First Life is a 2010 British nature documentary written and presented by David Attenborough, also known by the expanded titles David Attenborough's First Life (UK) and First Life with David Attenborough (USA). It was first broadcast in the USA as a two-hour special on the Discovery Channel on 24 October 2010. In the United Kingdom it was broadcast as a two-part series on BBC Two on 5 November 2010.
First Life sees Attenborough tackle the subject of the origin of life on Earth. He investigates the evidence from the earliest fossils, which suggest that complex animals first appeared in the oceans around 500 million years ago, an event known as the Cambrian Explosion. Trace fossils of multicellular organisms from an even earlier period, the Ediacaran biota, are also examined. The naturalist travels to Canada, Morocco and Australia, using some of the latest fossil discoveries and their nearest equivalents amongst living species to reveal what life may have been like at that time. Visual effects and computer animation are used to reconstruct and animate the extinct life forms.
The series was directed by freelance film-maker Martin Williams and series produced by Anthony Geffen, CEO and Executive Producer of Atlantic Productions, with whom Attenborough is also working on a 3D documentary for the satellite broadcaster Sky. It was produced in association with the BBC, the Discovery Channel and the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. During production, it had the working title The First Animals.
Attenborough's Journey, a documentary film profiling the presenter as he journeyed around the globe filming First Life, was shown on BBC Two on 24 October 2010. A hardback book to accompany the series, authored by Matt Kaplan with a foreword by Attenborough, was published in September 2010.
Animals featured in the series
The first ancient living being mentioned in the series is Charnia, an Ediacaran lifeformwhose fossil was first found in Charnwood Forest. Stromatolites, which still live in Western Australia are also shown. With the palaeontologist Dr Guy Narbonne, Attenborough visits Mistaken Point where there are hundreds of fossils of Charnia and other animals of which the most common is Fractofusus (thousands of specimens).
In the Ediacara Hills Attenborough is shown by palaeontologist Dr Jim Gehling fossils of Dickinsonia. In the same place there are also fossils of Kimberella, a slug-like animal and Spriggina. These animals are the first to have been mobile and have bilateral symmetry, Spriggina being the first to clearly have a head and a tail. In the same hills palaeontologist Dr Mary Droser shows Funisia the first animal for which there is evidence of sexual reproduction.
In Switzerland Attenborough visits a very large synchrotron which is used by Professor Philip Donoghue to take microscopic 3-dimensional pictures of the interior of fossilized embryos, including Markuelia an animal which lived 20 million years after the animals of Ediacara and one of the first to have a gut.
One of the first big predators was Anomalocaris, found in the Burgess Shale in the Canadian Rockies. Its prey probably included animals such as Opabinia, Wiwaxia, Hallucigenia. Professor Justin Marshall shows mantis shrimp, which are similar to Anomalocaris.
The most successful arthropods were the Trilobites, and one of the biggest was Pterygotus, of which a large fossil exists in the vaults of the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh. Aysheaia is thought to be the ancestor of the first land animal. A very similar land animal, the velvet worm, Peripatus still exists lives in the tropics including the rainforest in Queensland, Australia. The oldest known fossil of an air-breathing arthropod is 428 million years old, similar to millipedes and centipedes.
- Official website for David Attenborough's First Life
- The First Animals BBC website
- First Life at the BBC Press Office website (see "Nature" panel on right hand side of page)
- David Attenborough's First Life at the Internet Movie Database
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