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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 history of science is punctuated by both the greatest achievements and the greatest tragedies of human endeavors. The development of organic chemistry illustrates this dichotomy, as some scientists improved the human condition while others facilitated the horrors of genocide. The guise of chemistry also has served as a useful front for fraudste…
 
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 …
 
The history of mathematics extends back millennia. The needs of trade, taxation, and time-keeping drove the development of principles of arithmetic, algebra, and geometry, which had already acquired some sophistication by 5,000 years ago. Perhaps most fundamental to the development of mathematics has been discoveries on the nature of numbers themse…
 
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…
 
The most important book in the history of mathematics is Euclid’s Elements. The book – really 13 short books bound together into a single treatise – dates to approximately 300 BC, and is credited to the Greek mathematician Euclid of Alexandria. It is apparently a compendium and expansion of the work of previous Greek mathematicians, such as Pythago…
 
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 evolu…
 
Galileo occupies an inflection point in the history of science and society. Born in 1564, Galileo changed the trajectory of science though his work in astronomy, physics and related fields. He invented various clever devices, and he used the telescope to push the boundaries of knowledge about our solar system and Earth’s place in it. Galileo’s disc…
 
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 dai…
 
The creation of a new discipline based upon a single scientific expedition is a rare occurrence, but this is what resulted from the 1872-1876 expedition of H.M.S. Challenger. With us to explain the history and significance of the Challenger Expedition is Doug Macdougall. Doug is a geochemist who received a BS in geology from the University of Toron…
 
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 w…
 
In the early 1990s, scientists discovered that sperm counts in industrialized countries had declined precipitously over the previous half century. It turns out that the incidence of other reproductive health problems beyond male infertility also increased in the latter part of the 20th century and into the 21st century. With us to discuss human rep…
 
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 …
 
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…
 
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