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TV REVIEW : Wonders Abound in ‘Ancient Americans’

Lots of amazing stuff lurks in “The Search for Ancient Americans,” the engrossing second-season debut of PBS’ scientific series “The Infinite Voyage” (tonight at 8 on Channels 28, 15 and 24).

How about scientists in Florida finding a 7,000-year-old skull with a shrunken but still preserved brain inside? And then extracting DNA material from it?

If that’s not exciting enough for you, how about using jet-borne infrared sensors to solve the mystery of a hardly ever lived-in, 660-room pueblo in New Mexico that was the hub of a sprawling Indian civilization connected by perfectly straight roads?

Or how about finding out that those extravagant sculptures adorning Mayan monuments were essentially giant billboards designed by the ruling class to impress the common masses with their divine origins?

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These and many other recent archeological/anthropological discoveries and wonderments jump into our living rooms as the show traces the migration of the hemisphere’s original discoverers--the Asians who crossed the land bridge at the Bering Sea and eventually spread to the southern tip of South America.

These ancient pioneers left many clues about their lives, such as an 11,000-year-old treasure chest of 9-inch ornamental spear points unearthed in the state of Washington and a 10,000-year-old tomb found underwater at a Florida health spa that provides the first evidence that early Americans were able to kill prehistoric prey such as mammoths.

The program, produced by WQED in association with the National Academy of Sciences, visits these sites and others. Scientists explain what their findings mean, probe mysterious hunks of archaic fabric with electron microscopes and get physics students to test ancient weapons to prove their effectiveness.

Beautifully shot and clearly written, “The Search for Ancient Americans” is of National Geographic quality. It’s easy to understand why “The Infinite Voyage” series is being used by high school teachers in classrooms: This installment (which also will be shown Monday on KTTV Channel 11) is an example of the best kind of educational TV--a program so interesting you don’t realize you’re learning.

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