Dr. Niobe Thompson on location in Arabia

Take a journey around the world and back in time with anthropologist Dr. Niobe Thompson, and discover the miracle of our species.

Three-part documentary series and interactive web documentary The Great Human Odyssey explores the unlikely survival and the miraculous emergence of Homo sapiens as the world’s only global species. Ancient climate research has revealed that we evolved during the most volatile era since the extinction of the dinosaurs. Just like the many other kinds of human who once shared our world, we should have died away. Instead, our species survived to populate every corner of the planet, against all the odds.

Over 18 months of filming, Niobe followed in the footsteps of our ancestors across locations on five continents, working with 22 Canadian, American and South African cinematographers, including aerials, underwater, and ultra-slow motion specialists. Equipped with the next generation of ultraHD 4K cameras, film crews worked in some of the most hostile environments on Earth, including Arctic Siberia, remote South Pacific islands, tropical rainforests and African deserts.

A skin cutting initiation begins, Papua New Guinea

On Papua New Guinea’s Sepik River, Niobe witnessed the extremely rare skin cutting initiation of the Crocodile People. His crew was the first in film history to visit the Badjao – the world’s last breath-hold diving nomads – in their war-torn homeland in the southern Philippines. In Russia, they filmed over the course of a full year in a closed border zone on the Bering Strait, eventually succeeding in their goal of capturing a traditional Inuit nest raid on 200-meter high sea cliffs.

At the same time, their cameras had privileged access to one of the world’s leading ancient DNA laboratories, where research on early human remains is explaining the mysteries of our survival, including the enigma of our ancestral interbreeding with Neanderthals. 

The Great Human Odyssey boasts a live symphonic and choral score by Darren Fung, recorded with members of the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra and ProCoro Canada at one of North America’s leading acoustic spaces, Edmonton’s renowned Winspear Opera Hall.

After watching the series, immerse yourself in a virtual reality experiment, walking in the shoes of Kalahari Bushmen, Chukchi reindeer herders or Badjao free-divers, through the interactive web documentary. A parallel crew of cinematographers and web developers worked alongside the film crew on location to animate these fascinating cultures through POV video interactions.

Badjao children in the Philippines, the worlds last traditional free divers

You can also travel back in time to the origins of our species, 4m years ago, and see how our planet’s shorelines, deserts and glaciers changed at key points in evolutionary history. Working with Columbia University’s Lamont Doherty Earth Sciences Lab, this animated visual representationof climate change is a first-ever. 

The Great Human Odyssey site is packed with interviews, mini-documentaries, image galleries and text information to give audiences a rich and visually exciting tour of the science and filmmaking techniques behind The Great Human Odyssey.

Following the 2015 premiere on Canada’s national public broadcaster, The Great Human Odyssey will broadcast on PBS Nova and in a German version on Servus. The series will be versioned in French in spring 2015.

Learn more about anthropologist and host, Niobe Thompson