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For thousands of years,
the Ayoreo tribe have lived in the forests of South America.
They're still leading much the same hunter-gatherer lifestyle
as the very first humans on Earth.
But in June 1998, they came face to face with the 20th century.
This was a chance encounter between two worlds,
both equally human but completely divided by history.
In this series, I'm going to tell the story
of the adventures and events that divided them...
Thousands of years of explosive change.
70,000 years of human history -
stories that we thought we knew and others we were never told.
None of us can hope to know all of the human story
but it does help to have the big picture
because it's really the story of who we are now,
our own ancestors' long walk,
the tiny things that changed the world...
..nature biting back,
truth seekers and astonishing discoveries...
..revolutions in blood and in iron...
..modern madness and the wonders of the digital age.
We have been brilliantly clever at reshaping the world around us -
almost as clever as we think we are, though not perhaps as wise.
There will be challenges, triumphs and surprises,
all the essentials of the story -
except, of course, how it ends.
Africa, around 70,000 years ago.
These people are fully developed modern humans, just like us,
Homo sapiens - it means "wise man".
As hunter-gatherers we were driven by familiar basic needs -
food, water, shelter.
And for over 100,000 years, we'd been changing, adapting
and struggling to survive.
Climate was a big part of this -
the Earth shivered its way through ice ages,
the skies were darkened by vast volcanic eruptions,
the planet grew hotter and drier, and then colder and wetter again,
and each change challenged mankind to find new ways to survive.
Those who did survive
emerged tougher, cleverer and better organised.
And in this particular tribe, there was someone special.
She was part of one small group
of probably fewer than a thousand people,
slowly moving towards the north-east coast of Africa.
For early people, life really was a journey.
It was an endless trek after game and fruit and seeds.
Settle down, call anywhere home, and you would starve to death.
Criss-crossing Africa over tens of thousands of years,
dealing with the changing climate
and animals rather bigger and faster than they were,
people learned the essentials of survival -
language, clothing and cooked food...
..and, above all, working together to stay alive.
Africa nourished us,
but she was always difficult and always dangerous.
SHE BREATHES HEAVILY
Over tens of thousands of years,
there's evidence that other tribes
made the same dangerous journey out of Africa.
But after studying the evolution of human DNA,
scientists have concluded that only one tribe lasted
long enough outside Africa to leave a lasting legacy.
This is the tribe that made it.
They probably hopped from island to island,
across what is now the Red Sea,
arriving in today's Arabia around 65,000 years ago,
and, amazing as it sounds,
almost all of us alive today are related to one woman in this tribe.
Of course, we don't know her name but she was a survivor,
and we could call her simply "Mother",
because there is a tiny genetic mutation
in every single person alive today who isn't from Sub-Saharan Africa,
and scientists have tracked it back
to one migration out of Africa,
one tribe, one woman.
WOMAN CRIES OUT
It seems impossible,
but whether you're from Aberdeen or Islamabad, Tokyo or New York,
Scandinavia or the Pacific Islands,
she is your universal African mother.
And the journey didn't end in Arabia because her tribe kept on moving.
Step by step, mile by mile, generation by generation,
modern humans spread out and slowly colonised the rest of the planet.
First, we travelled east along the coast towards India and East Asia.
It's reckoned that some of us may have reached Australia
50,000 years ago.
The land bridge that then connected Asia and America wasn't crossed
until around 15,000 years ago,
but then quickly people spread right down through the Americas
to the far south.
All these journeys were slowed or accelerated by cold or heat
or climate change.
From the Middle East, another branch of humans headed north-west,
arriving in Europe around 45,000 years ago.
By the time we arrived in Europe we were already deeply tribal,
living and co-operating together in groups much larger than families,
which was very important to our success as hunters,
but it had another side.
Our tribal loyalties meant we had an ingrained hostility to outsiders -
anyone who looked a little different, spoke differently,
dressed differently or perhaps even smelt differently.
Truer still of people who really WERE different
because when we got to Europe, we discovered that we were not alone.
Another variety of human had been living here
for an almost unimaginable period of time...
Stocky and tough,
they'd survived ice-age conditions we can barely comprehend
and now they faced a rather more dangerous challenge - us.
TWIG SNAPS SHOUTING
Scientists argue about this
but we probably co-existed with the Neanderthals in Europe
for between 5,000 and 10,000 years,
and during that time
the Neanderthals went into rapid decline.
NEANDERTHAL CRIES OUT
Nobody knows for sure what happened to them.
They were tough survivors
who had been around for at least 250,000 years -
rather longer than we've managed.
It's probable that we pushed them out of their hunting grounds.
It's also possible, I regret to report, that we liked to eat them.
HE CRIES OUT
30,000 years ago the Neanderthals became extinct,
and modern humans - clever, clannish and remarkably violent -
were ready to rule the planet.
Except that now our ruthless determination
came up against something rather more formidable
than the Neanderthals.
Around 20,000 years ago, temperatures plunged even further.
We were forced once again to adapt or die.
Adversity favours the versatile,
and this time a very homely piece of technology
would make all the difference.
This is a needle, made out of bone.
This is the real thing.
It's about 17,000 years old.
It's got a beautifully made little eye in it,
very similar to the needles you may have at home,
and what a needle allows you to do
is to wear not animal skins, but clothes that actually fit.
The invention of the needle would help revolutionise human life.
Wearing sewn clothing in layers,
we could huddle and judder our way through the harsh ice-age winters.
We could be out, tracking animals further, hunting for longer -
We had arrows, yes, and spears of course,
but the needle was the great, unexpected
Modern humans were proving to be
one of the most resilient species on the planet,
something new under the sun.
But it's in the French Pyrenees we find evidence
that Homo sapiens might live up to the boastful "wise man" label,
and hope for something more than survival.
We are already trying to mark ourselves out,
to understand our place in the world.
Here at the Gargas caves in the South of France,
we can see our ancestors' determination to leave a record.
What's down here isn't exactly art and it's not graffiti.
It's something more personal
and, I think, more emotional.
These marks were made by people like us
27,000 years ago.
Mouth and hand - it doesn't get more personal than that.
There is something so common,
so ordinary about making a hand print -
children in primary schools all over the world still do it -
that you can't help
but feel oddly connected to these people
who were standing here at the very beginning of the human story.
These hand prints are some of the oldest human markings in the world.
Similar prints have been discovered
in South Africa, Australia, North America and Argentina.
It's the first example of what you might call recorded history -
a universal statement saying, "We are here."
Around 16,000 years ago,
the northern hemisphere began to warm up.
After tens of thousands of years living as hunter-gatherers
at the mercy of nature,
this transformation of the world's climate
helped our ancestors to do something radically new.
The river Tigris, Eastern Turkey, in the Fertile Crescent.
Humans can eat 56 kinds of wild grass,
and 32 of them grew here,
compared, for instance, to just four in America.
This is where
the single biggest change that humans have ever made to the planet,
even in our age of science and great cities...
The one thing that has changed Earth more than any other,
started here in the "land of the rivers".
The people who lived in this blessed place ate wild plants,
kept a few tame animals, and hunted,
but they were also lazy enough to not to want to keep walking further
to find more tasty seeds to eat.
Laziness turns out to be an underestimated force
in human history.
So, if you don't want to go to find your food,
you can hardly make your food come to you. Or can you?
These are the great anonymous inventors,
and it's from this breakthrough that everything follows.
It's a crucial moment in shifting the balance between humankind
and the rest of nature.
THEY CONVERSE IN NATIVE LANGUAGE
It's not an obvious thing to do.
You gather the grains - the food that you're hungry for
and your family is hungry for -
but instead of eating it, you keep some of it back...
..and you take it and you plant it back into the dirt.
And then you wait.
To take a seed and plant it seems such an obvious idea now
but 13,000 years ago it really was a gamble.
It shows thinking ahead,
it shows planning,
it shows a certain faith.
But by making that simple change,
foragers who live throughout the landscape
picking things up all over the place
are starting to become farmers
who have an investment in ONE piece of earth.
And by choosing the biggest seeds to grow,
people reshaped the plants, as well.
Bigger seeds and, eventually, bigger everything.
people in China, India and South America
would invent farming for themselves.
Three grasses triumphed in ancient times - wheat, rice and corn.
12,000 years on, and they are still the bedrock of the human diet.
Farming was the great leap forward, but progress came at a price.
When people settled down to farm, life got harder.
The archaeologists are clear.
Farmers became smaller and they died younger than hunter-gatherers.
Labour in the fields led to joints inflamed by arthritis,
and the diet of sticky porridge
brought tooth decay for the first time.
So why would people farm when the world was still teeming with game?
More to the point, why would they carry on farming?
Well, part of the reason is that they got trapped
by their own population explosion.
Once people were settled down with more food,
the numbers in the families grew.
Hunter-gatherers had to limit the number of children
to those who could be carried with them, but farmers didn't.
As human numbers rose, and people started to work together,
farmers began settling down in larger groups.
Scattered across the plains of Anatolia in Turkey
are mysterious mounds.
Hidden inside them is the earliest evidence of that next big step -
9,000 years ago, a community,
a small town of up to 8,000 people,
lived here at Catalhoyuk.
And it's here that we meet one of the first individuals
to emerge from our early history.
Her skeleton was excavated in 2004.
She was only in her twenties
when she was buried underneath the floor of her home.
She was found curled up, tightly holding a skull,
forehead to forehead like this.
The skull had been plastered
and, in fact, it had been plastered and re-plastered quite a few times,
suggesting that it had been used for one burial and then another,
buried again and dug up and used again.
It was almost certainly an ancestor, somebody who mattered to her family.
What we seem to be seeing here is ancestor worship -
worship of the ground that you stand in and the people you come from.
The young woman was buried wearing a rare leopard-claw necklace.
What's going on here is the opening up of another human frontier.
As a town, Catalhoyuk is a little conquest of physical space,
the here and now,
but the leopard lady's grave
is an attempt to take control of time, too,
to link the dead, the living and those still to be born.
These were people who, if asked, "Who do you think you are?"
could give a very clear answer.
Their town was a compact network of mud-brick houses,
almost like a human beehive,
and not so different from modern shanty towns in today's world.
People walked across the town on flat roofs
and they entered their homes via ladders through the rooftops.
First of all, it is recognisably a house,
not so different in the way it's laid out
to innumerable flats and apartments and homes today.
Through here is, if you like, the pantry
with great big clay buckets originally,
where they kept all kinds of grains and seeds.
Through here there is what was probably some kind of bedroom.
Five to ten people probably lived in this place,
so a familiar design. But the second thing about it
is that the people who lived here were scrupulously clean
and they couldn't wash the floors and walls
because they were made of earth
but what they did was they whitewashed them, endlessly.
Over here you can see these little lines
and that was layer upon layer of whitewashing,
and this wall, archaeologists tell us,
was whitewashed more than 400 times.
So here we are, right at the beginning of human society,
in a place and surrounded by the ghosts of people
that we already recognise.
The Leopard Lady grew up in a well-ordered and stable community
where men and women were equally well fed
and enjoyed the same social status.
This seems to have been a peaceful place with no defensive walls
and no signs of social division or conflict.
There are no temples, there's no palace,
there are no warriors' areas or special women's quarters -
just families living alongside one another and co-operating,
almost like the modern anarchists' fantasy
of a world without rulers, a society without bosses,
and the problem, of course, with that
is that these kinds of arrangements always fall apart very quickly.
The people of Catalhoyuk could only manage it for 1,400 years.
But this was no Garden of Eden.
Like farming, living in towns brought new dangers.
Thousands of people and goats, cows and ducks
living in close quarters
created perfect conditions for diseases to spread,
and there's evidence that
tuberculosis passed from cattle to humans at about this time.
Most of the worst threats to human health -
smallpox, measles, flu - came first from farm animals.
Maybe that's why the Leopard Lady died an early death,
before being buried beneath the floor of her home,
like her ancestors.
Farming and town-living had both brought new dangers
but the trap had closed.
There was no going back.
Across the world, many of our ancestors were now living
in independent settled communities.
But what would possibly bring them together into bigger groups?
Again, we have to look to nature - not simply its opportunities
but also its threats.
All around the world people have told stories about a great flood,
and it really does seem that something happened
about 4,000 years ago
which caused devastation to many of the first civilisations,
But what makes China different
is that they still tell stories,
part myth but part, probably, history, too.
In China, it really does all start with the Flood.
According to the ancient chronicles, there were nine years of heavy rain,
causing the Yellow River to change its course with devastating effects.
SHE CRIES OUT
The Yellow River is also known as "China's Great Sorrow".
For thousands of years it regularly burst its banks,
wiping out entire villages, destroying everything in its path.
THUNDER SHE CRIES OUT
The 3,000-mile-long river
flooded an area greater than the entire United Kingdom.
The old legends say that one of the clan leaders
appointed a man named Gun to devise a way to tame the river.
The stakes were rather high.
If Gun succeeded, he'd be richly rewarded.
If he failed, he'd pay with his life.
He built huge earth dams.
But time and again, they were brushed aside by the floodwaters.
Gun was unable to save his people...
The father's burden would now fall upon his son, Yu.
After Gun's execution,
the clan leader ordered Yu to come up with a new idea
about how to control the floods,
and Yu dedicated his life to the job.
According to old Chinese legends,
he said he wouldn't return to his pregnant wife
until the river was tamed.
The ancient chronicles say that Yu decided to begin
by surveying the entire length of the river.
On this epic trek he came up with a radically different plan.
No more confrontations with nature, no more dams.
Instead of trying to confront the raging waters like his father,
he would divide them.
Yu planned to create a vast network of channels.
During the flood season,
they would divert the full force of the river
and reduce its destructive flow,
but that meant a colossal work of engineering...
..and a huge diplomatic challenge - because in order to succeed,
he'd have to convince hundreds of rival clans
to set aside centuries of hostility.
We're going back to the old strength of pre-historic humanity, tribalism,
which was now becoming a weakness,
because only by working together
could the clans possibly solve the problem of the Yellow River.
Yu's epic engineering project began.
Myth or not, there were major river-taming projects at this time.
The story goes that over the next 13 years,
Yu passed his home three times,
but he remained true to his vow of self-sacrifice
and never went inside.
Finally, his vast network of channels was complete.
And the rains came again.
Yu's great feat of engineering would be put to the test.
But the channels calmed the floods.
Yu's story tells us an important historical truth
about how natural challenges
brought river-dwelling people together.
Da Yu had united the clans of the Yellow River for the first time
because only by coming together, under a single authority,
could they solve this problem.
As a reward, the clan leader made Yu his heir.
Some people argue he founded the first Chinese dynasty,
and certainly Chinese history begins on the banks of the Yellow River.
Yu is known to this day as Da Yu - the Great Yu -
and it's interesting that the first Chinese hero
was a civil engineer and a civil servant.
All around the world,
history is shaped by the desire to shape nature to suit us.
That means working together,
but it's also competitive and violent.
Each move forward brings fresh problems.
Farming brings more people, but it brings more disease,
and in more complex societies, leaders and priests will emerge.
It's all a shaggy-dog story of unexpected consequences.
From the sweat and success of the first farmers,
all the world's hierarchies,
from landlords and popes to emperors would grow,
and they only thought they were planting next year's porridge
or trying to keep dry.
Egypt, 3,200 years ago.
The Nile is the longest river in the world.
It flows from south to north,
but the prevailing winds go the other way,
making it a wonderful two-way transport system
and a lush green corridor.
So it's not so surprising
that the world's first great civilisation started here,
with its temples, writing, priests,
its awesome rulers.
The pharaohs thought that their stony, river civilisation
would last for eternity,
and, of course, all of this is only possible
because of the huge numbers of people planting, and cursing,
and lifting and cutting -
all the workers on whose backs these great edifices were raised
and you never hear about them.
You never know what THEY thought of it all.
Well, except sometimes, you do hear.
Thanks to one remarkable invention,
we know exactly what life was like for ordinary Egyptians.
This was once the town of Set Ma'at, "the Place of Truth".
The stonemasons and carpenters who built the pharaohs' tombs
in the nearby Valley of the Kings lived here.
22,000 years after we splashed our hand prints onto the walls of caves,
our enthusiasm for leaving our marks on the world
had reached a new level.
Writing had developed in Egypt around 5,000 years ago,
and at first it would have been the preserve of specialist scribes
but the people of Set Ma'at
are among the first working people in the world to learn how to write.
The ordinary villagers sent letters and messages,
rather as we fire off texts and e-mails today,
but they wrote them down on little pieces of limestone
or on broken pieces of pottery.
They're called ostraca.
And they were discovered in their thousands
where they'd just been chucked away,
so that we can eavesdrop on village life from more than 3,000 years ago.
One of the voices we hear is from an old woman called Naunakthe.
As we hear her speak,
a civilisation that seemed distant and alien
suddenly becomes surprisingly familiar.
'I have raised eight children and brought them up well,
'given them everything they need.
'Now look, I have become old and they don't care for me.
'The ones who put their hands in mine and looked after me,
'I will leave them my property.
'But as for the others, they will get nothing.'
The records are packed with all human life -
children's homework, laundry lists, a remedy for piles -
green beans, salt, goose fat and honey
on the backside for four days.
Oh, yes, and the story of Paneb,
a married man with a son and two daughters.
A builder with a sideline -
because Paneb was also a tomb raider.
His story is told in the court records of a scandalous trial.
HE SPEAKS THE LOCAL LANGUAGE
Paneb was the talk of the village.
He was accused of "plundering the tomb of the Pharaoh
and stealing burial goods".
The judge also charged him with drunk and disorderly behaviour...
HE SPEAKS THE LOCAL LANGUAGE
..and with a violent assault against his stepfather.
Bad enough - Paneb, thief and hooligan - but there was more.
He'd slept with the wife of his fellow builder Kenna,
and, no, it didn't stop there.
To make matters worse,
Paneb then went on to sleep with Kenna's daughter.
It's beginning to sound like an early draft of EastEnders.
An outbreak of wild Nile naughtiness.
But what's really interesting is the court itself.
Each Egyptian community had one.
What's happening here is another major development
in early human history.
They're trying to impose order on society.
In villages and towns, the instinct for fairness is producing law.
This is good news for human civilisation,
although, on the whole, pretty bad news for Paneb.
Tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime.
Life wasn't easy for ordinary Egyptians,
but order was infinitely better than disorder.
We all remember the pyramids and pharaohs,
but advances which were, in the long term, just as significant
were being made behind humbler walls.
But it wasn't just ancient Egypt. All around the Mediterranean,
you start to see people learning to read and write.
They trade little luxuries. They eat better food.
They consume spices and herbs.
They drink beer and they drink wine.
And things are just going to get better and better.
Or maybe not.
Writing helped speed up the spread of ideas.
Trade accelerated the growth of towns and cities,
and civilisation was spreading.
But the battle with nature never stopped.
The Greek island of Crete sits in an area
prone to volcanic eruptions and earthquakes
and this was the home of what's been described
as Europe's first civilisation - the Minoans'.
So what does that mean, "civilisation"?
Literally, "people living in towns and cities"
but it implies more style, more polish
and few civilisations have seemed as stylish as the Minoans'.
3,700 years ago,
the Minoans were pioneers of international trade.
They shipped wine, olive oil and timber
throughout the eastern Mediterranean.
At the heart of the Minoan civilisation
stood their great Palace of Knossos.
In the early 1900s,
Knossos was excavated by the British archaeologist Sir Arthur Evans.
He discovered a sophisticated city
that had frescos, aqueducts and even rudimentary plumbing.
The frescos and figures of women holding snakes up to the sky
suggest that women held a dominant position in Minoan culture.
Evans was entranced by the Minoans,
and he decided to reconstruct their city.
There's something interestingly cool and modern about the Minoan style,
something very 1920s,
and that's because it IS very 1920s.
The stonework is new and, as for the world-famous frescos,
well, they're based on fragments of Minoan art
but they've been very, very seriously worked up.
The beauties shimmying down to a beach party
with their flagons of wine
were famously described by the novelist Evelyn Waugh
as being rather like the covers of Vogue magazine.
Evans excavated and rebuilt
at a time when Europe was being torn apart by the First World War,
and he presented the Minoan civilisation as a peaceful utopia.
Evans imagined the Minoans
ruling over a gentler, more peaceful Europe,
far from the blood-soaked Europe of his own time.
The Minoan culture seemed idyllic,
but first impressions are as dangerous in history
as anywhere else.
In 1979, a darker side to the Minoans was revealed.
And that dark underside was first uncovered here at a little temple
a few miles inland from Knossos.
It seems a tiny, quiet fragment of paradise today
but when archaeologists started digging through the rubble,
they made a satisfyingly gruesome discovery.
Now, on these stones, there was some kind of altar
and on that the skeleton of a young man, about 18 years old,
and across him was lying a bronze ceremonial dagger.
The bones on the upper part of his body were white
and on the lower part black,
indicating to archaeologists that his heart had still been beating
as the blood was draining from his body.
He'd bled to death. He was a human sacrifice.
Two other bodies were discovered,
here and over here.
One was the body of a woman,
just over five foot high, of medium build,
and her hands were trying to protect her face.
Now we know that women had high status in Minoan society,
and it's possible, even probable, that she was a priestess.
Minoan society was highly developed,
but they lived in fear of the natural forces surrounding them,
and their desire to control nature wasn't matched by their ability.
So they responded with the ultimate religious ritual
in an attempt to appease the gods
they believed controlled the natural world.
Around 3,700 years ago,
during this gory sacrifice,
nature struck again.
Trying to police nature has always been the ultimate human challenge.
It still is.
All their attempts to placate the gods having failed,
the Minoan civilisation was devastated.
The Minoans will always be a mysterious people...
..and yet they do remind us of a fundamental truth,
which is that although the journey from caves to civilisation
had been awesome,
there would be no final victories -
certainly not over nature,
nor over the darker side of human nature.
THEY YELL RHYTHMICALLY
In the next episode...
..the first great Age of Empire...
..bold new ideas in East and West...
..and Alexander the Great.
If you'd like to know a little bit more about how the past is revealed,
you can order a free booklet called How Do They Know That?
Or go to...
..and follow the links to the Open University.
Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd
Andrew Marr sets off on an epic journey through 70,000 years of human history. Using dramatic reconstructions, documentary filming around the world and cutting-edge computer graphics, he reveals the decisive moments that shaped the world we live in today, telling stories we thought we knew and others we were never told.
Starting with our earliest beginnings in Africa, Marr traces the story of our nomadic ancestors as they spread out around the world and settled down to become the first farmers and townspeople. He uncovers extraordinary hand-prints left in European caves nearly 30,000 years ago and shows how human ingenuity led to inventions which are still with us today. He also discovers how the first civilisations were driven to extremes to try to overcome the forces of nature, adapting and surviving against the odds, and reveals how everyday life in ancient Egypt had more in common with today's soap operas than might be imagined.