Human Origins

Since a Neanderthal skullcap was discovered in 1856, thousands more fossils have helped paleoanthropologists piece together the story of our ancient ancestors, from early hominins who lived more than six million years ago to modern Homo sapiens, who evolved 200,000 to 150,000 years ago. In the 1990s, geneticists joined the effort, using DNA to shed light on how modern humans are related to one another and what makes our species unique. When did we develop a capacity for symbolic thought? Why is understanding our evolutionary history so important? Groundbreaking research underway across the Museum and around the world is tackling these and other questions about what it means to be human.

VideoSciCafe: Flipping the Genetic Switch

VideoSciCafe: Flipping the Genetic Switch

Geneticist Tuuli Lappalainin talks about how and why the same genes work differently in different people.

Human Relative’s Foot a Step Towards Modern Walking

Human Relative’s Foot a Step Towards Modern Walking

The bones of newly discovered Homo naledi were made for both climbing trees and walking upright. 

Neaderthal DNA Persists in Humans

Neaderthal DNA Persists in Humans

When modern humans migrated out of Africa between 100,000 and 60,000 years ago, they encountered and bred with Neanderthals, our close relatives living in Europe and Asia. 

Hall of Human Origins

Hall of Human Origins

The Anne and Bernard Spitzer Hall of Human Origins pairs fossils with DNA research to present the remarkable history of human evolution. The hall covers millions of years of human history, from early ancestors who lived more than six million years ago to modern Homo sapiens, who evolved 200,000 to 150,000 years ago.

Human Ancestor Went Out On A Limb

Human Ancestor Went Out On A Limb

A study of fossil shoulder bones from a human ancestor reveals that this ancient relative was still well adapted to living in trees, even after the evolution of bipedalism. 

Humans as Animals

Humans as Animals

In this podcast, Frans de Waal explores the similarities between humans and other primates in power politics, transmission of knowledge and habits, empathy, and sense of fairness.

Human Evolution and Why it Matters

Human Evolution and Why it Matters

Renowned paleoanthropologists Donald Johanson and Richard Leakey shared the stage at the American Museum of Natural History to discuss the overwhelming evidence for evolution in the hominid fossil record and why understanding our evolutionary history is so important. 

Our Ancient Relatives Born with Flexible Skulls

Our Ancient Relatives Born with Flexible Skulls

A July 2012 study of the skull of an early hominin child provides a better understanding of the evolutionary timeline for modern human skulls—and brains. 

Expedition Rusinga

Expedition Rusinga

More than 18 million years ago, Rusinga Island in Kenya’s Lake Victoria was home to primitive apes of the genus Proconsul, an ancient primate relative of modern humans. 

Neanderthal Genome Sheds Light on Humanity

Neanderthal Genome Sheds Light on Humanity

Scientists at Germany's Max Planck Institute and collaborating researchers decoded more than three billion nucleotides—about 60 percent of the Neanderthal genome—and compared it to the genomes of African, European, and Asian people living today. The recently released results are sparking new insights about what made Neanderthals and modern humans so alike—and different.

Tools of the Trade

Tools of the Trade

How do you find a place that's been lost for more than 300 years? Take up this challenge, and learn what it took for archaeologists to locate a lost mission on a 14,000-acre island near Georgia. 

One of the Earliest Primates Is Identified

One of the Earliest Primates Is Identified

Scientists recently uncovered a near-complete fossil skeleton of an ancient primate in China. The 55-million-year-old find presents a unique combination of primitive and advanced features, placing it at a point on the primate family tree from which humans and our closest relatives eventually emerged. 

Ancient Shark Fossil Reveals New Insights into Jaw Evolution

Ancient Shark Fossil Reveals New Insights into Jaw Evolution

The skull of 325-million-year-old shark-like species suggests that early cartilaginous and bony fishes have more to tell us about the early evolution of jawed vertebrates—including humans—than do modern sharks, as was previously thought. 

Rare Skull Sparks Debate About Our Ancient Relatives

Rare Skull Sparks Debate About Our Ancient Relatives

An Asian dig site has yielded fossils of some of our earliest ancestors found outside of Africa. When scientists unearthed five skulls dating to the same period, questions arose over how much individual specimens can vary and still belong to the same species.

Early Migration for Modern Humans

Early Migration for Modern Humans

When did modern humans make their first appearance in Europe? A jawbone excavated in England and two molars found in southern Italy suggest that modern humans migrated northward thousands of years earlier than previously thought. 

Jewels of a Creative Mind

Jewels of a Creative Mind

When did our symbolic mental powers first appear? A set of ancient beads unearthed in South Africa’s Blombos Cave in 2004 may provide an answer. 

On the Trail of Human Ancestors

On the Trail of Human Ancestors

Anthropologist Brian Richmond studies ancient footprints to decipher the behavior of our early ancestors.