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Human Origins

A neanderthal skullcap was discovered in 1856.

Since then, 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.