A New History of Life

Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Sumptuous All You Can Eat Buffet of Information The content of this course blew my mind and vastly expanded my knowledge. Each class is extraordinarily thorough. As a novice, there were pockets that were a bit of an intellectual reach - however, at the end of every lecture I was left astounded. With corona virus distance learning underwhelming, I watched this class with my 12 year old son. While we both might not retain the details, we both come away from this course amazed and enriched. Video is a must. You'll see literally unimaginable creatures....
Date published: 2020-06-04
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Visuals Stunning, Delivery Choppy Visuals Stunning, Delivery Choppy I sampled a number of courses dealing with the history of life on earth (primarily to see how life has evolved and the various life forms that have existed through the universe's billions of years) and found this one to be the most comprehensive and best when it comes to visuals/pictures/images/illustrations. However, while the topic is very interesting and the visuals are top notch in most cases, I don't feel like Professor Sutherland's delivery approach really made this course "pop" like it could have. From my perspective he assumes there is a certain level of knowledge and understanding from his audience that I personally did not have and he references concepts of biology, geology, and chemistry (as well as periods of time and classifications of creatures) as if we already know what they are vs. providing a quick introduction or explanation. This means with some work and over time of listening to multiple lectures I could put together most of what he is conveying but by then I had some levels of frustration because I felt like the previous lectures did not provide the best experience and the road to learning could’ve been smoother or streamlined. Additionally the first 10 or so lectures focused heavily on geology, studying sediment, and various earth changes that didn't come easily (to me at least). The professor also refers to names of time periods very very often (for example Cambrian, Ordovician, Permian, and Devonian) but rarely does he accompany these references with a comment around how many years ago the period entails. This inability to place his comments in context is frustrating (in fact I don’t recall him ever defining some of the time periods in the first place!). And we could do without the professor's numerous asides in which he attempts some quick one liners to interject some humor. I'm sorry but they didn't work. The short of it is this: be prepared to do some work for this course. Whether it is performing some research prior to or after listening to lectures and certainly paying 100% attention while listening (I suspect that listening while working out at the gym, getting ready for work in the morning, or hiking will seriously take away your understanding). Now on to some positives: • A lot of visuals (both photographs, illustrations, and computer-generated images) are included that provide great insight into the various types of creatures that have lived on this planet and how they have evolved (this was the highlight of the course for me and they made the course worth investing in of itself) • Topics of interest for me included the history of the continents’ movements/plate tectonics (lectures 5 and 17), the hunt for the fishapod (lectures 21 and 22), the Dinosaurs (lectures 27 & 28), and how earth has changed over its billions of years of existence as it relates to earth system changes If you're looking for a course on the subject of various life forms, their origins, and their evolution/transitions in the context of an ever-changing biosphere this seems to be the best course offering available. I would recommend it for its visuals themselves. There is a lot on earth system changes from climatic to geological to extinction events. Another reason to snatch up this course if these interest you. There is a lot in this course and the sheer content make it worthwhile even if I have some gripes with the delivery. Be prepared to focus 100% with no multi-tasking to get the most out of this course!
Date published: 2020-05-18
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Thorough AND Approachable This is the second time I've watched this course because I deeply enjoyed it the first time. The first time, I watched it for free through my library, but I bought it just to have and watch again - I did wait for a sale, though. The instructor is outstanding: he tells stories that bring the material to life while also getting in depth enough about scientific concepts that help to achieve a deeper understanding of the subject. The visual aids like videos, photos, and charts are critical to the course, so do not purchase in a version that doesn't include these. They are also well done and appropriate. I can't say enough good things about this course, and I plan to look up other courses with this instructor.
Date published: 2020-04-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from I rather enjoyed this course I bought this course because I am very interested in the Burgess Shales and Professor Sutherland teaches in BC. I envy him for being withing moderate driving distance of the shales. I found the course very interesting since my biology classes were 50 years ago or more.
Date published: 2020-03-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent! My daughter and I watch these lectures together, and are about 2/3 of the way through this series right now. The lecturer is engaging as well as knowledgeable, and the course employs a useful amount of visual aids to enhance the information. It’s amazing to learn about the changes in our ideas about life’s history that have happened since I was a kid in school! We previously watched “Introduction to Paleontology” by the same lecturer, which appears to have been produced a few years after this one based on details of the set. I want to mention that there is enough unique information in each set to make watching both valuable, although there is, of course, considerable overlap.
Date published: 2019-11-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A different perspective I know a lot about the subject, but Sutherland put the history into a different perspective, beginning with a timeline. Going back to the beginnings and showing how rocks, plants, animals fit into the whole. I found even his lecture on plate tectonics--about which I have studied extensively--added more details for me. I like his easy-going approach to difficult subjects and like his Aussie/English accent, having lived in England. I would not recommend this course for anyone without some prior knowledge of paleontology however.
Date published: 2019-11-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Brilliant! I have watched many great courses but this is by far the best. I found the presentation absolutely interesting and at the end knew far more about the evolution of the earth and the species that did and do live on it. I have 5 degrees, of which 4 are higher degrees, although none relevant to this area yet it was so well explained I understood most of it and it gave me an entirely different view of the Universe and life. Highly recommended. Many thanks for all the hard work which went into the course to make it interesting and understandable.
Date published: 2019-10-07
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Very informative! This is a comprehensive overview of the history of life, all told with attention to detail , but also with a sense of humor. I'm learning a lot from Prof. Sutherland. Thank you!
Date published: 2019-09-15
Rated 5 out of 5 by from I really enjoyed it Simply put, this was an excellent video course. I watched it with four other colleagues during our lunch break. The course material was logically organized, well presented, and supplemented with excellent graphics and pictures. Special care was taken by Professor Sutherland to highlight scientific uncertainties, scientific consensus, and alternative hypotheses. My colleagues and I appreciated the emphasis on an “earth systems” approach to the courses, in which the nexus and co-dependence of the biosphere, atmosphere, hydrosphere, and geosphere were highlighted and considered. Professor Sutherland has an excellent presentation style. He has a deliberative, relaxed, and well-articulated speaking style. He practices plain language principles to convey complex scientific information to the lay person. His accent and humor made him fun to listen to. My colleagues and I would heartily recommend this video course to anyone interested in paleontology, evolution, and Earth history.
Date published: 2019-05-01
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fascinating information This was an extremely interesting course, sadly, I bought the CDs (a couple of years ago) to listen to in the car, and while it was still a brilliant course I realise I made a mistake - this needs to be seen not just heard. Having listened to it a couple of times now, it's frustrating to hear the lecturer say: "Just look at this beautiful image." Time and time again. I loved it so much though I'm seriously considering getting a video download as well. Unreservedly recommended.
Date published: 2019-01-01
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very accurate In depth review of the formation of the planet forward. The one thing that I found the most fascinating was the amount of time given to geology. I have little background in geology and the way Dr. Sunderland put it into context with the formation of the earth was fantastic.
Date published: 2018-11-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A New History of Life I binge watched this because the professor was so engertaining in his presentation of this material. I would highly recommend thiscourse as it is filled with fascinating information and presented with passion!
Date published: 2018-10-27
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Wonderful Journey I found this course to be a great follow-on to the Professor's introduction course in Paleontology. The review I did for that course included: "I did not realize how many disciplines and technologies were employed in paleontology to gather and understand information which then is melded into the story about the evolution of this small planet. It is truly remarkable how the people in this field have decomposed their findings and converted this information into the visualization of our planet and its occupants over hundreds of millions years! What an interesting story/journey." All of that applies for this course. But now add the additional focus of the different species that occupied their eras in time and the journey offered in "A New History of Life" becomes more real and personal. A closing remark in my earlier review is equally applicable for this course: "Professor Sutherland did an outstanding job of arranging, editing and presented this course. He was/is an excellent 'tour guide'." A great, entertaining, and enlightening course.
Date published: 2018-09-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The long view on who and what we are. This is a wonderful course. First Professor Sutherland projects a very attractive intellectual humility and self-deprecating humor. He also gives credit to other investigators to a fault. These qualities are very attractive in a scientist.. He is amazing successful in condensing 4.5 billion years of Earth history into a short course, while emphasizing the complexity of life and earth systems which have been anything but predictable. His discussion of the use of fossils to date geological formations was particularly interesting throughout the course. Finally he puts we humans in a twinkling footnote.
Date published: 2018-07-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very thorough This course gives a wonderful, complete, introduction to the evolution of life on earth. But it is more than that, Prof. Sutherland also explains the concept of interacting systems -- atmospheric, oceanic, geologic, and of course biologic (and sometimes even extraterrestrial systems). He does this to explain how life on earth evolved and why. The course incorporates three main themes that I found particularly interesting: the interaction of systems in the evolution of life, the way paleontologists go about making their findings, and the current hypotheses about evolution that put you on the cutting edge of the subject. I gave the course 5 stars, although there were a couple caveats. It would have been very useful if a glossary of terms had been included in the course manual. I sometimes heard a term in a lecture that I had heard in a previous lecture, but had forgotten the precise meaning. I had to go back through the previous lectures trying to find when the term had been first used. Second, and this quibble relates to post- processing and is probably not Prof. Sutherland's doing, but is something he might be embarrassed about. When discussing Paleozoic reefs, the Capitan Reef formation in the Guadalupe Mountain NP was discussed, but a confusing picture of the El Capitan monolith in Yosemite NP was shown, which has nothing to do with the subject. Also, when Prof. Sutherland discussed the Mesozoic Catskill Sea which would be in what is now upstate New York, the video highlights the modern Chesapeake Bay as its location -- another source of confusion. Other than these two quibbles, I highly recommend this course -- but get the DVD version, as there are too many illustrations and maps discussed that one would need to see to understand the content. I also think that two other Great Courses complement and enhance this one in their subject matter: Professors Martin and Hawks' "Major Transitions in Evolution," and Prof. Hazen's "Origin and Evolution of Earth."
Date published: 2018-05-03
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Great course I'm only about half way through the course but am really enjoying it. Comprehendable to the lay person. Only one minor complaint: the lecturer stumbles over his words frequently which can be annoying. But otherwise a very knowledgeable presenter.
Date published: 2018-04-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Wonderfully presented! A new favourite of mine. Between his knowledge and his wry, subtle humour Dr. Sutherland has taken a rather dry subject and turned it into an informative, pleasurable experience. Well done, that man!
Date published: 2018-03-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from One of the best Great Courses I've seen I really liked this course. I wish this professor would do more of them.
Date published: 2018-01-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Stayed From Beginning to End I normally am watching 3 or 4 courses at a time. I read books the same way. Once I started this course I stayed with it right through. The course has a very long time line and if you are looking for a course on the evolution of man, this isn't it. Homo Sapien is right where it belongs, at the very end. Professor Sutherland brought focus on the many twists and turns as life developed. The multiple extinctions, changes in climate, in the amount of oxygen in the atmosphere are just a few of the challenges life faced. I enjoyed Professor Sutherland's presentation and he has a great voice. His passion for the subject is obvious. He had some great visual aids, including objects he had found. I would highly recommend this course. Even if you have a good background in the history of the development of life and evolution, I think you will find your time well spent.
Date published: 2018-01-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Verry professional A truly great course. Lots of detail but put together well. A joy to watch!
Date published: 2017-10-10
Rated 4 out of 5 by from A New History of Life Good to use for teaching a grandchild who likes dinosaurs, and has focus. The classes cover just enough material each time to whet one's appetite.
Date published: 2017-09-18
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Terrific course! I've purchased over 3 dozen courses and this is one of my all-time favourites! Professor Sutherland is so animated and enthusiastic - really a super lecturer. Highly recommended. I took the audio version of the course, but I would recommend the video version; I felt I was missing a lot of illustrations that would have been helpful.
Date published: 2017-07-29
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Do not buy the CD version. The professor keeps referring to pictures in the DVD version and then describes them. Not good if you can't see them.
Date published: 2017-06-27
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Life Never Stands Still In this excellent course Professor Sutherland not only explains the 4 billion-year “history of life” according to paleontology, but also places it within the complex, interactive Earth system that includes the geosphere, the hydrosphere, the atmosphere and the solar system or, to call them by their elemental names, Earth, water, wind and fire, with life serving as the fifth essence. Thanks to plate tectonics the Earth has passed through climatic extremes, twice being entirely iced over and at other times, especially during the Cretaceous Era, being so warm as to have no icecaps at the poles. Over hundreds of millions of years the slow convergence and breakup of continents has reduced or increased the number of species, while more spectacular events have wiped out half or more of Earth’s species in five mass extinctions. The mass eruptions of volcanic “traps” wiped out nearly all multicellular life at the end of the Permian period more than 200 million years ago, and of course the impact of a large meteorite on the Yucatan coast more than 60 million years ago killed off the dinosaurs, except birds. Yet life has also affected the air, water and Earth. For example, plants early on emitted huge quantities of oxygen that turned iron into iron oxide (i.e. rust) and prepared the oceans to host animals. Dead plant and animal matter have given us coal, petroleum and natural gas. The course is largely conventional in outline, though not entirely. After a few introductory lectures on the methods of geology and paleontology, Sutherland begins with the birth of the solar system, then proceeds through the origin of life, the billions of years in which the oceans had little more than prokaryotes and green slime, the rise of multicellular life (the Metazoans), the Cambrian explosion, the emergence of fish with backbones and then jaws, amphibians, amniotic reptiles and mammals, the dinosaurs, mammalian dominance, and—no surprise—the emergence of Earth’s most fearsome super-predator ever, humanity, which is so destructive that it is altering the global climate and depositing imperishable plastic and Styrofoam junk that may outlast the cockroach. Our vanity aside, this is why paleontology never ends with sparrows or dolphins. In any case, Sutherland does take a few interesting detours, like Lecture 15 on “forgotten fossils”—reefs, invertebrates and microfossils—and Lecture 29 on the evolution of flight among insects, reptiles and mammals. The viewer will meet familiar fossil favorites like trilobites, the Coelacanth, dimetrodon, ichthyosaurus, pterosaurs, T-Rex, smilodon (the most well-known saber-tooth cat), and “Lucy” (Australopithecus afarensis), but also many species that didn’t feature in the books I read as a kid: possible fish ancestor Hakovichthys, microscopic Radiolarans whose corpses line the ocean bottoms, ambulocetids (whale ancestors with legs), the late Devonian tree Archaeopteris, early primate Plesiodapis (resembling a long-legged squirrel) and Propalaeotherium, a horse ancestor the size of a cat. Sutherland also gives a brief explanation of cladistics, the classification system prevailing among biologists since the 1970s, but probably still unknown to the general public. Rather than merely grouping species, genera and so on according to shared characteristics without regard to their descent, as Linnaeus did, cladistics assumes that a grouping is valid only if it includes ALL the descendants of every member in that group. According to this system, birds aren’t just descended from reptiles via the dinosaurs, they ARE reptiles AND dinosaurs—a very startling result. I only wish the professor hadn’t waited until Lecture 24 (on amniotes) to explain it. My favorite lecture is #4, on the many problems of paleontology. There are environmental biases in the making of fossils, such as the easier preservation of bony or shelled rather than soft-bodied animals. Lifeforms are most likely to be preserved where oxygen is absent and least likely where they rot quickly. Furthermore, researchers have to avoid, if they can, creating false species out of different development stages (think tadpole vs adult frog) or genders of the same species. They must also beware of cultural biases, like those of Victorian scientists who believed dinosaurs, being related to lizards, must be cold-blooded and extremely sluggish. In later lectures, Sutherland makes it clear that the best finds are Lagerstätten, large mixtures of fossils preserved in special conditions. The most famous is the Burgess Shale formation of Cambrian fossils in western Canada. I strongly recommend buying this course on video; if you get only the soundtrack you will miss all the photographs, sketches and animations that make it so enjoyable.
Date published: 2017-05-30
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Thorough Overview of Life And Its Origins This is one of the best of the many Great Courses I've purchased. The lecturer makes each presentation understandable to a lay person. The content is well organized and thorough. The lecturer correlates each lecture to produce one great picture of how life originated and why we are where we are today.
Date published: 2017-05-20
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Poor structure, weak narrative Prior to having taken these two course I have taken several courses by TGC and have, until now, been impressed with their content and with the approach taken by the instructors. I would rate all of these courses as either very good or excellent. The two courses by Dr. Sutherland - Paleontology and History of Life were both disappointing. Dr. Sutherland has an awkward style, which is not consistent with the image of a smoothly flowing extemporaneously presented narrative, stumbles over the teleprompter do not help. Attempts at humor should be left behind; at times I felt I was part of an audience of 14yr olds. Despite covering evolution of life from almost its beginning, the time devoted to the mechanisms of evolution were hardly touched on. There seemed to be endless series of assorted images of extinct species, known from their fossilized remains, punctuated by animated maps of tectonic plate movements with the occasional general interest diversion, e.g. on the discovery of a living coelacanth. Dr. Sutherland has a tendency to use judgemental words in describing events, e.g. right, wrong, bad, good. In describing the atmosphere or climate he asks what is wrong with it? There is never anything "wrong" with the climate, it is what it is. The question to be asked is what is the impact of the change in climate on a variety of habitats and how might that affect the equilibrium between genomes. Life is a competition for resources and evolution is a process without direction and without purpose. This notion seems to have escaped Dr. Sutherland particularly when he talks about certain aquatic species being "pre-adapted" for life on land as tetrapods. When part of a didactic presentation, this type of reference strikes me as a fundamental error. Species are not imbued with consciousness and therefore cannot adapt their behavior; - as Darwin pointed out, species either survive or disappear. Individual animals can adapt their behavior, in so far as their genomes allow, and if that results in their survival then the genome continues. There is no discussion at all of these aspect of evolution, punctuated equilibrium merits a mention but it was no more than that. Presented as a catalogue of species that have interesting and diverse morphologies, the course would pass, but it misses out as a teaching opportunity. There are many lectures and debates on the web, with livelier presentations and arguments, which offer much more than these two courses.
Date published: 2017-04-26
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Worth every penny I teach at a museum here in Houston and the background and material is superb. Stuart Sutherland is a great instructor and the program is loaded with photographs and drawings, This is the second Sutherland course I have taken, the first being Introduction to Paleontology. The next time he teaches a course I'll buy it, he is that good.
Date published: 2017-04-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from One of the best Great Courses Programs This is probably one of the best courses offered. The lecturer has a unique ability to insert 'British Humor' into a topic which may be dry to some but fascinating to others. This is a course that may induce anyone to take a interest in the biologic systems of the past.
Date published: 2017-03-25
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great courses We very much enjoyed the course. The Professor has an amiable presentation style.
Date published: 2017-03-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A new history of life. Wonderful lectures I watch and listen on my iPhone while working out on a stationary bike or the elliptical and I have a smile on my face the whole time. Professor is great! He loves his subject and it is bringing the evolution of our world into clearer focus. Great course!
Date published: 2017-02-24
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A New History of Life
Course Trailer
The Interconnected Earth
1: The Interconnected Earth

Begin the story of life on Earth with an overview of the unifying idea that will govern your exploration. Called Earth system science, this approach views Earth as an integrated network comprising the lithosphere, hydrosphere, atmosphere, and biosphere. Sample the complex interactions between these realms.

30 min
The Vast Depths of Earth Time
2: The Vast Depths of Earth Time

How was the great antiquity of Earth discovered? Survey the observations that led to the concept of deep time and, in the process, developed the tools that can read the story in rocks. End with a striking analogy that puts human time into perspective.

31 min
Fossil Clocks
3: Fossil Clocks

Delve into biostratigraphy, the study of fossil sequences in rock strata. The discovery that different layers of rock are characterized by distinctive fossils solved the problem of correlating sedimentary strata from different regions. This led to the geological time scale, initiating a revolution in Earth science.

29 min
Paleontologists as Detectives
4: Paleontologists as Detectives

Learn how paleontologists interpret fossils to reconstruct the traits and environments of extinct life forms. Examine some of the pitfalls of the field, including cultural biases that can lead to doubtful conclusions, such as that Tyrannosaurus rex was as terrible as depicted in the movies.

30 min
The Shifting Surface of Planet Earth
5: The Shifting Surface of Planet Earth

The history of science is marked by ideas that were before their time. One of the most important was Alfred Wegener's concept of continental drift, which was revived in the theory of plate tectonics. Explore the role that fossils played in this original grand unifying theory of geology.

29 min
Earliest Origins-Formation of the Planet
6: Earliest Origins-Formation of the Planet

Turn back the clock to Earth's earliest epoch, focusing on these questions: How did the solar system form and why do we live on a layered, differentiated planet? What do these events and the formation of the moon have to do with the evolution and development of life on Earth?

29 min
Origins of Land, Ocean, and Air
7: Origins of Land, Ocean, and Air

Investigate the origin of Earth's ocean. Then track down the oldest rocks on the planet, which shed light on the first continents. Also explore the nature of Earth's primordial atmosphere and why we are surrounded by a thick blanket of air despite periodic blasts of charged particles from the sun.

29 min
The Early Chemical Evolution of Life
8: The Early Chemical Evolution of Life

Probe possible scenarios for the origin of life, from the "warm little pond" filled with organic compounds that Charles Darwin envisioned, to deep ocean environments energized by volcanic vents. Sharpen the search by defining the properties that the earliest life must have had.

28 min
Hints of the First Life Forms
9: Hints of the First Life Forms

Did Martian meteorites seed the young Earth with simple life forms? Investigate this intriguing hypothesis. Then embark on a quest for Earth's oldest fossils, exploring their connection to organisms still found on the planet today, some of them hidden deep within the crust.

31 min
How Life Transformed the Early Earth
10: How Life Transformed the Early Earth

Trace the perils of life on the early Earth. Having survived a seething period of volcanism and a withering bombardment by asteroids, bacteria-like organisms flourished and began to transform the planet. Learn how their success was almost their undoing.

29 min
Snowball Earth-Another Crisis
11: Snowball Earth-Another Crisis

Follow the clues that suggest Earth went through a snowball phase around 635 million years ago, nearly ending life's story. How did it happen? How was it reversed? And above all, how did photosynthetic life survive if it was trapped beneath the ice for millions of years?

29 min
Metazoans-Life Grows Up
12: Metazoans-Life Grows Up

Make the transition to multicellular life, which grew in complexity as oxygen levels increased in the atmosphere, supporting creatures with more intricate metabolisms. This portion of the fossil record long eluded paleontologists, partly because few expected to find signs of life in ancient Precambrian rock.

29 min
Incredible Variety-The Cambrian Explosion
13: Incredible Variety-The Cambrian Explosion

The Cambrian period is notable for its immense variety of animals with many different body plans. In an explosion of diversification, shells, teeth, eyes, and other innovations emerged as creatures competed in an evolutionary arms race. Investigate the key factors driving this transformation.

28 min
Window to a Lost World-The Burgess Shale
14: Window to a Lost World-The Burgess Shale

In 1909, paleontologist Charles Walcott chanced on one of the most remarkable fossil finds in history: the Burgess Shale in the Canadian Rockies. Tour some of this quarry's astonishing specimens, which brought the world of the Cambrian explosion to vivid life.

30 min
The Forgotten Fossils in Earth's Story
15: The Forgotten Fossils in Earth's Story

Survey fossils that are often neglected in popular accounts of the history of life. Begin with corals and the reefs they build, which were teeming with invertebrates hundreds of millions of years ago. Then turn to micropaleontology, which is one of Professor Sutherland's research areas.

31 min
Introduction to the Great Mass Extinctions
16: Introduction to the Great Mass Extinctions

Earth's fossil record is punctuated with episodes when large fractions of all species abruptly disappeared. Examine the distinction between background extinction and mass extinction. Then look for factors that lead to these periodic catastrophes, and search beyond Earth for a possible explanation.

29 min
The Collapse of Earth's First Eden
17: The Collapse of Earth's First Eden

Five mass extinctions have occurred in the last 500 million years. Focus on the first of these, which extinguished the tropical paradise that flourished in the Ordovician period. Did plate tectonics initiate this radical transformation? Or could the cause have been extraterrestrial?

29 min
Making the Break for Land
18: Making the Break for Land

Consider the adaptations needed to make the transition from the buoyant, nourishing realm of water onto the perilous dry land, with its temperature extremes and relentless pull of gravity. Plants and animals each evolved unique adaptations to make this daring leap.

29 min
Getting a Backbone-The Story of Vertebrates
19: Getting a Backbone-The Story of Vertebrates

Search for the earliest vertebrates, which arose from chordates-animals with a rod-shaped notochord. Also probe the mystery of an extinct chordate called the conodont, which is valuable in oil exploration. Finally, discover why we have calcium phosphate skeletons.

30 min
The Evolution of Jaws
20: The Evolution of Jaws

The first vertebrates were easy targets for killer arthropods and other marine predators. What eventually gave them the upper hand? Trace the circuitous evolution of jaws and the rapid development of fish that followed. Also crucial was the internal skeleton, which has some surprising advantages.

28 min
These Limbs Were Made for Walking?
21: These Limbs Were Made for Walking?

How did vertebrates make the leap from water to land? Follow the quest for evolutionary transitional forms for land-dwelling vertebrates, focusing on the competing theories of gradualism and punctuated equilibrium. The answer to the puzzle may lie in a transitional environment between water and land.

30 min
Tiktaalik-The Search for a Fishapod
22: Tiktaalik-The Search for a Fishapod

Hunt for the fishapod-the missing link between fish and four-limbed vertebrates, or tetrapods. Begin by investigating some "living fossils," including the celebrated Coelacanth. Then join the expedition led by paleontologist Neil Shubin that discovered Tiktaalik, a fossil fishapod that made worldwide headlines.

30 min
Carboniferous Giants and Coal
23: Carboniferous Giants and Coal

Most of the world's coal deposits were laid down in the Carboniferous period, about 300 million years ago. Tour the global environment that created this unique formation and spawned many evolutionary innovations, including the amniotic egg. Also, discover why insects were much larger then than today.

30 min
Amniotes-The Shape of Things to Come
24: Amniotes-The Shape of Things to Come

Search for the origin of amniotes, which are egg-laying tetrapods, such as reptiles. Delve into the history of classification systems for life. The Linnaean system is based on resemblances between organisms. Learn why the more recent cladistic system, based on shared characteristics, implies that there is no such thing as a reptile.

30 min
Permian Extinction-Life's Worst Catastrophe
25: Permian Extinction-Life's Worst Catastrophe

Examine the full extent of the cataclysm that swept Earth 251 million years ago. Called the End-Permian extinction, the event left a chilling fossil record. Survey the clues that show land and ocean ecosystems collapsing, wiping out 95% of all plants and animal species.

30 min
Finding the Killer-The Greenhouse Earth
26: Finding the Killer-The Greenhouse Earth

Track down the smoking gun for the End-Permian extinction. Whatever was behind it plunged Earth into an intense greenhouse effect, turning the land into desert and throwing marine ecosystems into a death spiral. Probe a diverse range of theories before settling on the probable cause.

30 min
The Dinosaurs Take Over
27: The Dinosaurs Take Over

From the reptile populations that struggled through the End-Permian extinction, the dinosaurs ultimately emerged. What conditions promoted their evolution and eventual domination of the biosphere? And what other living things shared the planet with these paleontological celebrities?

29 min
Letting the Dinosaurs Speak-Paleobehavior
28: Letting the Dinosaurs Speak-Paleobehavior

How accurate are portrayals of dinosaurs in today's media? Learn what the fossil record says about how dinosaurs actually looked and lived. Also, probe the theory that dinosaurs were warm- rather than cold-blooded, which has important implications for their behavior.

31 min
Conquering the Air-The Evolution of Flight
29: Conquering the Air-The Evolution of Flight

Take to the air to discover how creatures evolved the ability to fly. Insects made the leap first, aided by their small size. Feathered dinosaurs are thought to be the progenitors of birds. Unravel the avian link to dinosaur species such as Archaeopteryx and Microraptor.

29 min
Monsters of the Deep-Mesozoic Oceans
30: Monsters of the Deep-Mesozoic Oceans

Plunge into the oceans of the Mesozoic era, 251-65.5 million years ago, discovering that some creatures look familiar, while others are incredibly alien. The descendants of one monster of the Mesozoic, the plesiosaur, supposedly survive today in Scotland's Loch Ness. Weigh the evidence for and against these reports.

30 min
The Cretaceous Earth-A Tropical Planet
31: The Cretaceous Earth-A Tropical Planet

Conditions in the mid- to late-Cretaceous were unusually tropical worldwide, with very high sea levels. As a test case in modeling ancient climates, study factors that may explain this remarkable episode in Earth's history. Also explore what it meant for life to exist in a global hothouse.

30 min
The Sky Is Falling-End of the Dinosaurs
32: The Sky Is Falling-End of the Dinosaurs

Study the most famous mass extinction of all: the disappearance of more than half of all species, including the dinosaurs, at the end of the Cretaceous period, 65.5 million years ago. Follow the clues that suggest an extraterrestrial impact caused a cascade of catastrophes.

30 min
The Collision of North and South America
33: The Collision of North and South America

By the extinction of the dinosaurs, the continents were closing in on the configuration they have today-except North and South America had not yet joined. Tour the distinct flora and fauna of South America before its isolation ended with the land bridge to the north.

29 min
The Rise of Mammals and the Last Ice Age
34: The Rise of Mammals and the Last Ice Age

Mammals evolved at the same time as the dinosaurs but did not come into their own until well after their much larger competitors went extinct. Trace the rise of mammals and their domination through a series of glacial cycles, including the present interglacial period.

29 min
The Humble Origins of Human Beings
35: The Humble Origins of Human Beings

Bearing in mind that humans are a transitional species, not the climax of creation, chart our humble origins and the source of our most distinctive feature: a large brain. Study the fossil record to learn which came first: a big brain or bipedal posture.

30 min
The Conscious Earth
36: The Conscious Earth

Close your exploration of the history of life on Earth by charting the evolution of consciousness. When did our progenitors first become self-aware, and what were the implications for the success of humans as a species? Finally, what are our prospects for spreading the biosphere beyond Earth itself?

37 min
Stuart Sutherland

I love investigating life's story and how major geological events have colored that story. I am also passionate about helping people 'read the rocks' so they can peel back the pages of Earth's history for themselves.


University of Leicester


The University of British Columbia

About Stuart Sutherland

Dr. Stuart Sutherland is a Professor in the Department of Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Sciences at The University of British Columbia (UBC). Raised in the United Kingdom, he earned an undergraduate degree in geology from the University of Plymouth and a Ph.D. in Geological Sciences from the University of Leicester for his studies on Silurian microfossils called chitinozoa. Professor Sutherland discovered his passion for teaching during an appointment at Brunel University in London. He went on to postdoctoral research at the Natural History Museum in London, working with other paleontologists to understand the Devonian organic-walled microfossils of the Cantabrian Mountains of northern Spain. During this time, he completed a postgraduate teaching degree at Sheffield Hallam University. Since 2000, Professor Sutherland has been on the faculty at UBC's Vancouver campus, where his interests center on Earth history and paleontology. He is a three-time winner of the UBC Earth and Ocean Sciences Teaching Award. He also received the Faculty of Science Teaching Award and the Killam Teaching Prize, and he was named a "popular professor" in two editions of Maclean's Guide to Canadian Universities.

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