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Life on Earth: The Greatest Story Ever Told

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The others were supplanted by the monkeys and a primitive species that still exists is the smallest, the marmoset. One whole new branch of science has in recent years spread a great deal of light on the history of life – molecular genetics. Even so, very few of these perished in the exact physical and chemical conditions necessary for fossilisation. This was problematical for some hunters, such as spiders and scorpions, who developed courtship rituals to ensure that the female didn't eat the male. In a list of the 100 Greatest British Television Programmes drawn up by the British Film Institute in 2000, voted for by industry professionals, Life on Earth was placed 32nd.

But then the idea formed in my mind that a group of us might make a series of films that portrayed animals in a slightly different way. Ideas about biodiversity and mass extinctions are now prominently included, and the revelation – now textbook – that birds are dinosaurs is front and centre, having been dismissed the first time round.In 1999 viewers of Channel 4 voting for the 100 Greatest TV Moments placed the gorilla sequence at number 12—ranking it ahead of Queen Elizabeth II's coronation and the wedding of Charles and Diana. Therefore, Attenborough argues, such foresight, teamwork and planning must have meant some skill at communication. And yet, despite facing literally every conceivable setback that living organisms could encounter, life has been extinguished and picked itself up to evolve again. The age of the dinosaurs is explored, and Attenborough surmises that it may have been climate change that led to their abrupt demise. He has close connections with the University of Cambridge and the Museum of Zoology, and in June 2018 officially reopened the museum's wonderful new gallery spaces after a major refurbishment.

Dr Henry Gee presents creatures from ‘gregarious’ bacteria populating the seas to duelling dinosaurs in the Triassic period, to magnificent mammals with the future in their grasp. Most if not all of the images in the 2018 edition are new, but the text remains substantially the same as the original. Could it be that the first creatures to leave any sign of their existence were as complex as worms and molluscs? Like so many people of my vintage, seeing the wonder of nature with him as our guide was inestimably influential in steering us towards science.His poetic prose animates the history of life, from the first bacteria to trilobites to dinosaurs to us.

Here Darwin’s questions about the creation of species recurred, for in these islands he found fresh variety. Of those that did, only a tiny proportion happen to lie in the rocks that outcrop on the surface of the ground today; and of these few, most will be eroded away and destroyed before they are discovered by fossil hunters. The green tree ants of south-east Asia are shown to display the most extraordinary co-operation when building their nests. Since that time, the theory of natural selection has been debated and tested, refined, qualified and elaborated. Now, to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the book’s first publication, David Attenborough has revisited Life on Earth, completely updating and adding to the original text, taking account of modern scientific discoveries from around the globe.In 1969, bones of creatures such as a 3-metre-tall kangaroo and a ferocious marsupial lion were found in a cave in Naracoorte, South Australia. The lungfish today shows how lungs may have developed; the mouse deer represents the first hoofed mammals that browsed in the forests of fifty million years ago. From that first foray to the spread of early hominids who later became Homo sapiens, life has persisted, undaunted. Each chapter is devoted to the history of the major groups of animals - insects, reptiles, birds, mammals - and each chapter gives a history of their nature rather than a conventional natural history.

The British Vice-Governor of the Galapagos told Darwin that even within the archipelago, there was variety: the tortoises on each island were slightly different, so that it was possible to tell which island they came from. The pieces were crafted scene-by-scene to synchronise with and complement the imagery on screen: in one sequence examining the flight of birds, the instrumentation mirrors each new creature's appearance. At the time, Darwin was far from being an atheist – he had, after all, taken a degree in divinity at Cambridge University – but he was deeply puzzled by this enormous multiplicity of forms. The condensation of three thousand million years of history into three hundred or so pages, and the description of a group of animals containing tens of thousands of species within one chapter, compels vast omissions. The rocks through which the Colorado River has cut its way still lie roughly horizontally, layer upon layer, red, brown and yellow, sometimes pink in early light, sometimes blue in the shadowed distance.It is for this reason that they became more successful than their reptile ancestors, who needed to heat themselves externally. It may have taken to the trees to avoid predators, and over time, its bony, reptilian tail was replaced by feathers and its heavy jaw evolved into a keratin beak. So the connections between the various groups that appear in our story can now be determined and statements about ancestry made with real confidence.

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