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Origin Stories

74 EpisodesProduced by The Leakey FoundationWebsite

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.

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August 29th, 2023


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 …

Boomplaas Cave - Bonus Interview

August 2nd, 2023


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 …

Field School Diaries

July 6th, 2023


This special episode takes you inside the world of archaeology students at Boomplaas Cave, one of South Africa’s flagship human evolution research …

The Hobbit

May 30th, 2023


In this episode, we explore the fascinating tale of the Hobbit, an unexpected fossil find that shook the world's understanding of human evolution. …

A Giganto Mystery

March 28th, 2023


Dr. Kira Westaway is part of an international research team working to solve the mystery of Gigantopithecus, the largest ape that ever walked the …

The New Metabolism

March 1st, 2023


How do human bodies use energy? In this episode, Leakey Foundation grantee Dr. Herman Pontzer shares groundbreaking research that upends our …

Top Human Origins Discoveries of 2022

January 31st, 2023


2022 was another exciting year in human origins research! New fossil discoveries and ancient DNA research expanded our understanding of the past. We …

Origin Stories is back!

January 24th, 2023


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!

First Steps at Laetoli

May 17th, 2022


In this episode, we explore five strange fossilized footprints found by Mary Leakey at the site of Laetoli in Tanzania. Decades after their original …

Discovering Us

February 25th, 2022


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 …

Episode 59: Top Human Origins Discoveries of 2021

December 21st, 2021


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 …

Episode 58: Biruté Mary Galdikas - 50 Years with Orangutans

November 9th, 2021


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 …

Entre Chien et Loup: How Dogs Began

October 5th, 2021


Scientists agree that dogs evolved from wolves, but exactly how and when that happened is hotly contested. In this episode, Origin Stories …

Bonus Episode: Short and Sweat

September 29th, 2021


Learn about the evolution of our extraordinary ability to cool ourselves down. Biological anthropologist Andrew Best discusses the past, present, and …

Episode 55: Monkeys Get Creative

July 7th, 2021


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 …

Episode 54: The Obstetrical Dilemma

June 4th, 2021


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 …

Episode 53: Sleep and the Moon

May 7th, 2021


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 …

Episode 52: How to Study an Endangered Species

March 27th, 2021


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 …

Episode 51: The Teeth Remember

March 2nd, 2021


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 …

Episode 50: Understanding Neanderthals

February 1st, 2021


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 …

Episode 49: Exercise

December 31st, 2020


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 …

Episode 48: Ancestor (rerelease)

November 27th, 2020


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 …

Episode 47: Skin

November 3rd, 2020


Variation in human skin color has fascinated and perplexed people for centuries. As the most visible aspect of human variation, skin color has been …

Episode 46: Interview with María Martinón-Torres

September 30th, 2020


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 …

Episode 45: Detective of the Dead

August 28th, 2020


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, …

Episode 44: Custodian of the Ancestors

July 30th, 2020


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 …

Episode 43: We Eat Bugs

May 29th, 2020


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 …

Episode 42: The Cave Punan

April 8th, 2020


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 …

Episode 41: Tribes Old and New

February 29th, 2020


What happens when bows and arrows and face-to-face conversations are replaced by high powered weapons and cell phones practically overnight? Dr. …

Episode 40: The Denisovans

November 28th, 2019


A mysterious new human relative was discovered ten years ago from a pinky bone found in a Siberian cave. They're called the Denisovans, and people around the world carry their DNA today. Until just a few months ago, the …

Episode 39: Piltdown Man

October 31st, 2019


In this episode, we explore the story of Piltdown Man – one of the most notorious hoaxes in history. 

When Piltdown Man was discovered in a gravel pit outside a small English village in 1912, it was celebrated as a …

Episode 38: From the Archive - Louis Leakey

August 7th, 2019


In the final installment of our "From the Archive" series, Kenyan paleoanthropologist Louis S.B. Leakey shares the story of his life and work in a …

Episode 37: From the Archive - Mary Leakey

June 14th, 2019


Mary Leakey was called the "grand dame" of archaeology. She was a methodical and exacting scientist who made some of the world's most significant …

Episode 36: From the Archive - Tepilit Ole Saitoti

March 14th, 2019


Tepilit Ole Saitoti was a Maasai warrior, author, and natural resources expert. In this lecture from The Leakey Foundation archive, Saitoti tells his …

Episode 35: From the Archive - Raymond Dart

February 14th, 2019


Raymond Dart was getting dressed for a wedding when he was given two boxes of rocks and fossils. Inside the boxes, he found the first evidence of humanity’s African origins. This episode tells the story of the 1924 …

Episode 34: From the Archive - Margaret Mead

January 10th, 2019


In this never-before-released archival lecture from 1974, anthropologist Margaret Mead discusses the lives of women from prehistoric through modern …

Episode 33: From the Archive - Dian Fossey

December 13th, 2018


In this never-before-released archival lecture from 1973, the legendary primatologist Dian Fossey tells the story of the early years of her …

Episode 32: From the Archive - Carl Sagan

November 29th, 2018


Carl Sagan explores the evolution of human intelligence from the big bang, fifteen billion years ago, through today in this never-before-released …

Episode 31: The Four Year War

November 15th, 2018


A scientist solves the mystery of the only known chimpanzee civil war...thus far.

In 1960, Louis Leakey sent Jane Goodall to start her study of …

Origin Stories Season Three Preview

November 1st, 2018


Origin Stories returns November 15th with more stories about how we became human.

Episode 28: What They Left Behind [Rebroadcast]

June 6th, 2018


The stories and songs of prehistoric people are lost. Their art and artifacts are all that remain of their culture.

The painted caves of Ice Age …

Episode 30: Tales From the Field [LIVE]

December 31st, 2017


Three true tales about what it's like to do field research.

Kelly Stewart, Dorothy Cheney, and Robert Seyfarth share stories of gun smuggling, pet leeches, close encounters with hippos, and fan mail from one of the …

Episode 29: Rewriting Our Story

November 7th, 2017


For a long time, scientists have been searching for the first Homo sapiens in the Great Rift Valley of Ethiopia. The story we've been telling about the origin of our species has gone something like this: Around 200,000 …

Episode 28: What They Left Behind

September 28th, 2017


The stories and songs of prehistoric people are lost. Their art and artifacts are all that remain of their culture.

The painted caves of Ice Age …

Episode 27: Out of Eden the Long Way

September 21st, 2017


One of the big questions in the study of human evolution is the question of how our ancestors spread across the world.

Our species evolved in Africa …

Episode 26: Rising Star

September 14th, 2017


It's not every day you see a Facebook post that changes your life, but that's exactly what happened to Leakey Foundation grantee Alia Gurtov. Gurtov was checking her Facebook feed one morning and saw a post from …

Episode 25: Stones and How to Use Them

September 7th, 2017

The paleoanthropologist Louis Leakey described stone tools as “fossilized human behavior.” These rocks, shaped by our human ancestors and found in …

Episode 24: Ancestor

August 31st, 2017


Just recently, the news media announced the discovery of a 13 million-year-old fossil ape called Alesi. This remarkable fossil was found in Kenya, …

Season 2 Preview

August 11th, 2017


Our new season of Origin Stories is coming soon! This is a sneak preview of the first episode.

Episode 22: Altruism

April 7th, 2017


Why do people risk their own lives to save a stranger? Why do we share food or give money to charity? The human capacity for altruism has been a puzzle for scientists since Darwin. In this episode of Origin Stories,

Episode 21: Follow the Leader?

March 7th, 2017


Every animal that lives in groups has to make decisions as a group. Even a seemingly simple decision like "where should we go for dinner?" can be …

Episode 09: Did Cooking Make Us Human? (Re-release)

December 31st, 2016


Humans have evolved very differently from other primates. Is there one thing responsible for humans becoming human? Some evolutionary biologists …

Episode 20: The Power Paradox - LIVE

November 8th, 2016


The Power Paradox

What is power? Where does social power come from? What happens in our bodies and with our behavior when we have power and when we don't? What can we learn about lasting social power from small-scale …

Episode 19: Being Human - Born and Evolved to Run

October 28th, 2016


Humans and our recent ancestors have been accomplished endurance runners for more than a million years. Our evolutionary history as runners partly …

Episode 18: Empathy

August 25th, 2016


Empathy has long been considered a uniquely human trait, but it's an ability that has also been observed in apes and other animals. Primatologist …

Episode 04: How to Document a Society (Re-release)

August 13th, 2016


Every day for 55 years a dedicated group of researchers, students, and field assistants have spent their days crawling through thorns and vines as …

Episode 17: Being Human - Speaking of Sex

July 15th, 2016

Humans are very verbal compared to other animals. We talk constantly, and our voices can signal many things beyond the meaning of our words. The human voice is also highly differentiated between the sexes.    In this …

Episode 16: Neanderthals

July 1st, 2016


People have been fascinated with Neanderthals since they were first discovered in the mid-1800s. For a long time, they have been seen as dumb, brutish cavemen. As more discoveries have been made in the past few decades, …

Episode 15: The Grandmother Hypothesis

May 28th, 2016


When Kristen Hawkes first started to research the foraging habits of the Hadza hunter-gatherers, she noticed that the older women in the society were …

Episode 14: Being Human - Why Do We Laugh?

May 18th, 2016


Laughter is a universal human behavior. Have you ever wondered why we laugh or what it really means when we do? Greg Bryant of UCLA studies the …

Episode 13: Evolutionary Arms Race

April 29th, 2016


In this episode we take a closer look at the evolutionary arms race between humans and the microbes that make us sick. What does each side bring to …

Episode 12: The Origins of Tuberculosis

March 25th, 2016


Tuberculosis is the world's leading cause of death by infectious disease, and it has been plaguing humanity for a very long time. In the first …

Episode 11: Face Mites

February 25th, 2016


The bad news is that everybody has face mites. The good news is that these tiny cousins of spiders and ticks seem to be harmless for the vast …

Episode 10: Being Human with Alison Gopnik

January 19th, 2016


Alison Gopnik is a professor of psychology and affiliate professor of philosophy at the University of California at Berkeley. Her research focuses on …

Episode 09: Did Cooking Make Us Human?

December 29th, 2015


We humans have evolved very differently from other primates. Is there one thing responsible for humans becoming human? Some evolutionary biologists …

Episode 08: Being Human with Robert Sapolsky

December 5th, 2015


This episode of Origin Stories was recorded live in San Francisco as part of the Bay Area Science Festival. It was the first of The Leakey Foundation and the Baumann Foundation’s new “Being Human” event series. Our …

Episode 07: The Currant Bush of Life with Bernard Wood

November 24th, 2015


In On the Origin of Species, Charles Darwin used a sketch of a tree of life to help describe his theory of evolution. In this metaphor, the branches …

Episode 06: Being a Nice Animal

October 27th, 2015


For over 35 years Dorothy Cheney and Robert Seyfarth have been studying wild African primates in order to better understand the evolution of the …

Episode 05: Discovery at Ledi-Geraru

August 26th, 2015


Have you ever wondered what it's like to make a major fossil discovery? Arizona State University graduate student Chalachew Seyoum and professor Kaye Reed tell us their exciting story.

Seyoum was working as part of a …

Episode 04: How to Document a Society

August 5th, 2015


Every day for 55 years a dedicated group of researchers, students, and Tanzanian field assistants have spent their days crawling through thorns and …

Episode 03: Jane Goodall

June 30th, 2015


Dr. Jane Goodall is a legend. She is a science hero, a trailblazing researcher who inspires people around the world. In this episode, Jane Goodall shares part of the story of how she went from working as a secretary to …

Episode 02: Why Do We Get Hiccups?

May 26th, 2015


Hiccups are an annoyance that we all deal with, but don't usually give much thought to. In this episode of Origin Stories, independent producer Ben Nimkin brings us the remarkable story of Charles Osborne, a man who …

Episode 01: On Two Feet

April 28th, 2015


One of the things that makes us different from other animals is the way we move around on two feet. Figuring out how and why our ancestors first …

Intro to Origin Stories

April 1st, 2015


Origin Stories is The Leakey Foundation's new podcast about what it means to be human, and the science behind what we know about ourselves. Our show …

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