Origin Stories

Origin Stories

This award-winning show combines science and narrative to explore our human story and explain why we are the way we are. Listen and explore human evolution one story at a time.

Episodes

May 17, 2022 27 min

In this episode, we explore five strange fossilized footprints found by Mary Leakey at the site of Laetoli in Tanzania. Decades after their original discovery, these footprints have revealed a new story about our ancient ancestors that expands our understanding of how hominins moved and interacted. 

ThanksThanks to Dr. Ellison McNutt and Dr. Charles Musiba for sharing their work. 

Thanks as well to Jim Carty and Pat Randall for gen...
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In this episode, we talk with Evan Hadingham, senior science editor for the PBS program NOVA. His new book, Discovering Us: 50 Great Discoveries in Human Origins, highlights the thrilling fossil finds, groundbreaking primate behavior observations, and important scientific work of Leakey Foundation researchers. Want to win your own copy of the book? Take our listener survey for a chance to win one of three giveaway copies! Discoveri...

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2021 was a big year in science! Fossil discoveries introduced new relatives to our family tree, new findings added fascinating twists to the human story, and breakthroughs in research methods opened new worlds to explore. In this episode, five scientists discuss their favorite human origins discoveries of 2021.

Click here for a transcript of this episode.

Our guests:

Scott A. Williams, New York UniversityJessica Thompson, Yale Uni...

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As a young girl, Biruté Mary Galdikas dreamed of going to the forests of Southeast Asia to study the least-known of all the great apes, the elusive orangutan. People told her it would be impossible. But, in 1971, she traveled to Borneo and started what is now the longest ongoing study of orangutans in the history of science. This is her story.

She was the third in the group of now world-famous scientists known as the Trimates—Jane ...

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October 5, 2021 54 min

Scientists agree that dogs evolved from wolves, but exactly how and when that happened is hotly contested. In this episode, Origin Stories contributor Neil Sandell examines the evolution of the relationship between dogs and humans, and explores the journey from wolf to dog.

This story was originally produced for the CBC program IDEAS. 

Click here for a transcript of this episode.

Guests in this episode: (in order of appearance)

An...

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September 29, 2021 17 min

Learn about the evolution of our extraordinary ability to cool ourselves down. Biological anthropologist Andrew Best discusses the past, present, and future of sweat in this special bonus episode.

About our guest

Dr. Andrew Best is a biological anthropologist at the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts who studies metabolism, endurance, and the evolution of sweat. Visit his website to learn more about him and his research.

Click h...

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July 6, 2021 22 min

Producer and scientist Kevin McLean travels to an island off the coast of Panama where researchers have found an isolated group of monkeys with a creative approach to surviving in a challenging environment.

Links

These tiny monkeys have entered their Stone Age with a bang

First report of habitual stone tool use by Cebus monkeys

Habitual Stone-Tool Aided Extractive Foraging in White-Faced Capuchins, Cebus Capucinus

Video of capuchi...

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The widely-held idea known as the “obstetrical dilemma” is a hypothesis that explains why babies are so helpless, and why childbirth is so difficult for humans compared to other animals. 

The obstetrical dilemma suggests that babies are born early so their big brains can fit through the mother’s pelvis, which can’t get any wider due to our method of bipedal locomotion. This problem, the idea says, is solved by an evolutionary trade...

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May 7, 2021 28 min

Sleep is one of the defining traits of human life. It's also one of the most mysterious. Dr. Horacio de la Iglesia is a neurobiologist who's on a quest to understand how patterns of human sleep evolved. His new research shows an unexpected connection between sleep and the cycles of the moon.

Send us your questions!

Have a question about human evolution? Something you've always wondered about? We will find a scientist to...

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What is it like to study an endangered species like chimpanzees, knowing they may go extinct within your lifetime?

Leakey Foundation grantee Dr. Zarin Machanda is a co-director of the Kibale Chimpanzee Project, a long-term field study in Uganda. This study was started by primatologist Richard Wrangham in 1987, and project members have collected daily records of the chimps there ever since.

These notes hold the life stories of aroun...

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March 2, 2021 20 min

Your life story is hidden in your teeth. The days, weeks, years, and stressful events of your life are recorded in tiny timelines that can be read by scientists like Leakey Foundation grantee Dr. Tanya Smith.

She and her colleagues used fossil teeth to tell a detailed and intimate story about the lives of two Neanderthal children and the changing world they lived in.

Links

The Tales Teeth Tell  What teeth can tell about the lives...

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February 1, 2021 43 min

Early prehistorians had little more than stones and bones to work with as they tried to piece together the story of the Neanderthals, but today’s researchers work in ways that early prehistorians could never have imagined.

Archaeologist and author Rebecca Wragg Sykes' new book Kindred: Neanderthal Life, Love, Art, and Death synthesizes more than a century of research on Neanderthals – from the first Neanderthal fossil discovere...

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December 31, 2020 36 min

If exercise is healthy, why do so many people avoid doing it? If we're born to be active, why is it so hard to keep your New Year's resolutions about exercise? On this episode, learn about the powerful instincts that cause us to avoid exercise even though we know it’s good for us.

Dan Lieberman, author of the new book Exercised: Why Something We Never Evolved to Do Is Healthy and Rewarding, tells the story of how we never e...

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November 27, 2020 25 min

In 2017, Dr. Isaiah Nengo announced the discovery of a 13 million-year-old fossil ape found in Kenya. This remarkable fossil, nicknamed Alesi, was from a time period where there’s a big blank spot in the fossil record of our family tree. Alesi tells us something new about the early evolution of apes and shows what the common ancestor of humans and all the other living apes might have looked like. In this episode, Dr. Nengo tells th...

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November 3, 2020 67 min

Variation in human skin color has fascinated and perplexed people for centuries. As the most visible aspect of human variation, skin color has been used as a basis for classifying people into “races.” In this lecture, Leakey Foundation grantee Dr. Nina Jablonski explains the evolution of human skin color and discusses some of the ways that harmful color-based race concepts have influenced societies and impacted social well-being.

L...

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September 30 is International Podcast Day and on this episode, we’re handing things over to producer Lucía Benavides, who sat down with Leakey Foundation grantee María Martinón-Torres for an interview about her life and career.

This bonus episode is entirely in Spanish. We’ll be back with an English-language episode in October.

Special thanks to Dub and Ginny Crook for sponsoring this episode. 

Click here for a transcript of this ...

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August 28, 2020 40 min

Atapuerca is a place that holds the mystery of human evolution in Europe from 1.2 million years ago through recent times. You can find, in one place, the oldest human in Europe, the first murder in the archaeological record, and fossils that tell a range of stories from disturbing and grisly to tender and heartwarming. María Martinón-Torres is a Leakey Foundation grantee who is sometimes called a "detective of the dead" bec...

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What is it like to be responsible for the safekeeping of the ancestors of everyone in the world? In this episode, we travel to the National Museum of Ethiopia to see our most famous fossil relative – Lucy, and meet Yared Assefa, the person who takes care of her and all of our Ethiopian fossil ancestors and relatives. 

If you love fossils, you won't want to miss this episode!

Special thanks

Thanks to Yared Assefa, Dr. Berhane As...

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May 29, 2020 28 min

Have you ever considered how profoundly food has shaped who we are as a species? Julie Lesnik is a paleoanthropolgist who studies the evolution of the human diet. Her special focus is on insects as food in the past, present, and the future. 

Additional Information

Read more about Julie Lesnik's work and check out her book Edible Insects and Human Evolution.

Follow her on Twitter: @JulieLesnik

Want to try some edible insects...

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April 8, 2020 34 min

Deep in the forests of Borneo, lives a society of hunter-gatherers who speak a language never before shared with outsiders. Until now.

The Cave Punan are the last surviving hunter-gatherers in Indonesia and they have reached out for help to save their forest home and their culture.

In 2018, Leakey Foundation grantee Steve Lansing was invited by the elected leader of the Punan in Borneo to meet the Cave Punan. He soon learned of the...

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