Last Night’s TV – The Incredible Human Journey: Out of Africa

Dr Alice Roberts - The Incredible Human Journey: Out of Africa

In this first of five new documentaries on BBC2, Dr Alice Roberts – who’s very funky for an old-bones-and-stuff doctor – asked, and attempted to answer, some of life’s big questions, such as, where do we come from? How did our ancestors colonise the world? How did their journeys change us?

These are the sort of questions our kids ask, well, the first one is anyway… any other kid asking the second two would be something of a child prodigy, however, chirpy anatomist Dr Alice Roberts didn’t seem in the slightest bit daunted by tackling this challenging set of questions.

Alice opened the show by saying, “They say this is where it all began…” as she wandered toward the camera through a barren and arid landscape before adding, “That we are all children of Africa, but if so, why do we look so different, and how on earth could a handful of African families become a whole world of people?”

She then told us she’s a “medical doctor and an anthropologist” while some rather rockin’ music played…

To be honest, I thought this show was going to be something of a yawnfest but it really wasn’t; it was in fact pretty interesting stuff, made the more so by Alice’s enthusiasm for the subject. Possibly the only person who might’ve made it more interesting was David Attenborough, but in his absence, Alice Roberts did a dang good job I thought.

Dr Alice Roberts crosses the river Omo

She started her quest for answers last night in Ethiopia and had to board a very rickety looking “ferry” to cross the river Omo, past some pretty damn fearsome looking crocodiles in order to begin her search for the origins of the human race as we know it. And not only that, she was informed by her guides that they could well be attacked at any moment by rival tribes, but, despite looking a tad on edge, Alice was determined to reach the place where the earliest human remains were found…

Dr Alice Roberts, The Incredible Human Journey: Out of Africa

And after many hours travel in searing heat, she finally reached her destination and gently but proudly held a cast of skull that was believed to have dated from 195,000 years ago and which was found in the area she’d reached… that’s one old head!

It was here, Alice told us, where – four million years ago – the first “human-like creatures” evolved and from where, 70,000 years ago, a tiny group of pioneers left Africa, with the result that every single person in the world who isn’t African is descended from them. That’s a thinker eh? She – as did we – heard this theory from geneticist Raj Ramesar while she was in Cape Town.

On her journey through Ethiopia, Alice examined bones, skulls, stones and heard the latest scientific theories to discover exactly how the aforementioned small group of people left Africa and crossed deserts, oceans, mountains and even managed to survive an Ice Age – as well as battling Neanderthals – to populate and procreate in almost every part of the world.

She also very bravely stayed the night out in the bush with just a torch, a camera and a microphone, she was already bricking it as it went dark at 7.30pm. By midnight, it was like a full-on Blair Witch remake with shaky footage of Alice’s scared face and the sound of moans in the bush while Alice said, “Did you hear that?? Is that a lion? Is that a leopard? Is that a hyena? Oh I don’t like that noise, it’s really spooky…”

By 6am, a bleary eyed Alice said that it had been the most terrifying night of her life… I had a similar experience in a hotel in Skegness once, but it’s best for my mental health not to go there.

Also, through what Alice called “simple experiments and experiences” she found out about our ancestors lifestyles and why they not only survived but thrived, and it seems that their ability to “communicate and sweat” are two of the reasons for this survival. She could well be right there if some of the knuckle-dragging blokes I’ve met in nightclubs are anything to go by…

She discovered that our bodies will automatically adjust our internal temperatures to allow for outside temperatures; this she discovered by taking her own and her companions temperatures at various times in the day.

The intrepid Alice also examined how our skin colour and facial features evolved across each of the continents to produce “the global diversity of people today.” To this end, Alice trekked into the remote and rough country of the Great Rift Valley in Ethiopia to locate the spot mentioned above where the earliest-known remains of our species were discovered before continuing her travels across the continent. On the way, she learned how the difficult to manage ‘Click language’, the design of our skeletons and our hunter-gatherer skills could’ve contributed to our successful survival and migration across Africa and into the present day.

Alice with 'hunter gatherers' in The Incredible Human Journey: Out of Africa

Alice ended this episode by saying, “Africa was the original home of our species, and it was our only home for tens of thousands of years, until a small handful of people made their way out of Africa…

“And it was their descendents that went on to colonise the rest of the world. I’m going to try to trace their footsteps as we continue on the great human journey”

In next week’s episode, Alice visits the frozen wastelands of Asia and continues in her quest to discover how a small band of humans came to eventually populate the globe…

I’m not sure I quite buy into it as a theory, but hey, what do I know? I write about TV, not make it, so I’ll be tuning in to see what she finds out next week!

Lynn is an editor and writer here at Unreality TV and is trained psychotherapist and the author of two books. She's addicted to soaps, period drama and reality TV shows such as X Factor, I'm A Celeb and Big Brother.