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What makes us human? How are we different from chimpanzees? Who are our earliest ancestors and how do we know? Origin Stories is The Leakey Foundation’s podcast about how we became human. 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.
 
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show series
 
The boundaries of science are clear, and can be demarcated by the concept of falsifiability. Or so we learn in our science classes. But with some areas of science, falsifiability is not the critical feature, and may be impossible on theoretical or empirical grounds. Worrying about falsifiability might even get in the way of interesting ideas. With …
 
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 Ne…
 
Human health and environmental health are inextricably linked. We are negatively impacted by the same pollutants that harm other organisms, and we all live in a sea of synthetic chemicals that are part of our food supply, personal care products, the built environment, and just about every aspect of our lives. With us to gain a better understanding …
 
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 …
 
How is it that corporations routinely and successfully obfuscate science and seed public doubt on issues of paramount importance, ranging from climate change to health effects of tobacco and pesticides? Who are the scientists for hire whose job is to muddy the waters on important policy issues? Why doesn’t our government protect us from nefarious c…
 
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 …
 
Whistleblowers are admired or vilified. They are saviors of democracy or traitors to their country. They confront those in power and drive the news, and some, such as Edward Snowden and Chelsea Manning, are household names. But one man is their inspiration, the person who made whistleblowing a phenomenon of modern times, and his name is Daniel Ells…
 
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 Du…
 
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 Le…
 
Why is it that decades after scientists discover problems of paramount importance, such as global climate change or lead pollution, those problems still persist? Why do corporations get away with producing products that harm human health or the environment? How do corporations shape our society, our politics, and even our psychology? With us to unt…
 
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 …
 
Discoveries in basic science often translate into material goods, and frequently in surprising ways. Material goods, in turn, facilitate scientific progress. Therefore, science and technology advance in tandem. Today we delve into the history of materials science with the help of Ainissa Ramirez. Ainissa is a scientist and science communicator, and…
 
Today we explore what mathematicians would refer to as the non-trivial intersection between science and poetry. Guiding us through these overlapping sets is a person uniquely suited to the task, the science writer Dava Sobel. Dava is the author of prominent and best-selling science history books, including Longitude, Galileo’s Daughter, The Planets…
 
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 Ev…
 
Frogs have hopped around this planet for 200 million years. In comparison, anatomically modern humans have only been around for 200 thousand years. But the last half century has seen a tragic loss in amphibian biodiversity around the world. It seems especially striking that a group of animals that predate the dinosaurs have been devastated by moder…
 
Chemistry has given the world the incredible diversity of fuels, pharmaceuticals, and household products that we rely on every day, along with tremendous advances in fighting infectious diseases and ensuring an abundant food supply. But the products of chemistry also include tens of thousands of toxic compounds that compromise human health, degrade…
 
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…
 
What happens when bows and arrows and face-to-face conversations are replaced by high powered weapons and cell phones practically overnight? Dr. Polly Wiessner is an anthropologist who has studied the Enga of Papua New Guinea for 30 years and her current research is focused on how traditional societies cope with rapid cultural change. This episode …
 
Space exploration thrills kids and adults alike. Today I discuss the history of NASA and space science with Pam Melroy. Pam piloted the Space Shuttle missions STS-92 in 2000 and STS-112 in 2002, and she commanded STS-120 in 2007. We discuss the Mercury, Gemini, Apollo and Apollo-Soyuz programs, the Mariner 9 mission, Landsat satellites, Skylab, the…
 
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 sum total of all the fossils the Denisovans left behind could fit in the palm of your hand. Now new research is unlocking more of …
 
Freshwater ecosystems and their resident species have declined more rapidly than either terrestrial or marine systems and their species. Freshwater ecosystems face myriad stressors, from habitat loss and pollution to dams and climate change. Today I discuss the state of freshwater conservation science with Ian Harrison. Ian obtained his Ph.D. in sy…
 
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 "missing link." The find captured the public's imagination and became world-famous. The problem was that Piltdown Man was a complete fra…
 
Due to recent technological advances, scientists have revolutionized our understanding of human evolutionary history. What appeared to be a relatively simple story of divergence from ancient hominids is instead a tangled mess involving repeated cycles of divergence and hybridization between evolving human species. Today my guest is Jason Wilder, wh…
 
The brain is the most enigmatic of organs – it is really a collection of organs that undergoes a remarkable coordinated development that is driven in part by sex steroids. Today my guest is Margaret McCarthy, one of the leading researchers on sex differences in the brain. Here, we cover the history of research on sex and the brain, including the ut…
 
Today we explore the history of plutonium with Frank von Hippel, a retired but always active professor at Princeton University, where, in 1975, he co-founded Princeton’s Program on Science and Global Security in the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs. In the 1980s, Frank was the chairman of the Federation of American Scientis…
 
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 never-before-released interview recorded in 1969. The Leakey Foundation was formed 1968 in honor of Louis Leakey and we are proud to carry on his mission of increasing scientific knowledge, education, an…
 
We explore the history of the discovery of gravitational waves with Rai Weiss, including the relevance to special and general relativity, pulsars, supernovae, merging and binary black holes, space and time, neutron star collisions, dark matter, cosmic background radiation, gamma ray bursts, and even the viscosity of neutrinos. We also discuss reall…
 
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 archaeological discoveries. In this lecture from The Leakey Foundation archive, Mary Leakey tells the story of Olduvai Gorge, the place where she found fossils that completely changed our understanding of…
 
In this supplemental episode with Matthew Meselson, I accepted his invitation to visit him in his office at Harvard, where we discussed yellow rain incidents in Southeast Asia. Meselson received his appointment as an Associate Professor of biology at Harvard in 1960 and his full professorship in 1964. He has been at Harvard ever since. Meselson has…
 
Matthew Meselson organized the Herbicide Assessment Commission in 1970, which investigated the use of Agent Orange and other defoliants in Vietnam. The work of the commission helped to end Operation Ranch Hand, in which the United States sprayed nearly 20 million gallons – about 73 million liters - of herbicides and defoliants over the rainforest a…
 
We live in a surreal and dangerous time – autocrats are on the rise and societies are regressing toward ethnic competition. Given this political moment, I decided to dedicate an episode of the podcast to the history of research on cooperation. My guest, Robert Axelrod, has been a professor of political science and public policy at the University of…
 
Tepilit Ole Saitoti was a Maasai warrior, author, and natural resources expert. In this lecture from The Leakey Foundation archive, Saitoti tells his life story, discusses Maasai culture, and explores the challenges faced by the Maasai people. Learn more and see photos on our blog. Want to support Origin Stories? All donations are being matched 4:1…
 
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