What Makes Us Human?

What Makes Us Human?

Among animals, humans are unique, but why?


6 - 12+


Archaeology, Anthropology, Biology, Geography, Human Geography, Physical Geography

The Leakey family has been studying fossils in Eastern Africa since 1931, when Dr. Louis Leakey led an expedition to Olduvai Gorge, in what is now Tanzania. Louis and Mary Leakey’s middle son, Richard, eventually took over the family legacy. Richard married Meave Epps when she worked for his father and they began exploring Kenya’s Lake Turkana Basin in the late 1960s. Richard and Meave’s daughter, Louise, also became a paleontologist focusing on fossils in the Lake Turkana area.

Today, both Meave and Louise Leakey are National Geographic Explorers-in-Residence. Together, they have discovered some of the most significant paleoanthropologic fossils in history.

This video is an excerpt from the film Bones of Turkana. The film takes place in the area around ancient Lake Turkana. The area is known as a cradle of human life. Evidence shows that hominids may have lived near Lake Turkana 4.2 million years ago. Bones of Turkana, which highlights the Leakeys’ careers, gives greater insight into fossil-hunting, as well as depicting the lives of some human ancestors.

This video focuses on some of the traits that define us as modern humans. The three traits described are bipedalism, language, and tool making.

This video assumes some familiarity with the theory of evolution, the process of how organisms developed from earlier forms of life. Evolution is not a linear process, but a dynamic one. One species does not morph directly into another, but diverges from its ancestors. Evolution takes place throughout a population over a long period of time, due to environmental pressures. This video sometimes uses the phrases “more advanced” or “less advanced” which actually don’t apply to evolution. Species evolve to fit the particular environment that they are occupying at a given time, not to “advance” to a different evolutionary stage.

Media Credits

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Hannah Herrero
National Geographic Society
Elizabeth Wolzak, National Geographic Society
Expert Reviewer
Jill Wertheim, National Geographic Society
National Geographic Explorer
Meave and Louise Leakey
J.J. Kelley
Alison Michel
Last Updated

October 19, 2023

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