Origin Stories

Origin Stories

Explore human evolution one story at a time. This award-winning show blends storytelling with science that will change your understanding of who we are.


October 31, 2023 30 mins

Sibling relationships can include everything from love and support–to tension, competition, and conflict. They might also play a fundamental role in the evolution of our species. In the final installment of our three-part series on family relationships, researchers Karen Kramer, Cat Hobaiter, and Rachna Reddy explore surprising new science about the role of siblings in primate and human evolution.

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Humans invest enormous amounts of time and energy into bringing up our babies. This unique investment is a fundamental part of what it means to be human. In this episode, the second in a three-part series on family relationships, researchers Lee Gettler, Stacy Rosenbaum, and Sonny Bechayda explore how our species' approach
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August 29, 2023 29 mins

Humans invest enormous amounts of time and energy into bringing up our babies. This unique investment is a fundamental part of what it means to be human. In this episode, the first in a three-part series on family relationships, researchers Sarah Blaffer Hrdy, Stacy Rosenbaum, and Amy Scott explore how our species' approach to motherhood may hold the key to some of the most important traits that set us apart from other mammals. 


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August 2, 2023 34 mins

How did climate change impact ancient human behavior? This is one of the questions Justin Pargeter and his team are investigating at a site called Boomplaas Cave in South Africa. This site has a unique record of human presence over the past 80,000 years or so. Importantly, the site is helping researchers piece together the story of how humans adapted to rapidly shifting climates in the past.

Origin Stori...

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July 6, 2023 33 mins

This special episode takes you inside the world of archaeology students at Boomplaas Cave, one of South Africa’s flagship human evolution research sites. Led by Dr. Justin Pargeter, the students chronicle their field school journey through personal audio diaries, offering a candid look at the joys, thrills, and challenges of archaeological fieldwork.

Thanks to Justin Pargeter, Monique Niekerk, Asi Ntsodwa,...

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May 30, 2023 30 mins

In this episode, we explore the fascinating tale of the Hobbit, an unexpected fossil find that shook the world's understanding of human evolution. Join researcher Matt Tocheri as he shares how this tiny hominin revolutionized the human story and transformed his life. 


From the Field: Matt Tocheri
Homo floresiensis
Can rat bones solve an island mystery?


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March 28, 2023 27 mins

Dr. Kira Westaway is part of an international research team working to solve the mystery of Gigantopithecus, the largest ape that ever walked the earth. In this episode, we explore how this massive primate lived, why it disappeared, and what it can tell us about extinctions happening now. 

Learn more:

Origin Stories is a project of The Leakey Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to funding h...

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March 1, 2023 27 mins

How do human bodies use energy? In this episode, Leakey Foundation grantee Dr. Herman Pontzer shares groundbreaking research that upends our understanding of metabolism, calories, and the history of our species. 

Origin Stories is hosted by Meredith Johnson, produced and sound designed by Ray Pang, and edited by Audrey Quinn.

Support this show and the science we talk about. leakeyfoundation.org/donate 


Burn by Herman Pontzer...

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January 31, 2023 35 mins

2022 was another exciting year in human origins research! New fossil discoveries and ancient DNA research expanded our understanding of the past. We learned something surprising about the evolution of human speech, and new methodologies and showed promising potential to improve the future of medicine. In this episode, four Leakey Foundation scientists shared their favorite human evolution discoveries from the past year.

Our guests

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    January 24, 2023 1 min

    We've been hard at work on a new season of stories about how we became human. Origin Stories returns on January 31 with monthly episodes!

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    May 17, 2022 27 mins

    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. 

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

    Thanks as we...
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    February 25, 2022 23 mins

    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.

    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 ...

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    October 5, 2021 54 mins

    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.

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    September 29, 2021 17 mins

    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 hi...

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    July 7, 2021 22 mins

    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.


    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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    June 4, 2021 34 mins

    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 mins

    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 answer it o...

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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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