Documentary Film Analysis: The Journey of Man by Dr. Spencer Wells

The Journey of Man, presented by Dr. Spencer Wells, is a very important documentary film that sends out a message of human solidarity.  As Dr. Wells says in the introduction, it is the retracing of the all routes of human migration out of Africa in the last 50,000 years.  It is a fascinating story constructed on a grand timescale.  The drama and significance of this story lies in the high stakes involved for those early humans who ventured into alien territories. There are several facets and themes to the documentary film.  But the most striking and profound is that of human solidarity amidst diversity.  This essay will expound on this thesis.

In this most compelling story of natural history, the pivotal moment was the great Ice Age that set in 50 thousand years ago.  Up until this point, the entire human population (technically of the species Homo sapiens) were confined to just the African continent.  This is understandable, for most of the early hominids evolved in this landmass, with the evolution of our species being a natural progression.  With the onset of the Ice Age, the rich and diverse ecology of central and southern Africa began to change.  With the substantial drop in temperatures, the erstwhile green and fertile regions began to dry up.  The early human populations that depended on this ecosystem for survival faced drought like conditions. To illustrate the depth of the problem, the sea-shore caves of South Africa, which were used as shelter by primitive people, became ever more distant from the shore line – nearly 40 kilometers at the peak of the Ice Age.  Such radical changes to the ecology forced people to move toward he north-east of the continent, where the climate was somewhat more temperate.  And this crisis for survival is perhaps the most important event in anthropology.  For, without it, Homo sapiens might not have ever left Africa.  In consequence, the richness, diversity and reach of human species might have been limited.

There are many interesting subplots within the epic narrative of Journey of Man. What each of these subplots tells us is that there is a shared sense of adventure and enterprise inherent in our species.  To begin with, the populating of the Australian continent was a tantalizing story of adventure and chance.  Scientists were first confounded by the 6000 mile of ocean that separated the East African coast from the nearest shore in Australia.  Later it came to light that the radically new geological conditions created by the Ice Age provided an easy passage wherever the sea had receded.  In geological timescales, usually populations within a species only gradually expand their habitat.  But the speed with which our species moved out of Africa was unprecedented in the history of evolution.  This is underscored by the astounding fact that in Australia there was not even a single primate species when humans arrived there.  Likewise the crossing of the arctic inhabiting Chikchu people into the New World is another historical achievement of our species.  The Americans who are newly native to this expansive continent nearly covered its entire breadth and width in less than a millennia of its advent.  Instances such as these highlight how all groups within our species shared the same spirit of adventure and tenacity for survival.  It is these qualities that unites us as humans and makes us the most intelligent and successful species on the planet.

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