Science Night 5/16

Nature “Cracking the Koala Code” at 7 pm
This program examines the day-to-day dramas of an extended family of koalas, seen through the eyes of the scientists studying their every move and vocalization. Fascinating social dynamics include territorial displays, vicious fighting and the surprising life and loves of a “traveling salesman,” a rogue male who truly plays the field. New science even “cracks the koala communication code,” providing insights into their basic language and social structure.

NOVA “The Great Inca Rebellion” at 8 pm
In an impoverished suburb of Lima, in an ancient cemetery crammed with more than 1,000 pre-Columbian mummies, Peruvian archaeologist Guillermo Cock makes a startling find. He discovers dozens of corpses that differ from all the rest: they were hastily buried and disfigured by appalling wounds and fractures inflicted by steel blades and crude bullets. Forensic experts diagnose these remains as victims of a little-known battle that pitted club-wielding Inca warriors against Spanish cavalry. The battle turns out to be a decisive turning point that helps explain a long-standing mystery about the Spanish conquest of Peru. How, in 1532, did a tiny band of Spanish soldiers crush the mighty Inca empire, then the most powerful civilization in the Americas, with a network of roads that spanned over 2,000 miles? Were the conquistadors’ obvious advantages — steel arms, gunpowder and horses — the key to their success, as is usually supposed? Or were disease and civil war more decisive factors that were downplayed by the Spanish chroniclers? With the help of this new evidence from the Lima cemetery, NOVA reveals the untold final chapter of the conquest: not the Spanish walkover familiar from popular accounts, but rather a protracted and complex war of astonishing brutality that almost led to the Spanish losing their precarious foothold in the Andes.

Bones of Turkana at 9 pm
Follow famed paleoanthropologist Richard Leakey and his wife, Meave, daughter Louise and their colleagues as they work in the arid northern regions of Kenya’s Turkana Basin to unravel the mysteries of human evolution. While one of the Leakeys’ goals is to demonstrate the complexity and truth of human evolution, they also seek to show how the qualities that we proudly call human were all born in Africa. The story that emerges in the film is exciting, emotional, contemplative, occasionally funny and, in the end, transforming. This is Africa at its most beautiful and harshest.