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.

Blog Post Revisiting a Renowned Skull From Early Human Homo Erectus Scientists identify two 2-million-year-old specimens—likely the earliest pieces of the H. erectus skeleton yet discovered. April 13, 2021 Blog Post Study Identifies Creativity Genes that Make Humans Unique Research team identified 267 genes found only in humans, not in close relatives chimpanzees or Neanderthals. April 21, 2021 Blog Post Why Fossil Apes are Vital to Understanding Human Evolution A new review makes the case that living apes offer incomplete evidence for the study of human origins. May 6, 2021 Video Seven Million Years of Human Evolution An animated overview, covering seven million years of hominin evolution. Video Searching for Human Ancestors in East Africa Find out how paleoanthropologist Ashley Hammond finds fossils in the field and then studies them back in the lab. Research 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. October 6, 2015 Permanent Hall Anne and Bernard Spitzer Hall of Human Origins Trace millions of years of human history, from early ancestors who lived more than six million years ago to modern Homo sapiens. Blog Post Body Size Not A Factor In Human Origin Story Research suggests that the first members of the genus Homo—which includes Homo sapiens—were no larger than earlier hominins. August 5, 2015 Blog Post Human Evolution and Why It Matters: A Conversation with Leakey and Johanson Celebrating decades of groundbreaking exploration in East Africa, renowned paleoanthropologists Donald Johanson and Richard Leakey... May 9, 2011 Game Tools of the Trade Solve this cartoon mystery to see how archaeologists found a lost Spanish mission on an island near Georgia. Blog Post Ancient Shark Fossil Reveals New Insights into Jaw Evolution New study, led by scientists at the American Museum of Natural History, shows that living sharks are actually quite advanced in evolutionary... April 16, 2014