Origin Stories

Origin Stories is The Leakey Foundation’s award-winning podcast about how we became human.


Current Episode

Episode 60: Discovering Us

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.

All Episodes

Episode 59: Top Human Origins Discoveries of 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 explore. In this episode, five scientists discuss their favorite human origins discoveries of 2021.

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Episode 58: Biruté Mary Galdikas – 50 Years with Orangutans

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.

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Episode 57: Entre Chien et Loup: How Dogs Began

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.

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Episode 56: Short and Sweat

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.

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Episode 55: Monkeys Get Creative

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.

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Episode 54: The Obstetrical Dilemma

The widely-held idea known as 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. On this episode, Leakey Foundation grantees Dr. Holly Dunsworth and Dr. Anna Warrener describe their search for the evidence behind the obstetrical dilemma and they discuss the importance of the stories we tell about our bodies.

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Episode 53: Sleep and the Moon

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.

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Episode 52: How to Study an Endangered Species

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 co-director of the Kibale Chimpanzee Project, a long-term field study in Uganda. She’s in charge of long-term data at the site. In this episode, learn how long-term studies help scientists understand and protect chimpanzees.

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Episode 51: The Teeth Remember

In this episode of Origin Stories, learn how Leakey Foundation grantee Dr. Tanya Smith and her colleagues use fossil teeth to tell a detailed and intimate story about the lives of two Neanderthal children and the changing world they lived in.

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Episode 50: Understanding Neanderthals

Archaeologist and author Rebecca Wragg Sykes’ new book Kindred: Neanderthal Life, Love, Art, and Death synthesizes more than a century of research on Neanderthals – from the first Neanderthal fossil discovered, to the most up to date and cutting edge research – revealing a vivid portrait of one of our most intriguing and misunderstood relatives.

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Episode 49: Exercise

If exercise is healthy, why do so many people avoid doing it? On this episode, Leakey Foundation grantee Dr. Dan Lieberman, author of the new book Exercised: Why Something We Never Evolved to Do Is Healthy and Rewarding explains the powerful instincts that cause us to avoid exercise even though we know it’s good for us.

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Episode 48: Ancestor (rerelease)

In 2017, Leakey Foundation grantee Dr. Isaiah Nengo announced the discovery of a 13 million-year-old fossil ape found in Kenya. This remarkable fossil, nicknamed Alesi, tells us something new about the early evolution of apes and shows what the common ancestor of humans and all the other living apes might have looked like.

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Episode 47: Skin

Leakey Foundation grantee Dr. Nina Jablonski explains the evolution of human skin color and discusses some of the ways that harmful color-based race concepts have influenced societies and impacted social well-being.

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Episode 46: María Martinón-Torres

In this bonus Spanish-language episode, producer Lucía Benavides interviews Leakey Foundation grantee Dr. María Martinón-Torres about her life and career.

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Episode 45: Detective of the Dead

Atapuerca is a place that tells the story 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.

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Episode 44: Custodian of the Ancestors

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.

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Episode 43: We Eat Bugs


This episode features Leakey Foundation grantee Julie Lesnik and her research that explores the past, present, and future of insects as food.

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Episode 42: The Cave Punan

Deep in the remote forests of Borneo lives a group of hunter-gatherers who speak a unique language that has never been shared with outsiders. Until now.

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Episode 41: Tribes Old and New

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

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Episode 40: The Denisovans

A tiny bone fragment found in a Siberian cave reveals a secret history of humankind.

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Episode 39: Piltdown Man

In this episode, we explore the story of Piltdown Man – one of the most notorious hoaxes in history. The Piltdown hoax suspects have included Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and the philosopher Teilhard de Chardin. Now, more than 100 years later, scientists have narrowed the suspects down to a single culprit.

Episode 38: Louis Leakey

Paleoanthropologist Louis Leakey shares the story of his life and work in a never-before-released interview recorded in 1969.

Episode 36: Tepilit Ole Saitoti

Tepilit Ole Saitoti was a Maasai warrior, author, and natural resources expert. In this lecture, Saitoti tells his life story and discusses Maasai culture.

Episode 34: Margaret Mead

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

Episode 32: Carl Sagan

Carl Sagan explores the evolution of human intelligence in this never-before-released lecture from The Leakey Foundation Archive.

Season Three Trailer

A preview of upcoming Origin Stories episodes.

Episode 29: Rewriting Our Story

A new fossil discovery in Morocco rewrites the story of the origins of our species.

Episode 27: Out of Eden the Long Way

Paul Salopek is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist on an epic journey, tracing the path of ancient human migration on foot.

Episode 25: Stones and How to Use Them

Ancient stone tools aren’t such a mystery once you learn how to use them.

Episode 23: Violence (LIVE)

A live episode with Steven Pinker on the past, present, and future of violence.

Episode 21: Follow the Leader?

How do animals make group decisions about where to go and what to do?

Episode 19: Born and Evolved to Run

Daniel Lieberman explores how and why the human body evolved the ability to run long distances.

Episode 17: Speaking of Sex

What does the human voice tell us about sexual selection? A live episode featuring David Puts.

Episode 15: The Grandmother Hypothesis

Grandmothers are amazing in lots of ways. It turns out they also might be the reason behind many of the things that make humans different from the other apes.

Episode 13: Evolutionary Arms Race

A closer look at the evolutionary arms race between us and the pathogens that make us sick. What does each side bring to the fight?

Episode 11: Face Mites

What the bugs that live on your face can tell you about human migration.

Episode 9: Did Cooking Make Us Human?

Is there one thing responsible for humans becoming human? Some think that cooked food could explain why our species developed so differently from others.

Episode 7: The Currant Bush of Life

How do scientists figure out which fossil creatures were relatives and which were ancestors?

Episode 5: Discovery at Ledi-Geraru

Have you ever wondered what it’s like to make a major fossil discovery? Chalachew Seyoum tells the story of the discovery of the oldest known fossil in the genus Homo.

Episode 3: Jane Goodall

When Louis Leakey sent Jane Goodall to start the first study of wild chimpanzees, she was 26 years old and had no experience and no college degree. Hear the story of how she got there.

Episode 1: On Two Feet

How and why did we evolve the ability to walk on two feet? It’s one of the big questions about human evolution and Carol Ward has an idea that will surprise you.

Episode 37: Mary Leakey

Mary Leakey tells the story of Olduvai Gorge, where she found fossils that completely changed our understanding of human origins.

Episode 35: Raymond Dart

This episode tells the story of the 1924 discovery of the Taung Child through a never-before-released lecture by Prof. Raymond Dart.

Episode 33: Dian Fossey

In this never-before-released archival lecture from 1973, Dian Fossey tells the story of the early years of her groundbreaking mountain gorilla research.

Episode 31: The Four Year War

Leakey Foundation grantee Joseph Feldblum solves the mystery of the only known chimpanzee civil war… thus far.

Episode 30: Tales From the Field 

Three scientists tell true tales from the field.

Episode 28: What They Left Behind

An award-winning story about ancient art and the people who made it.

Episode 26: Rising Star

A Facebook message, a dangerous cave full of mysterious ancient bones, and a discovery that added a new member to our family tree.

Episode 24: Ancestor

Paleontologist Isaiah Nengo has a hunch that leads to the find of a lifetime.

Episode 22: Altruism

Why do people risk their own lives to save a stranger?

Episode 20: The Power Paradox (LIVE)

What happens in our bodies and brains when we have social power – and when we don’t?

Episode 18: Empathy

Are we the only animals that feel empathy and console others? Primatologist Frans de Waal says no.

Episode 16: Neanderthals

New research shows there’s more to Neanderthals than people once thought.

Episode 14: Why Do We Laugh? (LIVE)

Laughter is a universal human behavior. Have you ever wondered why we laugh, or what it means when we do? This live episode explores the origins of laughter.

Episode 12: The Origins of Tuberculosis

Tuberculosis is the world’s leading cause of death by infectious disease. Have you ever wondered where it came from?

Episode 10: Being Human

How babies and young children learn about the world. A live episode featuring Alison Gopnik.

Episode 8: Being Human – Robert Sapolsky 

Robert Sapolsky takes a fascinating and funny look at human behavior and the ways we are the same as and different from other animals.

Episode 6: Being a Nice Animal

Dorothy Cheney and Robert Seyfarth explore the roles that social bonds and personality play in an animal’s ability to survive and thrive.

Episode 4: How to Document a Society

This episode tells the story of what it’s like to collect data at Jane Goodall’s research site, and what has happened to the 55 years of daily field notes from Gombe.

Episode 2: Why Do We Get Hiccups?

Hiccups are annoying and troublesome, but have you ever considered why we get them? In this episode, we explore the surprisingly deep evolutionary history of the human hiccup.

Intro to Origin Stories

Introducing The Leakey Foundation’s new podcast about human evolution and the stories behind the search for our origins.


Editor: Audrey Quinn
Host and Producer: Meredith Johnson
Theme Music: Henry Nagle
Closing Credits Music: Lee Rosevere