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11 documentaries 60 minutes

Colour - Betacam SP/PAL with M&E - English Tracks


 Man on the rim

This series has been made possible by recent exciting discoveries in archaeology and anthropology, through which the shrouded history of the once "mysterious East" is at last beginning to emerge.

The first humans in the Pacific basin - manís ancestors, Homo erectus - came from Africa and lived in the jungles of South - East Asia and the forests of China. Modern man emerged during the last series of the Ice Ages, perhaps 100,000 years ago and occupied mainland Asia.

Then, in the greatest succession of migrations in the history of the human race, the Asiatic peoples spread north, south and east to settle the lands which surround the Pacific basin. To achieve this with their limited technology, Ice Age people made journeys of unparalleled daring and endurance. These migrations which settled the Pacific basin comprised the most adventurous phase in manís history and it was all over before the Western world even knew the Pacific existed. This major series tells the complete story of "The peopling of the Pacific"

Episode One : First Footsteps

The theme of manís most ancient migrations is introduced by Alan Thorne's theory that among the earliest settlers of Australia, more than 50,000 years ago, there were some whose origins lay in China. It is a theory based on Thorne's recent studies of early man in China and Australia, and his experience of the ocean-going capability of the bamboo raft of South-East Asia.

Thorne intends to prove that even with today's higher sea levels the journey is possible.

This journey, as well as being an exciting adventure in its own right, is typical of the many voyages that took place during prehistorical times, and which finally led to the exploration and settlement of man in all the emerged lands of the planet. On the way we encounter some of the great sea-going fleets which made the peopling of the Pacific possible - the junks of China, the canoes of the Borneo head-hunters, the great trading praus of the Macassans.

This episode establishes the central theme of the series - the concept of the evolving human species spreading out from Africa an Asia during and since the last Ice Ages, into all the continents and seas, till the tiniest and most isolated islands of the Pacific.

In this episode we go back to the very beginning of the story, to the emergence of the human race in Asia, with Peking man and Java man as the two contrasting symbols of our ealiest presence in this eastern half of the world.

The episode ends with pointers to the great expansion of the human race which these two divergent groups are about to launch: the settlement of Australia and the Americas.

Episode Two : Hunters And Gatherers

Here we describe how a group of people went about occupying an entire vacant continent - Australia - and how they settled its vast and varied terrain.

This episode follows the spread of the first arrivals - around the coastline, up the rivers into the interior, and to the furthest corners of Tasmania, before it was made an island by the rising sea level at the end of the Ice Age.

We see the ingenious ways in which the different tribes adapted to the tropical jungles of Cape York, the arid stretches of the Western Desert, the rich lagoons and wetlands of the Murray-Darling river system, the wild coastline of Bass Strait and Tasmania.

We see how the first Australians made their mark on their discovered continent; their flirtation with agriculture and house building; their "management" of certain environments; their modification of the landscape by "fire-stick farming"; and their profound effects upon the fauna.

In brief, the story of Australiaís earliest settlers is an excellent example of human colonisation of a virgin territory, the story which saw man successfully expanding in all parts of the planet.

Episode Three : Into Deep Freeze

While some peoples, during the Ice Age, were beginning to move out of South-East Asia to Australia and New Guinea, others were pushing north, through the cold forests of northern China, to the still colder tundra of Siberia, and even beyond the edge of the continent itself, to that most extreme of all environments, the frozen Arctic.

In this episode we visit people who have learned to cope with cold.

In Soviet Siberia, the people still set their traplines for game, while they herd the reindeer on the tundra, close to the archaeological sites which testify to the earliest attempts to live in this frozen wilderness.

And in the Aleutian Islands and Alaska the people still stalk the walrus herds and hunt the whales, as their ancestors did on their way across the top of the Pacific basin, into the New World.

Episode Four : Flaming Arrows

More than 20,000 years ago adventurous Siberian hunters crossed the Bering Strait land bridge into Alaska, penetrated or perhaps bypassed by sea the Canadian ice barrier, and poured out onto the rolling American prairie, teeming with game.

The vast herds of bison and other grazing animals may even have outnumbered those where man evolved on the dusty plains of Africa. The day of the hunter had finally come.

As the descendants of the Siberian hunters began to settle down, the copper coloured race which emerged in North America diversified and occupied a remarkable range of habitats, from the lakes and birch forests of the north to the mesas and canyons of the south-western deserts, from the swamps of Florida to the rolling plains of the Mississippi.

In this episode we follow the "Red Indians" as they develop an extraordinary variety of cultures, architecture, arts and crafts, dress, and technology. This is a film about the Americans we never think of, a people who were mostly gone before we even knew they were there.

Episode Five : Changing Menu

By the time this episode opens the Mongoloid genes from the north of Asia have moved south, and virtually swamped the original Australoids. These dark people are now confined to an area covering eastern Indonesia, New Guinea and Australia.

But first, about 10,000 years ago, there began here as elsewhere in the world a slow but crucial change in the human way of life - the transition from the nomadic reliance on hunting and gathering to a settled existence in communities.

In this episode we show how the menu was changed in one of the most crowded and colourful regions of the ancient world, as we follow the development of horticulture, and the cultivation of such essential food plants as taro, yams, breadfruit, bananas, coconut and rice - all still staple foods in this region

Episode Six : The Cutting Edge

In this episode we see how this technological revolution took place in Asia - quite independently, it now appears, of similar discoveries in the original "cradle of civilisation" in the Middle East.

The valley of the Huang-Ho River in China, with its vast, fertile plains of wind-blown loess, is one of the first places where Neolithic man settled down in communities, to farm his millet and keep his pigs.

Meanwhile, far to the south, as a result of recent unexpected archaeological finds, Thailand has been identified as one of the most advanced centres of innovation in the ancient world, whose people were expert bronze and iron workers, as early here as anywhere.

On the coast of Vietnam, Dong Son gave its name to a range of once mysterious bronze drums and other metal artefacts, found at sites across South-East Asia as far as eastern Indonesia. These skilfully made articles, once thought to be comparatively late, now speak of an unsuspectedly ancient knowledge of metal-working in Indo-China.

All these finds reinforce the new concept of a genuine Asian "Bronze Age", thousands of years earlier than had ever been suspected.

Episode Seven : The Powerhouse

From the mists and sometimes deliberate obscurities of her history, China is at last emerging as the true powerhouse of Asia.

In this episode we explore that aspect of China's long history which displays most graphically the superiority which she formerly exercised over the rest of the world - her inventiveness.

Beginning with the Han dynasties which followed the Shang, more than 2,000 years ago, we show the flowering of Chinese culture and technology, through such inventions as paper, printing, clock-work, the compass, iron casting, steel making, advance alloying, gunpowder, rockets, porcelain, the box bellows, earthquake detectors, the cross-bow, and the discovery and making of silk.

Another important but little known achievement of the Chinese is the sea-going junk, with the stern-post rudder which enables it to sail into the wind. The well-documented Chinese voyages to southern Africa during the Ming dynasty, and others perhaps even as far as California, must now be placed among the very first long-distance explorations by large sailing ships anywhere in the world. 

Episode Eight : Pure And Simple

Despite the dominant presence of China in Asia for thousands of years, a very few other peoples have succeeded in maintaining their individuality and independence.

One such people are the Japanese who, despite their close affinities in origins and culture with the mainland colossus, have fought with the utmost determination to remain distinctive.

In this episode we consider Japan's long struggle to remain independent.

The Chinese retaliated from time to time, but the fascinating climax to these long skirmishes was the now legendary onset of the kamikaze, the "divine wind" which wrecked a mighty Chinese invasion fleet and kept Japan safe for centuries after.

(Archaeology is now bringing this fleet back to life.)

We also explore some of the ways in which the Japanese preserve their cultural identity. This is manifested in the simplicity and severity of ceremony and design, in such aspects of Japanese life as formal gardens, calligraphy, and craftsmanship in pottery, wood, paper, fan making and bamboo.

Episode Nine : Roads Without Wheels

We return now to the other side of the Pacific, to see how the restless migrants from Asia learned to adapt to conditions in the most remote of all their overland destinations - South America.

The human occupation of this rugged territory took place surprisingly soon after the initial entry into the Americas, far to the north. Within perhaps a thousand years of passing Alaska they were at the very tip of South America, hunting whales and seals again.

Isolated from the rest of the world, the South American Indians produced their own remarkable range of food plants, which were later introduced with wonder to the other continents : potatoes, maize, tomatoes, peppers and avocadoes.

They invented the wheel, but used it only on toys, never for transport, their metal-working, particularly in gold, silver and platinum, is unique and astonishing in its technique and imagination. 

Episode Ten : Feathered Serpent

The Olmec, Toltec, Maya and Aztec cultures, which built their huge pyramids and great cities on the dusty plains of Mexico and in the steaming jungles of the Isthmus, represent the highest achievements of American Indian society.

In this episode we see the striking skeletons of these complex communities. They had remarkable skills in architecture and sculpture, and highly developed talents for metal-working, pottery-making and other arts. But they also had extravagant and blood religions, and a taste for human sacrifice. And all, in turn, were fated to fail and collapse.

The Mayans, in one of the most baffling mysteries of human history, simply vanished, and their vast edifices were swallowed up by the jungle.

Only the Aztecs maintained their bizarre, sun-struck existence, based on their teeming metropolis, Tenochtitlan, and pursued with fanaticism their interest in warfare and conquest - until the outside world, in the form of the Spanish conquistadors, broke in upon them.

Episode Eleven : The Last Horizon

The final episode in the greatest migratory movement in the history of the human race belongs to the Polynesians.

Their epic voyages from Fiji and Tonga carried people and their food plants, animals and language, across the vast open reaches of the Pacific towards the eastern horizon, to populate the last remaining habitable region on the globe.

In less than a thousand years, using their fast but frail outrigger canoes, guided only by the stars and their knowledge of winds and currents, the Polynesians find and settle island groups as far apart as Hawaii, Tahiti, New Zealand and Easter Island.

With this achievement, the restless human urge to see what lies beyond the far horizon seemed at last to be satisfied. From Asia, man had explored and colonised the entire Pacific basin - all unknown to the civilisations of the West, around the other side of the globe.

New sails appeared over the horizon, and Europe broke into the isolation of the Pacific. For centuries the cultures of the East would lie impotent beneath the weight of superior technology, forged in the Industrial Revolution.

Only now is that vast reservoir of human energy and resource beginning once again to churn and ferment, as the centre of moment of human affairs begins to swing from the Western hemisphere into the East, at the dawning of the Pacific Century.