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Life on Earth: The Greatest Story Ever Told

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This was well known during the nineteenth century because the pioneers used it in their flintlock guns. They include the orangutan, the gibbon, the chimpanzee and the primate with whom Attenborough has arguably his most famous encounter, the mountain gorilla. You are now well over a vertical kilometre below the rim, and the surrounding rocks have been dated to the immense age of 2,000 million years. In describing the consequences of this process it is only too easy to use a form of words that suggests that the animals themselves were striving to bring about change in a purposeful way – that fish wanted to climb on to dry land and to modify their fins into legs, that reptiles wished to fly, strove to change their scales into feathers and so ultimately became birds.

The condensation of three thousand million years of history into three hundred or so pages, and the description of a group of animals containing tens of thousands of species within one chapter, compels vast omissions. Finance is provided by PayPal Credit (a trading name of PayPal UK Ltd, Whittaker House, Whittaker Avenue, Richmond-Upon-Thames, Surrey, United Kingdom, TW9 1EH).

In consequence, the only land-living organisms likely to be fossilised are those that happen to fall into water. Join Life on Earth to appreciate the all of it's beauties and the importance of us humans urgently making a different to protect such precious creatures on our planet. However, the carnivores joined them, and when a drying climate triggered the spread of grass, they followed their prey out on to the plains. I intend no minimisation of the debt owed to them by all of us who take pleasure in watching and thinking about animals. To underline this distinction each time with a phrase like ‘ancestral forms that closely resemble the living species’ would be unnecessarily clumsy and literal-minded, but that qualifying phrase must be taken as read whenever I have referred to an ancient creature by the name of a living one.

Changes in sea level may cause the swamp to be flooded and layers of sand to be deposited on top of the peat. Meanwhile, a pack hunter, such as the hyena, has immense stamina and will eventually wear down its quarry, easing the kill.

Since the discovery of radioactivity scientists have realised that rocks have a geological clock within them.

The most suitable places for fossilisation are in seas and lakes where sedimentary deposits that will become sandstones and limestones are slowly accumulating. By the late afternoon, you ride at last into the lower gorge where the Colorado River runs green between high rock walls. Were these merely eddies in the mud on the bottom of the primeval seas, or could they have been formed by living organisms? Three-quarters of the way down, you are still descending through layers of limestone, but now there is no sign of fossilised life whatever.

Coral reefs contain the greatest variety of species, many of which are conspicuously coloured to ward off predators or attract mates. And yet, despite facing literally every conceivable setback that living organisms could encounter, life has been extinguished and picked itself up to evolve again.

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