In the caves and rock shelters of the Dordogne region of France, Alan Alda witnesses the spectacular paintings and carvings that date back some 30,000 years, artwork that archaeologists once thought to be the first record of people with minds like our own.
When this art was created, Europe had already been peopled for hundreds of thousands of years – and thousands of lifetimes – by humans we call Neanderthals.
Alan discovers, from visits to sites where Neanderthals once lived, that Neanderthals were tenacious and resourceful.
But they appear to have lived in and of the moment; certainly they produced no art, and employed a stone tool technology that changed little over millennia. The people who painted the caves, our ancestors, were strikingly different, possessed of what we are calling the Human Spark, capable not only of art but of innovative technology and symbolic communication.
The questions Alan explores: Where and when did the Human Spark first ignite? In these caves, as archeologists have long believed? Or at a much earlier time – and on another continent? What is the nature of human uniqueness? Where did The Human Spark ignite, and when? And perhaps most tantalizingly, why?
In this three-part series, Alan Alda takes these questions personally, visiting with dozens of scientists on three continents, and participating directly in many experiments – including the detailed examination of his own brain.
Bringing his trademark humor and curiosity to face-to-face conversations with leading researchers, he seeks The Human Spark – from archaeologists finding clues in the fossilized bones and tools of our ancestors; to primatologists studying our nearest living relatives to explore what we have in common and what sets us apart; to neuroscientists peering into his mind with the latest brain scanning technologies.