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The series host in the original British version.
- Adventurer Outfit: He wears one, complete with fedora.
- As Himself: Robert Winston is a real British TV personality.
- Been There, Shaped History: He finds Lucy after her death and moves her body to the river shore, ensuring her fossilization.
- Casual Time Travel: Winston travels back in time to observe and comment on different hominids.
- Crazy-Prepared: Need to climb a tree in the rainforest? Fire a rope with a gun! Follow H. erectus in the savanna? Use a quad! Neanderthals in the snow? Here's a snowmobile! H. sapiens in the desert? You get a gas balloon!
- Deadpan Snarker: From time to time.Winston: And why do we know they lived in this forest? Because this forest is everywhere!
- Military Brat: His grandfather was a British Army officer during World War One.
- Mr. Exposition: His main occupation.
- Riddle for the Ages: It is never explained how he travels back in time. He simply boards his jeep and does it.
- Unusually Uninteresting Sight: He walks around primitive hominids who ignore him most of the time. It is played with in "Savage Family", where the young H. ergaster identifies the tracks of Winston's quad during a hunting season, but the old male (ambiguously) tells him to ignore it.
- As Himself: You may have heard of Baldwin. He is an American actor.
- The Other Marty: Replacing Winston.
- Talking Heads: The parts with Winston on the field were cut and replaced with Baldwin talking in an office. As a result, the host doesn't travel in time nor interacts with early hominids in the American version (except by handling their fossil skulls).
The most famous non-Homo hominid, a savanna dweller from 3.2 million years ago that walks upright. This species includes the famous Lucy.
- Accidental Murder: Lucy is hit on the back of her head with a branch being swing around by rival australopithecines. The "killer" wasn't paying attention to her.
- Always Someone Better: The way Winston describes Australopithecus, you'd think there is absolutely nothing special about it except its relationship with later hominids.
- And Now For Something Completely Different: Recreated with makeup instead of CGI, unlike in Walking with Beasts.
- Ape Shall Never Kill Ape: Mercilessly averted. Australopithecus are constantly at risk of being killed by rival troops.
- Artistic License Paleontology: The makeup can only go so far. It is very obvious that the actors have brains far too large, legs too long and arms to short for their role. And the facial features are not as pronounced in the adults as in Lucy's (puppet) baby, when it should be the opposite.
- Bizarre Sexual Dimorphism: The females are child-sized in comparison to the males, who also have more pronounced facial fatures.
- Boring, but Practical: Autralopithecus walks on two feet. That's its main, and probably only, strength.
- Eaten Alive: Lucy's troop's leader is eaten alive by a crocodile.
- Expy: A lot of their behavior, even some of their looks, are lifted wholesale from chimpanzees.
- Determinator: Lucy puts herself at risk for the sake of her baby many times, until her luck runs out and she is killed. The fact that she doesn't get violent prevents her from being called a Mama Bear.
- Frazetta Man: Because of the makeup limitations.
- Heroic Sacrifice: Involutary example on Lucy's part - after she is killed, her body shields her baby from other Australopithecus and predators, and probably keeps it warm through the night, as well.
- Historical Domain Character: Lucy, the most famous Australopithecus, is a character here.
- It Can Think: Zigzagged. At the end of the episode, Winston describes Australopithecus as "Just an ape.. but an ape with potential". However, this is immediately followed by Lucy's eldest daughter rescuing her sibling from Lucy's body, to raise it herself.
- Kick the Dog: The challenging male gets between Lucy and her baby and tries to mate with her, in a scene with strong rape undertones. After being driven away by other males, he grabs Lucy's baby by one leg and runs into enemy territory. Not even Winston can make sense of this.
- Narm: Even if you buy the creatures' makeup, there is something comical about the way Lucy moves when she tries to walk faster.
- No Woman's Land: And to think, Lucy is actually a high-ranking female! She spends the whole episode being threatened with rape or murder, until she is murdered.
- Please Wake Up: Lucy's baby does not realize Lucy is dead, and continues clutching to her until it is rescued by its sister.
- The Precursors: The ending points future human adaptations that will be made possible by Australopithecus being bipedal, like toolmaking and speech, but that Australopithecus itself doesn't have.
- Rape Is a Special Kind of Evil: Implied. The challenging male tries to mate with Lucy while the three dominant males are away patrolling, and she isn't interested because she is nursing. He does not do it because he is attracted to her, but because mating with a high-ranking female like her will improve his own status. Lucy is then "saved" by the three dominant males, but it isn't likely they do it for her sake.
- Red Shirt/The Worf Effect: The troop's leader is introduced with great fanfare and immediately killed by a crocodile.Winston: If you believed walking on two legs made our ancestors the kings of the jungle, you'd be wrong.
- Science Marches On: They probably could have combined the Australopithecus and CHLCA plots into a single Ardipithecus plot if Ardi had been unveiled before 2009.
- Too Dumb to Live: The challenging male grabs Lucy's baby and runs straight into enemy territory, where it is surrounded by the enemy troop. Incredibly, it is Lucy who is killed as a result of this incident.
- Unwitting Instigator of Doom: The challenging male causes Lucy's death.
- With Friends Like These...: Lucy trusts her elder daughter with the baby, but she drops it and runs when an eagle shows up. She is then "courted" by a male who kidnaps her baby and throws it into enemy territory.
- Would Hurt a Child: The challenging male. He makes Lucy drop her baby once, grabs it by one of its leg, and drops it again while being surrounded by a troop of enemy Australopithecus.
CHLCAThe enigmatic Chimpanzee-Human Last Common Ancestor from 8 million years ago, when Africa was entirely covered by rainforest.
- The Faceless: Only shown from the back and afar.
- Flashback: Set almost 5 million years before the rest of the episode.
- No Name Given: Since it isn't identified.
- Informed Species: It is played by a chimpanzee because it would be adapted to life on the trees.
- Shrouded in Myth: It has never been found, so you can't know much other than it is African and a tree-dweller.
BeetleA flying insect used as a framing device during the retreat of the rainforest and its change to savanna.
- Big-Lipped Alligator Moment: It appears out of nowhere, looks weird, is never commented on, and it is eaten by Lucy after it lands on her.
Verreaux's EagleA large African eagle that threatens Lucy's troop.
- Accidentally Correct Zoology: The scene was likely based on reports of African eagles hunting monkeys. But three years after the show came out, it was published that the Taung Child (first identified Australopithecus and probably the most famous after Lucy, plus an infant at the time of its death) had been killed and eaten by an eagle.
- Artistic License Biology: It's played by a Verreaux's eagle, a species that feeds almost entirely on hyraxes, not primates.
- Dark Is Evil: Its feathers are black.
- Eats Babies: It menaces Lucy's baby.
- Feathered Fiend: To the Australopithecus.
- Kidnapping Bird of Prey: To baby Australopithecus.
- No Name Given: Not identified onscreeen.
- To Serve Man: Australopithecus are terrified of it.
An extremely robust Australopithecus descendant from 2 million years ago, especialized in eating hard vegetarian matter.
- Apocalypse How: Paranthropes will go extinct in a few hundred thousand years, because of climate change.
- Artistic License Paleontology:
- The females have brains too large. That said, this is the best restored pre-Homo ergaster hominid in the documentary. Probably because they made no attempt to make it look human, and as a result it escaped the Uncanny Valley.
- It makes no sense that the male would attempt to walk on his knuckles, however. It is a bipedal animal descended from bipedal animals.
- Awesome, but Impractical: Paranthropes are specialized grass and seed eaters. They can stay eating in one area while other hominids go mad from starvation, but if the situation gets to the point of the plants being also gone, they have no Plan B. They are an evolutionary dead end despite their momentary success.
- Aw, Look! They Really Do Love Each Other/Defeat Means Friendship: The former dominant female accepts the new female at the end of the episode.
- Crapsaccharine World: The females seem to have it good compared to Australopithecus, with one gentle lover keeping them safe and fed. But they can lose their privileged status as soon as that male stops being interested in them. And we can only speculate about what is life for a male without a harem. At species level, the paranthropes may be successful while the environment stays the same, but they are very vulnerable to changes.
- Expy: Despite being a human relative, their behavior is lifted from gorillas.
- Frazetta Man: They have human bodies but their head and gut resemble those of gorillas, particularly in the case of the males.
- Gentle Giant: The male, which is very large compared to the females, never gets violent. This is a very non-confrontational species in general, and particularly when compared to Australopithecus and Homo habilis.
- Mix-and-Match Critters: Human body, gorilla head and gut, orangutan hair.
- Woman Scorned: The former dominant female doesn't like one bit the attention the male gives to the newly arrived one.
- Your Cheating Heart: Technically not the case given that the species is polygamous, but the male comes across as this for ignoring his former favorite in favor of the new one.
A tenacious, and sometimes obnoxious, small hominid.
- Amusing Injuries: The troop leader falls from the top of a tree and rises almost like nothing happened. Definitely played for laughs.
- Artistic License Paleontology: The brain and member proportion problems also exist here (the arm/leg ratio was actually more simian in H. habilis than in some Australopithecus species). In addition, the males and females look identical, when in reality there was as much Bizarre Sexual Dimorphism as in Australopithecus.
- Butt-Monkey: The troop leader. Absolutely nothing goes his way.
- The Chains of Commanding: The dominant male's position stems from providing food for the group. If he doesn't deliver constantly, he risks being overthrown.
- Dude, Where's My Reward?: The dominant male finds a relatively complete antelope, and leads the group to victory against the vultures and a group of Homo rudolfensis also vying for it. He is then eaten by a lion, the same that presumably hunted the antelope in the first place.
- The Dog Bites Back: After losing the carcass and their leader to the lion, the group returns and expells the lion from the remains.
- Eaten Alive: The troop leader, by the lion.
- Evolutionary Levels: Implied in the presentation of Homo habilis as the stage between Australopithecus and Homo ergaster and their more human-like aspect than other primitive hominids, when in reality they'd look more similar to the australopithecines.
- Expy: Oddly their behavior comes across as that of monkeys like baboons and macaques, instead of modern apes and humans. At least until they start making tools.
- The Fair Folk: They come across as this rather than Frazetta Man due to their lack of simian features. They are obviously not human, live in the wild, hairy, mischievous, and only as tall as a jeep's tire.
- Field Promotion: The younger male replaces the old leader after his death and leads the group to victory against the very lion that killed the latter.
- Gender Is No Object: Males and females look identical, unlike in Real Life.
- Girls with Moustaches: Females even have the same white goatee as the males.
- Humans Are White: Like in too many human evolution documentaries, this version of H. habilis looks "Caucasian" despite living in East Africa. It is even more noticeable because there are other hominids living in the same place and time, who are darker, but they are not on mankind's ancestry unlike H. habilis.
- It Can Think: Despite being seemingly too stupid to open a box, they know they can locate meat from following the Circling Vultures, and know how to make tools and use them to extract bone marrow.
- Jack-of-All-Trades: Called that by Winston, as they can eat a lot of different foods including meat, and lack the specializations of Paranthropus.
- Mole Men: They live among barren rocks and sometimes sleep in holes inside those rocks.
- Right Behind Me: The leader is surprised to see his group running away, then gets killed by a lion.
- Science Marches On: H. habilis status as a human ancestor is slowly eroding with each new discovery. It is possible toolmaking was more widespread than previously believed, and that Homo ergaster type hominids evolved earlier than previously thought and thus not from H. habilis.
- Stealth Pun: There are several hominids in East Africa in this time, and mankind just happens to descend from the ugliest, noisiest, and generally most disgusting of them all...
- Techno Wizard: They make stone tools and use them to process animal carcasses.
- Zerg Rush: Their tactic of choice. Used against vultures, Homo rudolfensis, and the lion.
A mysterious close relative of H. habilis
- Big-Lipped Alligator Moment: They appear out of nowhere, try to dispute the carcass to the H. habilis, and are driven away. They never appear, nor are they referenced ever again.
- Expy: They are a lot more chimpanzee-like than H. habilis. Perhaps because they have kept closer to the old Australopithecus lifestyle.
- Frazetta Man/Mix-and-Match Critters: They look a lot more like Human-Chimpanzee crosses than other early hominids, including Australopithecus.
- Hero of Another Story: For all we know, they are going through the same hardships as the Homo habilis and are trying to survive just like them, but they only appear as one-time enemies.
- Science Marches On: It's been suggested that there was just one Homo species in this time, that was a very plastic one (think dogs rather than people) and as a result, H. rudolfensis and H. habilis were the same species (maybe even H. ergaster, as well - but this is extremely far from the consensus).
- Suspiciously Similar Substitute: To the rival Australopithecus troop of the first episode.
- Wacky Wayside Tribe: Just a momentary problem for the H. habilis group.
The first hominid with modern human-like proportions, adapted to walking long distances. It lived around 1.5 million years ago.
- Anachronism Stew: 1.5 million years is actually closer to the end of H. ergaster's run. By the time the show has them adopting fire one million years later, they would be H. rhodesiensis or H. heidelbergensis already.
- Babies Ever After: The young male's woman is pregnant in the last scene.
- Boring, but Practical:
- Long legs, hairlessness, and sweat. Obviously, large brains and speech also help, but those three are the actual reason of H. ergaster's success, as they allow it to cool down while travelling.
- The handaxe. It can be used for any task, and it doesn't need improvement to the point of remaining unchanged for over one million years.
- Butt-Monkey: The young male. He almost ruins the hunt due to his impulsiveness and gets scolded by the older couple (possibly his parents). When he makes it back to camp, the woman he pretends is being courted by another male, they get in a fight, and the old male breaks it by knocking him out cold with a bone.
- Compete for the Maiden's Hand: Turns out, the reason the young male was being so impulsive during the hunt was because he was trying to impress a girl back home. A girl also pretended by another boy, so they get in a fight over her. But unlike what would happen in an Australopithecus troop, the fight is a lot shorter and stopped by the older male leader.
- Cow Tools: The group's leader seems fond of taking souvenirs that might have an application if he actually used them, but doesn't. He spends the early part of the segment chewing on a crocodile tooth but throws it away instead of using it to cut the wildebeest's meat. He later puts on the wildebeest's skin, but it is completely untreated and will rot away soon. Maybe he only uses these to show his tribe that he can kill these animals.
- Ear Ache: ...though not before the young male bites off half an ear from his competitor.
- Full-Frontal Assault: The last charge on the dying wildebeest, since they have no fur and don't use clothes.
- Girls with Moustaches: The older female has a small beard, but not the younger ones.
- Humans Are White: Played by Caucasian actors despite living in East Africa. Possibly justified since portraying what is essentially a modern human with a chimp's face wouldn't go over well if it involved non-Caucasian actors.
- Implacable Man: H. ergaster parties hunt by tracking and following large game during the day, until they drop form sunstroke. The H. ergaster can do this because their exposed skin and sweat glands allow them to cool down.
- It Can Think: Zigzagged. It is the smartest human species we've meet to this point. It has speech (and probably a language), empathy, friendship, compassion for others, and the ability to make abstract connections like identifying season change from birds migrating, tracking an animal from its prints, or understanding that your pregnant female is also carrying your baby. Its tool of choice, the handaxe, is also more elaborate than anything we've seen a hominid make. And yet, one million years passes and its technology and society has not changed in any way, which makes Winston compare their brain power to that of a bird making a nest. However, the next tech revolution comes right after, when the species begins to use fire.
- Leeroy Jenkins: The young male ignores the old male's order to not attack the tired wildebeest yet, and this allows it to escape.
- Man Bites Man: The young male bites half an ear off a romantic rival.
- Medieval Stasis: It takes one million years to go from H. ergaster inventing the handaxe to controlling fire. The handaxe and its uses don't change at all in the meantime.
- Nemean Skinning: Bizarrely, the leader crudely cuts out and puts on the wildebeest's skin for the travel back home. He doesn't treat it in any way and will rot away.
- One of the Boys: The old female joins the hunting party instead of staying in the camp with the other women and children.
- Rubber-Forehead Aliens: Because of the evolution of humanlike proportions and hairlessness, the makeup of this species and all the others that follow is limited to the neck up.
- Series Mascot: Used in promotional material and taking most of the DVD cover.
- Super-Persistent Predator: Its hunting strategy is to follow an animal under the scorching sun until it is too tired to run or fight.
- Through His Stomach: Gender-flipped by the young male, who tries to buy a female's love by sharing a wildebeest leg with her. She repays him with a shared bird egg, however.
- Throw the Dog a Bone: Against all odds, the young male gets his chosen girl pregnant at the end.
- Unexplained Recovery: The old male hits the young male on the head with a bone and he drops in a way he might as well be dead. However, he appears at the end again, and his partner is shown to be expecting, too.
An East Asian descendant of H. ergaster, the first hominid to exist out of Africa.
- Advertised Extra: It is there to show hominids first venturing out of Africa, but does very little.
- Big Eater: It spends almost its entire segment eating or looking for food.
- Early-Bird Cameo: A shot not used in the episode appears in the prologue of the series's premiere.
- Humans Are White: Not as glaring as previous instances, but still fits.
- Jack-of-All-Trades: This particular group is hunting pigs, but if they find no pigs they can eat worms and spiders along the way.
- Nice Guy: When one is knocked out, the others take him to the river and splash water on him to wake him up.
- Screw This, I'm Outta Here!: The hunting party panics after running into a Gigantopithecus and runs away.
The largest ape ever. It is about 3 meters tall and lives in southeast Asia.
- And Now For Something Completely Different: It got its own entry in the show's website despite not being a hominine, and it was portrayed entirely with puppets rather than CGI (as the animals in Walking with Beasts) or human actors in prosthetics.
- The Dreaded: A simple glance sends three H. erectus armed with spears into a panic.
- Giant Equals Invincible: H. erectus think so at least. Because they don't even bother trying to hunt it.
- Mix-and-Match Critters: Orangutan + Gorilla.
- Red Baron: "The real King Kong".
An active hunter living in Europe and Africa 500,000 years ago, and descended from H. ergaster.
- Artistic License Paleontology: The segment is entirely about how H. heidelbergensis care about their sick, but not their dead, and how they have no funerary rituals as a result. Yet the website mentioned Spain's "Pit of Bones", which is notable because someone felt the need of throwing around 30 H. heidelbergensis bodies there over a period of perhaps several years. The bodies were already dead, but not rotting yet when they were thrown. That's a funerary ritual. They may have confused H. heidelbergensis with the earlier H. georgicus, one of whose individuals (a senescent, completely toothless man) was cared for years but not buried; or H. antecessor, whose only known individuals were butchered and eaten by other hominids as if they were hunted.
- Canon Discontinuity: The prologue shows them throwing their spears at the Megaloceros, but in the segment proper, they attack the Megaloceros in close quarters.
- Closer to Earth: While all the group gets distraught after one gets injured, the only female is seen embracing and rocking him, and applying medicinal herbs on his injury.
- Creator Provincialism: The segment is set in England despite the English record of this species being unremarkable compared to other European countries.
- Forgotten Fallen Friend: After the injured male dies, the group leaves him on the spot and continue with their business.
- Full-Frontal Assault: When they attack the Megaloceros with two-handed spears, they wear no clothes. However, they use skins for warmth and transport in later scenes.
- It Can Think: Zigzagged. They are portrayed as intelligent, but without imagination or abstraction capacity.
- Outgrown Such Silly Superstitions: Inverted. They are effectively atheist but they've never been religious in the first place.
- The Precursors: This species later bifurcates, with the European population evolving into Neanderthals, and the African population evolving into H. sapiens.
- Rain of Arrows: Rain of javelins in the prologue, but not in the segment proper.
- Science Marches On:
- Some later argued that the H. heidelbergensis of the Pit of Bones are not actually H. heidelbergensis, but early Neanderthals. If true, H. heidelbergensis should probably be considered as existing before 500,000 years ago only (the approximate age of the Pit of Bones remains).
- In the case the "not caring for their dead" bit was taken from H. georgicus: The type locality of this species was interpreted later as a sabertooth cat den. Maybe they could not bury these dead because they were hunted by cats and unretrievable. Or maybe they really didn't care about their dead.
- The Smurfette Principle: The group is apparently made of three males and one female only.
- They Wasted a Perfectly Good Plot:
- The show makes no mention of H. heidelbergensis being the largest hominid ever.
- Instead of showing the "caring" with a recently injured who dies in under 12 hours, they could have shown them caring for an individual in need of attention for several years, like a toothless senior or a mentally challenged child.
- Showing H. heidelbergensis as the first hominid with some kind of burial, however crude. Instead of another hominid with no burials.
- If inspired by H. antecessor, showing that compassion did not extend beyond one's family until much later, and people outside it were (literal) fair game.
The largest deer ever, a native of Europe. Shown being hunted by H. heidelbergensis.
- Palette Swap: Mostly the same as in Walking with Beasts, except it has antlers and the reddish summer coat at the same time, while the WWB version turned grey in the winter. Obviously, this is because the scene is set in a warm interglatial.
- Prop Recycling: Not only is it the model used in WWB, the scene of the Megaloceros's death actually uses the same POV and animation of its death in WWB, too.
- "Shaggy Dog" Story: The Megaloceros kills one of the H. heidelbergensis, but one of them still kills the Megaloceros.
A tough hominid species adapted to the cold of Ice Age Europe.
- Always Someone Better: They are perfectly adapted to their environment... but not to share it with H. sapiens.
- Apocalypse How: They'll go extinct. This is attributed in the show to H. sapiens and the lack of imagination in Neanderthals, but not elaborated on.
- Blade on a Stick: Their spears have stone tips, unlike those of previous hominids.
- Boisterous Bruiser: They are the strongest hominid species, and are also shown laughing with their peers.
- Does Not Understand Sarcasm: However, Winston claims that they would never get a joke due to their inability to abstract.
- Grim Up North: Unlike other hominids, they evolved in the cold, harsh European climate right under the glacier line.
- The Juggernaut: They don't mind injuries that H. sapiens would find unbearable. When the group leader has a multiple fracture in his middle finger, his apparent first thought is to pull it out without flinching.
- Mundane Made Awesome: Their big noses help them survive in the cold, by (ironically) helping them to cool down and not overheat when they exercize. This prevents them from producing sweat, which would be fatal if it froze.
- Pelts of the Barbarian: They wear thick furs to protect themselves from the cold. These are not sewed on and are less elbaorate than the ones worn by colonizing H. sapiens.
- Perspective Flip: The episode shows a desperate neanderthal hunting party ambushing a mammoth in a gorge. WWB had earlier shown a mammoth herd being victims to a neanderthal hunting party.
- Piano Drop: The hunters kill a mammoth by dropping a giant boulder on it.
A woolly proboscidean native to the northern tundra.
- Amazon Brigade: The herd is made entirely of females and their subadult children, like in WWB.
- It Can Think: The matriarch orders the herd to turn tail and leave the gorge by the side where they came from, the moment she hears one neanderthal coughing. That's some smarts for a non-primate.
- Just in Time: The neanderthal hunters are ready to give up when they hear a mammoth trumpeting in the distance.
- Mammoths Mean Ice Age: Ice Age segment, mammoths as main prey. Just as expected.
- Perspective Flip: They go from main characters in WWB to prey in WWC.
- Properly Paranoid: The matriarch recognizes one Neanderthal cough as a mortal peril.
- Screw This, I'm Outta Here!: They don't even dare cross the gorge. They turn back and try to leave by the same side they entered, the moment they suspect Neanderthals are around. It almost makes the hunt fail, but the Neanderthals succeed in hitting one of the mammoths with a giant boulder.
Our species, evolved in Africa and later expanded over the rest of the world.
- Apocalypse How: The desertification of Africa got so bad 70,000 years ago, we almost went extinct.
- Babies Ever After: The show ends with Winston rocking a Paleolithic H. sapiens baby, while Winston comments on the technological feats the species will later create.
- Back from the Dead: Metaphorically. The species almost went extinct once, but later came back to populate the entire planet.
- Cow Tools: Cave art. We don't know its purpose or even what it shows at times, but it isn't important. What is important is that it was made.
- Endangered Species: At its worst, the species dropped to around 2,000 individuals only.
- Last of His Kind: The last hominid species as all the others went extinct eventually.
- Misery Builds Character: Implied. The species almost went extinct 70,000 years ago. This crisis suspiciously coincides with a big leap in the abstraction capacity of H. sapiens, as evidenced by the first jewells and body painting.
- The Precursors: To humanity. While the show ends thousands of years before agriculture and civilization, Winston notes that these people are biologically identical to us and could do the same as us if dropped into the 21st century.
- The Smart Guy: The hominid with the biggest capacity for abstraction, planning ahead and rapid adaptation to the environment.
- Techno Wizard: The hominid with the most complex and rapidly advancing technology.
- Thirsty Desert: Evolved in Africa during a time of rapid desert expansion.