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Alan Alda hosts "The Human Spark", a three-part television series funded in part by NSF

Why did our ancestors who made cave paintings in France thrive while Neanderthals died out? What do our closest living ancestors have to teach us about what it means to be human? How do images of the human brain reveal our faculties for language, the use of tools and the ability to forge social bonds? These questions and more are examined in "The Human Spark," a three-part television series funded in part by NSF. In this background briefing, host Alan Alda and the producers of the series discuss their interactions with dozens of scientists to get at the sources of human uniqueness through the lenses of neuroscience, anthropology, human evolution, child development and primatology. The series premieres on PBS stations Jan. 6, 13 and 20, 2010.

Credit: WNET-TV/National Science Foundation

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