and was meant to demonstrate that such a voyage undertaken by ancient people was possible. Despite this success, genetic studies reveal that the ancestors of the Pacific islanders had migrated into Southeast Asia, and by about 40,000 years ago had managed to reach Indonesia and the Philippines.

    In the video, Niobe Thompson visits traditional boat builders in Papua New Guinea in order to investigate the boats and techniques used for the navigation of the Pacific. The early islanders had build dugout canoes from long tree trunks. Later, the outrigger was added to increase stability, and eventually the outrigger was replaced by another canoe to form the double-hulled canoe, a stable boat capable of long distance travels. Niobe also met Kelepa Babayan, a ship navigator who uses the old methods and sails without charts, GPS, or instruments. Navigators such as Kelepa employ a mental star map for navigation, and they also observe swells and currents as further guides. The end of the video describes Kelepa’s preparation for a circumnavigation of the earth using the traditional navigation techniques. His ship, the double-hulled sea vessel Hokule’a, departed from Oahu in 2014 and returned to Hawaii in June 2017.

    Niobe also explores the evidence for Polynesian contact with the Americas. Humans had reached Easter Island and built the iconic stone figures. Easter Island lies in the general proximity of South America, and its occupation implies that other eastward trips were plausible. Evidence for Pacific Islander contact with the Americas is the cultivation of the sweet potato, and the discovery of Polynesian skulls on an island close to Chile in South America. Sweet potatoes originated in South America, but have been found on many Pacific islands.

    In evolutionary terms, H. sapiens is only about 200,000 years old. In this time, humanity survived a precarious existence in Africa, and eventually groups of humans left Africa and populated Europe, Asia, North and South America, Australia, and the Pacific islands. This remarkable diaspora is a testament to the ingenuity and tenacity of our species. We evolved from an ancestor like Lucy. Today we are the masters of the earth. Remarkably, all of the different types of people around the world are genetically identical and are one species, Homo sapiens.

    NOVA: First Face of America

    NOVA: First Face of America documents the remarkable discovery of Naia, the nearly complete skeleton of an ice age adolescent girl. Found in a flooded cave in Yucatan, Mexico, Naia represents one of the oldest humans unearthed in the Americas. Radiocarbon analysis indicates that she died nearly 13,000 years ago.

    The two-sided video worksheet consists of 46 multiple-choice questions, and an answer key is included. The Zip file download contains files in both PDF and MS Word format. You will need to obtain a DVD of the video, or find a way to stream on the Internet. You will need to obtain a DVD of the video or locate an internet site for streaming.

    NOVA: First Face of America Overview

    The identity of the first Americans has long been a source of controversy and scientific inquiry. The discovery of the skeleton of Naia, an adolescent girl whose remains date back nearly 13,000 years, has shed much light upon this topic. Naia, named for a mythological water nymph, was found in a cenote, or flooded cave, in Yucatan, Mexico. The video documents the efforts of James Chatters and other scientists to retrieve and study Naia’s remains, and to place her in the context of the expansion of humans into North and South America.

    Mexican cave divers discovered the flooded bone yard in 2007. They named it Hoyo Negro, or Black Hole, and its exploration was fraught with danger. Dozens of cave divers had perished in exploring such places. The cenote later became flooded as sea levels rose due to melting glacial ice. The cenote had once served as a burrow for prehistoric animals. It is likely that Naia had been exploring the cenote in search of water.

    The video also documents the dramatic recovery of Naia’s skeleton from the flooded Hoyo Negro. Lights were installed using one-half mile of cabling. After a multi-stage dive, cave diver Susan Bird retrieved Naia’s delicate skull from the originally dark, 100 feet abyss. She lifted the skull and placed it into a meshed container for safe transport to the surface. The tension, and the relief after the safe recovery were palpable.

    Naia tells a poignant story. She led a short, brutish existence in ice age America. Aged 15-16 years, her skeleton revealed periods of malnutrition, as well as physical abuse, and that she had already given birth. Her muscle development indicated a lifestyle of constant motion. Naia’s people may have been newly settled in the Yucatan region. Examination of Naia’s remains revealed that she had fallen to her death in the cave. Radiocarbon dating of one of Naia’s teeth provided her age of 13,000 years.

    Modern humans, or Homo sapiens, left Africa about 80,000 years ago and spread throughout Europe and Asia. They eventually entered the New World about 15,000 years ago by crossing from Asia to North America through Beringia, a now flooded continental land bridge that once connected the two landmasses. Remains of campfires, and the burial of two children found at Upward Sun River in Alaska, date from these first settlers.

    The location of Naia’s remains in tropical Mexico indicate a rapid expansion into the Americas. Before the discovery of Naia and other early human remains, scientists had proposed the first Americans to be the Clovis people, named for the distinctive and beautifully crafted spearpoints first discovered in New Mexico in the 1930s. The Clovis culture extended from North to South America. The spearpoints were used to hunt mammoths and other ice age megafauna. The Clovis age burial of the Anzick child is described in the video.

    James Chatters was also involved in the analysis of 9000-year-old Kennewick Man, found in Washington State in 1996. Through DNA analysis, Kennewick Man was found to be an ancestor of all modern Native Americans. A persistent mystery concerning Kennewick Man and other early human discoveries is related to skull dimensions. Naia and Kennewick Man display courser features with projecting faces. Modern Native Americans display more rounded skulls and less projecting features. Despite this ambiguity, modern Native Americans are likely the descendants of the first humans who crossed over Beringia from Siberia into North America. Modern DNA testing indicates that all modern Native Americans are linked to a single Beringian population that existed 25,000 years ago.

    NOVA: Iceman Reborn

    NOVA: Iceman Reborn presents the story of the discovery of Ötzi, the “iceman” of the Italian Alps. Dating back to 5,000 years, Ötzi’s frozen mummy has provided a wealth of information about Neolithic Europe and an important transition in world history, the change from hunting and gathering to farming. The video also documents how Missouri paleoartist Gary Staab created a precise replica of Ötzi’s body that will be used as a museum display and research tool.

    The two-sided video worksheet consists of 51 multiple-choice questions, and an answer key is included. The Zip file download contains files in both PDF and MS Word format. You will need to obtain a DVD of the video or locate an internet site for streaming. Note: This worksheet is for “Iceman Reborn”, which aired in 2016. There is an earlier NOVA video named “Iceman Murder Mystery”, which aired in 2011 and is a different video.

    NOVA Iceman Reborn Overview

    In 1991 two hikers in the Alps near the border of Austria and Italy discovered the body of a man. Radiocarbon dating revealed that the body, along with clothing and weapons, had been preserved in ice for over 5,000 years. The body was named Ötzi after its location in the Ötztal valley. The body was amazingly well preserved, and only showed signs of being crushed by the weight of ice overhead. The iceman had been positioned face down, with one arm extended across the chest nearly perpendicular to the long axis of the body. His face had been distorted by the ice into a grotesque perpetual snarl. From analysis of the well-preserved body, it was determined that Ötzi was about 45 years old at the time of his death. He had been 5 foot, 2 inches tall, and weighed about 110 pounds. DNA sequencing of Ötzi’s genome also revealed that he once had brown eyes, Lyme disease, and a predisposition to heart disease. Study of Ötzi’s muscles and joints revealed that he had been a constant traveler, and suffered from missing cartilage in his knee and hips, a condition known as arthrosis. The contents of Ötzi’s stomach revealed signs that he had been a hunter and a farmer (the stomach contained both ibex meat and einkorn wheat). Ötzi had apparently been murdered and left to the ice. An arrowhead was found lodged in his shoulder, and this likely caused rapid bleeding.

    Missouri paleoartist Gary Staab was allowed to examine Ötzi’s mummy in order to obtain firsthand observations of the mummy’s appearance. Gary had sculpted many replicas of prehistoric animals and mummies for museums such as the Children’s Museum in Indianapolis and other public education facilities. Using his observations, photographs, and a 3D printed life-sized replica (created in a vat using lasers and UV lights), Gary and a team of artists worked for thousands of hours in order to create Ötzi’s “twin”. Modeling clay and paint was painstakingly applied to the detailed 3D print of the body. Ötzi’s rear hip had been ravaged by an animal, leaving a complex assembly of muscle, tendons, bone, and intestine. Gary stated that this portion alone was as complex as the rest of the model combined. Ötzi’s mummy also exhibits 61 tattoos, mostly of parallel lines, along with two crosses. These early tattoos had likely been created with charcoal and a sharp needle of bone. Repeated stabbing created the dark lines, and this process was recreated using pigskin in the video. Due to the placement of the tattoos, it is hypothesized that they represent a type of medical treatment for pain relief (!). Otzi’s skin is also discussed. Being encased in ice caused Otzi’s outer skin layer, the epidermis, to separate and become lost; the tough underlayer, the dermis, is what survives and gives the mummy a smooth, glistening appearance. Most of Otzi’s hair and fingernails were also lost.

    The iceman had possessed numerous personal items such as a fur hat, patchwork leather leggings, hay-stuffed deerskin shoes, a six-foot longbow, a quiver with over a dozen arrows, and a beautiful copper ax. The ax was likely a valuable possession, and indicates that a sophisticated culture once existed in Neolithic Europe that had the ability to mine and smelt copper. Ötzi also had samples of fungi, which he had likely used to start fires, and as a type of copper age “Band-Aid”.

    Ötzi’s place among the culture of Neolithic Europe was discussed. Was he a hunter-gatherer, or a farmer? Modern humans, who existed as hunter-gatherers, entered Europe 45,000 years ago. Later, around 7,000 years ago, a wave of people who persisted as farmers entered Europe from Turkey. By 5,000 years ago, the farming culture had mostly supplanted the original hunter-gatherer culture. Study of Ötzi’s DNA links him to this later wave of farmers. Today, Ötzi’s closest living relatives inhabit the Italian island of Sardinia.

    Gary’s replica of Ötzi is shown on display at the Cold Springs Harbor Laboratory in New York. The video documents the reactions of school children to Ötzi’s replica while on a field trip to the laboratory. This facility is associated with Dr. James Watson, the co-discoverer of DNA along with Francis Crick. (Since this video was made, Dr. Watson has had his ties with the laboratory severed.) Dr. Watson speaks in the video about the iceman replica.

    Total Pages
    20 pages
    Answer Key
    Teaching Duration
    4 days
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