SAPIENS: A Podcast for Everything Human

SAPIENS: A Podcast for Everything Human

What makes you … you? And who tells what stories and why? In the fifth season of the SAPIENS podcast, listeners will hear a range of human stories: from the origins of the chili pepper to how prosecutors decide someone is a criminal to stolen skulls from Iceland. Join Season 5’s host, Eshe Lewis, on our latest journey to explore what it means to be human. SAPIENS: A Podcast for Everything Human, is produced by House of Pod and supported by the Wenner-Gren Foundation. SAPIENS is part of the American Anthropological Association Podcast Library. For more information, visit


December 5, 2023 30 mins

We turn from Margaret Mead’s and Derek Freeman’s conflicting accounts of adolescence and sexuality in Samoa to more stories from Samoans themselves. 

Author and poet Sia Figiel and activist and anthropologist Doris Tulifau are two Samoan women from different generations. Yet they share a bond and have a similar experience of terrible violence and survival. 

They bravely give us a glimpse into the dynamics of power within...

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After Derek Freeman publishes Margaret Mead and Samoa: The Making and Unmaking of an Anthropological Myth, the controversy heats up. Op-eds, documentaries, censure by a leading anthropological organization, and even a debate on the Phil Donahue Show all follow. 

Was Margaret Mead, “the grandmother of the world,” wrong? Or was Freeman? 

At stake was the heart of an academic discipline and the nature of being human. Mead’s...

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SAPIENS is happy to present this bonus episode from Lost Women of Science about another path-breaking thinker.

In the 1960s, a Black home economist at Howard University recruited kids for an experimental preschool program. All were Black and lived in poor neighborhoods around campus.

Flemmie Kittrell had grown up poor herself, just two generations removed from slavery, and she’d seen firsthand the effects of poverty. Whi...

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November 14, 2023 23 mins

The first missionary arrived in Samoa in 1832, almost a century before Margaret Mead set out to study the culture of the islands. By the time she arrived, the church had been a central part of Samoan life for generations.

In this episode, Doris Tulifau explores how Christianity and colonization complicate Mead’s—and her critic Derek Freeman’s—conclusions and continue to shape Samoan identity today.

Season 6 of the SAPIEN...

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November 7, 2023 28 mins

In January 1983, the front page of The New York Times read: “New Samoa Book Challenges Margaret Mead’s Conclusions.” 

Anthropologist Derek Freeman had been building his critique of Mead for years, sending her letters and even confronting her in person. Freeman’s resulting book, Margaret Mead and Samoa: The Making and Unmaking of an Anthropological Myth, was published five years after Mead died. 

Who was Freeman and why d...

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October 31, 2023 28 mins

Sparked by a provocative encounter in American Samoa, Doris Tulifau explores modern-day Samoan attitudes toward Margaret Mead. With a mix of voices and opinions, we encounter three loud ideas around Mead’s work, ultimately dropping us at the doorstep of Derek Freeman’s central critique about Samoan culture and society.

Season 6 of the SAPIENS podcast was co-produced by PRX and SAPIENS, and made possible by a grant from th...

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October 24, 2023 25 mins

In 1925, Margaret Mead set sail for American Samoa. What she claimed she found there—teenagers free to explore and express their sexuality—instantly captivated her audience in the U.S. Her book became a bestseller, and Mead skyrocketed to fame. 

But what were her actual methods and motivations? We trace Mead’s legendary nine-month journey in the South Pacific.

Season 6 of the SAPIENS podcast was co-produced by PRX and SA...

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October 17, 2023 23 mins

Being a teenager can be hard. Very hard. Our hosts Kate Ellis and Doris Tulifau recount the tough parts from their adolescence to ask whether being a teen is difficult in every culture. 

It’s the question that inspired Margaret Mead, one of the most influential figures in American anthropology, to begin her research in American Samoa in 1925. And it’s the question that has sparked years of debate about human sexuality, na...

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This special SAPIENS podcast season tells the story of famed anthropologist Margaret Mead’s epic life and controversial research to explore key quandaries about the human experience: sex and adolescence, nature versus nurture, and the question of whether it’s ever possible to fully understand cultures different from your own. In addition, we hear from Samoans themselves about their views on the matter and their lives today...

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September 5, 2023 1 min

The chart-topping and Signal Award-winning podcast “Going Wild with Dr. Rae Wynn-Grant” has returned for a brand new season. Produced by Nature on PBS, “Going Wild” is a sound-rich podcast about the human drama behind saving animals. This season, host and acclaimed wildlife ecologist Dr. Rae Wynn-Grant takes you on a journey through the entire ecological web—from the tiniest of life forms to apex predators.

The new season...

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August 15, 2023 16 mins

Archaeologists around the world have long unearthed skulls with holes in them. But they were usually dismissed as natural accidents—the result of infections, birth defects, or animal bites. But in 1864 an archaeologist named Ephraim George Squier found a skull in Cuzco, Peru with a hole that was clearly not natural—it was square-shaped. The hole also showed signs of new bone growth around its edge, which meant the person c...

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The Bioneers: Revolution From the Heart of Nature is an award-winning, international radio and podcast series. Free to everyone, this series offers listeners and radio stations the opportunity to experience the conference year-round, and allows access to in-depth interviews with leading social and scientific innovators. It highlights diverse voices of grassroots leaders and voices that are often marginalized or excluded by...

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May 23, 2023 2 mins

Outside/In from New Hampshire Public Radio is a show about the natural world and how we use it. The show combines solid reporting and long-form narrative storytelling to bring the outdoors to you wherever you are. The program casts a wide net across the environmental spectrum. They do fun explorations of nature, with lots of sound design and immersive scenes; they cover climate change and sustainability, but try to keep so...

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May 17, 2023 59 secs

Deven Grey, a young, isolated mother in Alabama, reached a point of no return on December 12, 2017. She shot and killed her boyfriend, John Vance. Rather than face a jury, Deven accepted a “blind plea” deal. This is Deven’s story, reclaimed. From Lemonada Media, this is Blind Plea. 

You can listen to Blind Plea at

Show notes:

  • This series is created with Evoke Media, a woman-f...
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May 9, 2023 27 mins

When archaeologists excavate, they have some idea of what they will find in the ground. But in 2016, a team of archaeologists from the University of Massachusetts, Boston, was genuinely surprised when they uncovered a Victorian-era cache. In the process, they forged an uncommonly deep connection with an individual from the past. 

Narrated by Anya Gruber, this story shows how archaeology can humanize the past and how loss ...

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May 2, 2023 29 mins

Aneho is a little historic West African town that is disappearing due to coastal erosion. But locals defy the sea and continue to live on the water’s edge. In this episode, we hear how their decision to stay in the face of an ever-approaching shoreline affects life along the coast and beyond.

As reported by Koffi Nomedji, a doctoral candidate in cultural anthropology from Lomé, Togo, we learn how as humans we variously fa...

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April 25, 2023 24 mins

Julio Tiwiram is a famous shaman in southeast Amazonian Ecuador. He is also a leading political figure among the Shuar people of Bomboiza. Growing up at the crossroads of social change and colonial conflict, his path to shamanism was anything but straightforward. 

As reported by Sebastián Vacas-Oleas, a social anthropologist working with the Shuar people of Bomboiza, we learn how a mysterious shamanic gathering helped Shu...

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April 18, 2023 33 mins

The world over people live with plants. Whether it’s in apartment bedrooms or backyards, it’s hard to find a human who doesn’t have some relationship with a plant. Enter paleoethnobotany, a field of archeology that examines plant remains to understand the historic alliance between humans and their vegetation. In this episode, host Eshe Lewis interviews archaeologist Katie Chiou to explore the spiciest human-plant affair: c...

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April 11, 2023 26 mins

Anyone who is in prison has been charged for a crime by a prosecutor. The charges are important because they determine someone’s punishment. How do prosecutors make their charging decisions? And what are the long-term impacts of those decisions?  

Reported by Esteban Salmón, an anthropologist born and raised in Mexico City, we learn just how powerful a charging decision can be in the Mexican criminal justice system. 


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April 4, 2023 32 mins

Jeri Hutton Green is a mother, daughter, and advocate for survivors of domestic violence and homicide in Baltimore, Maryland. Her journey as an advocate began when her mother went missing in April 2020. A text message launched a 2-year battle for justice for her mother and other missing Black women. 

Reported by Brendane A. Tynes, a doctoral candidate in anthropology and an interpersonal violence survivor advocate, this e...

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