When Africa turns up on a history program, it’s often because another cache of ancient bones has been found there. Maybe there’s a mention of Mitochondrial Eve and a map showing how early humans migrated out of Africa and populated the world, but these programs generally leave a 200,000-year void between the paleoanthropological find and today.
Henry Louis Gates Jr., the Harvard scholar, is in the midst of a quest to change that with “Africa’s Great Civilizations,” a six-part PBS series that began Monday night and continues this week. His message is that it wasn’t just our DNA that originated in Africa.
“When those early human beings migrated out of Africa,” he says in Part 1, “they weren’t traveling alone. They were carrying something within them, and that something had developed slowly over millennia. It was culture.”
Dr. Gates, who after numerous television appearances is about as comfortable on camera as any academic out there, travels all over the continent, visiting sites where writing and art evolved, and where centers of population and power evolved along with them.