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SAPIENS: A Podcast for Everything Human


What makes you … you? And who tells what stories and why?

In the fifth season of the SAPIENS podcast, listeners will hear a range of human stories: from the origins of the chili pepper to how prosecutors decide someone is a criminal to stolen skulls from Iceland. Join Season 5’s host, Eshe Lewis, on our latest journey to explore what it means to be human.

SAPIENS: A Podcast for Everything Human, is produced by House of Pod and supported by the Wenner-Gren Foundation. SAPIENS is part of the American Anthropological Association Podcast Library.

For more information, visit sapiens.org

All content included is used with permission or licensed for exclusive use by SAPIENS.

What makes you … you? And who tells what stories and why?

In the fifth season of the SAPIENS podcast, listeners will hear a range of human stories: from the origins of the chili pepper to how prosecutors decide someone is a criminal to stolen skulls from Iceland. Join Season 5’s host, Eshe Lewis, on our latest journey to explore what it means to be human.

SAPIENS: A Podcast for Everything Human, is produced by House of Pod and supported by the Wenner-Gren Foundation. SAPIENS is part of the American Anthropological Association Podcast Library.

For more information, visit sapiens.org

All content included is used with permission or licensed for exclusive use by SAPIENS.
31hr 59min
Thumbnail for "Redrawing Boundaries".
For many, archaeology means digging up historical artifacts from beneath the ground. But to some, that framework is also violent and colonial. What would it mean to leave ancestors and belongings where they’re found? In this episode, Gabrielle...
Thumbnail for "Chatter That Matters".
Three anthropologists meet to discuss the evolutionary purposes of gossip, and why it matters to so many people today.
Thumbnail for "The Problems of Digital Evidence in Terrorism Trials".
An anthropologist uses courtrooms in Turkey as his field site to understand how digital evidence is shifting legal practices.
Thumbnail for "Learning from Handy Primates".
A researcher who studies animal behavior looks at tool use in nonhuman primates to better illuminate tool use in humans.
Thumbnail for "Moving Through Deaf Worlds".
An anthropologist sets out to better understand the experience of a deaf migrant.
Thumbnail for "Untangling the World’s First-Known String".
Neanderthals made the oldest string on record, providing new insights into the technology and culture of our hominin cousins.
Thumbnail for "In Search for the First Cyborg".
A Paleolithic archaeologist sets out on a journey in search of the first cyborg, making discoveries that end up very close to home.
Thumbnail for "Black Influencers Beyond the Screens".
Meet Anuli Akanegbu, the host of the BLK IRL podcast and a doctoral candidate researching Black creatives who are contract workers in Atlanta, Georgia.
Thumbnail for "Cultures of Technology: Season 7 Trailer".
In the seventh season of the SAPIENS podcast, listeners will hear a range of stories about how technology—in a variety of configurations—shapes humanity.
Thumbnail for "Can We Understand One Another?".
The Mead-Freeman controversy draws to a close, with some answers to who was right and who was wrong. But, in the end, can we ever really understand people from a different culture?
Thumbnail for "Weaving Stories: Two Women Speak".
Author and poet Sia Figiel and activist and anthropologist Doris Tulifau share their stories of being Samoan women and their struggles and survival.
Thumbnail for "Sex, Lies, and Science Wars".
The Mead-Freeman controversy reaches its climax. Scientists, scholars, and Samoans debate the nature of sexuality, culture, and truth.
Thumbnail for "Bonus: Flemmie Kittrell and the Preschool Experiment".
A 1960s home economist runs a radical experiment in her preschool laboratory—with big implications for millions of kids living in poverty.
Thumbnail for "Into the Light".
Christianity and colonization deeply reshaped Samoan culture starting in the 1830s, complicating how Margaret Mead and Derek Freeman saw the Pacific Islands.
Thumbnail for "Trashing an American Icon".
Derek Freeman became Margaret Mead’s biggest critic, trying to undo her research in American Samoa and her reputation as a famed anthropologist. Who was Derek Freeman and what did he say?
Thumbnail for "We Need to Tell Our Own Stories".
In the controversies swirling around Margaret Mead’s work in American Samoa, one set of voices has too often been left out: that of Samoans.
Thumbnail for "Flapper of the South Seas".
A young anthropologist named Marget Mead journeyed to American Samoa in 1925 and claimed she found a culture where teenagers were sexually free. Fame and controversy followed.
Thumbnail for "Coming of Age … Today".
Does the transition from childhood to adulthood have to be so difficult? This question sent famed anthropologist Margaret Mead to American Samoa in 1925—and ignited decades of controversy.
Thumbnail for "The Problems With Coming of Age: Season 6 Trailer".
A famed anthropologist’s controversial research in American Samoa reveals the biggest questions about growing up and being human.
Thumbnail for "Introducing: Going Wild".
The chart-topping and Signal Award-winning PBS podcast “Going Wild with Dr. Rae Wynn-Grant” has returned for a brand new season! In each episode, host and acclaimed wildlife ecologist Dr. Rae Wynn-Grant explores all the different ways the natural world is interconnected with help of a notable scientist, activist, or adventurer.
Thumbnail for "Introducing: The Disappearing Spoon".
How a rogue archaeologist in Peru found indisputable evidence of something previously unthinkable—ancient neurosurgery.
Thumbnail for "Introducing: The Bioneers – Revolution from the Heart of Nature".
The Bioneers: Revolution From the Heart of Nature is an award-winning, international radio and podcast series. Free to everyone, this series offers listeners and radio stations the opportunity to experience the conference year-round, and allows access...
Thumbnail for "Introducing: Outside/In".
Outside/In from New Hampshire Public Radio is a show about the natural world and how we use it. The show combines solid reporting and long-form narrative storytelling to bring the outdoors to you wherever you are. The program casts a wide net across...
Thumbnail for "Introducing: Blind Plea".
Deven Grey, a young, isolated mother in Alabama, reached a point of no return on December 12, 2017. She shot and killed her boyfriend, John Vance. Rather than face a jury, Deven accepted a “blind plea” deal. This is Deven’s story, reclaimed....
Thumbnail for "Finding Mrs. Jackson".
When archaeologists excavate, they have some idea of what they will find in the ground. But in 2016, a team of archaeologists from the University of Massachusetts, Boston, was genuinely surprised when they uncovered a Victorian-era cache. In the...
Thumbnail for "Aneho’s Disappearing Coast".
Aneho is a little historic West African town that is disappearing due to coastal erosion. But locals defy the sea and continue to live on the water’s edge. In this episode, we hear how their decision to stay in the face of an ever-approaching...
Thumbnail for "The Conversion of Julio Tiwiram".
Julio Tiwiram is a famous shaman in southeast Amazonian Ecuador. He is also a leading political figure among the Shuar people of Bomboiza. Growing up at the crossroads of social change and colonial conflict, his path to shamanism was anything but...
Thumbnail for "People of the Peppers".
The world over people live with plants. Whether it’s in apartment bedrooms or backyards, it’s hard to find a human who doesn’t have some relationship with a plant. Enter paleoethnobotany, a field of archeology that examines plant remains to...
Thumbnail for "The Power of Criminal Prosecutors".
Anyone who is in prison has been charged for a crime by a prosecutor. The charges are important because they determine someone’s punishment. How do prosecutors make their charging decisions? And what are the long-term impacts of those...
Thumbnail for "I Do This for You, Mom".
Jeri Hutton Green is a mother, daughter, and advocate for survivors of domestic violence and homicide in Baltimore, Maryland. Her journey as an advocate began when her mother went missing in April 2020. A text message launched a 2-year battle for...
Thumbnail for "A Story of Icelandic Skulls".
“Prime harvest”—that’s how one early 20th-century explorer described his collection of Icelandic human skulls. But why did he “harvest” those skulls in the first place? And what should happen to them now more than a century after they were...
Thumbnail for "SAPIENS Podcast Season 5 Trailer".
Being human is complicated. We require food and shelter. We have histories to contend with. We create rituals to control fate. We steal. We fight. We kill. We love. We shape the environment to suit our needs—sometimes with terrifying results. This...
Thumbnail for "Introducing: Whetstone Radio Collective".
Today, we're sharing a teaser from our friends at Whetstone Magazine. They've started something called the Whetstone Radio Collective (WRC). The WRC is a collection of podcasts telling narrative stories through the lens of food...
Thumbnail for "Repatriation Is Our Future".
The Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act of 1990, or NAGPRA, is supposed to curb the illegal possession of ancestral Native American remains and cultural items. But a year after it was passed by the U.S. federal government, a...
Thumbnail for "Slavery, Sustenance, and Resistance".
Archaeology helps reimagine a fuller range of experiences, including how people ate, innovated, and rebelled. In this episode, “slave cuisine” opens a window to honor the legacy of Black creativity, resistance, and community.  Dr. Peggy...
Thumbnail for "More than a Mountain".
The sky island of Dzil Nchaa Si'an is more than a mountain. It is a significant landmark in Arizona for Apache tribal members to collect medicinal plants, perform ceremonies, and connect with their ancestors. It is also a site of resistance against...
Thumbnail for "Curating as Caretaking".
In this episode, museum curators challenge the status quo and connect their ancestry to advance how history is told in cultural institutions. Mary Elliot brings listeners behind the scenes into the Slavery and Freedom exhibition at the Smithsonian's...
Thumbnail for "At the Heart of It All".
For its practitioners, archaeology can feel like it is unearthing events deep in the past … until it doesn’t. What is the experience of researchers who discover their life stories are tied to an archaeological site? Dr. Kisha Supernant and Lenora...
Thumbnail for "Guided by the Past".
Hosts Dr. Ora Marek-Martinez and Yoli Ngandali share how they found their way to archaeology and what it means to be Black and Indigenous archaeologists. From defying the status quo in a classroom to diving through sunken ships, Ora and Yoli bring...
Thumbnail for "Our Past is the Future".
We're launching a new season, asking what makes you … you? And who tells which stories and why? SAPIENS hosts Ora Marek-Martinez and Yoli Ngandali explore stories of Black and Indigenous scholars as they transform the field of archeology and the...
Thumbnail for "A Startling Link Between Neanderthals and COVID-19".
SAPIENS host Chip Colwell speaks with about his surprising discovery of a connection between Neanderthal DNA and a greater risk for severe COVID-19. Zeberg is also a researcher at the Karolinska Institutet in Sweden and the Max Planck Institute for...
Thumbnail for "Moments of Resilience Amid a Pandemic".
SAPIENS host Chip Colwell speaks with Melanie Adams, the director of the (ACM), about , the ACM’s effort to document and eventually tell African Americans’ stories about the times we're living through now. They also discuss the unique role of a...
Thumbnail for "Is the Pandemic Slowing Down Love?".
SAPIENS host Jen Shannon speaks with biological anthropologist about her research on love, sex, and everything in between. Fisher is the author of six books, the chief scientific adviser for the online dating site , and a leading researcher on dating...
Thumbnail for "When at Home, Bake as the Romans Baked".
SAPIENS host Chip Colwell talks with experimental archaeologist Farrell Monaco about her work re-creating ancient Roman bread and what it means to reconnect with bakers of the past. Farrell also offers some tips for pandemic-era bakers who want to...
Thumbnail for "A Vaccine Will Not Be Enough".
SAPIENS host Jen Shannon speaks with , a professor of anthropology at Princeton University, to unpack his insight that the COVID-19 pandemic is a biosocial phenomenon. They also discuss  that the virus “is not the only...
Thumbnail for "We're (Still) Going Viral".
The SAPIENS podcast will return in several months, and we want you to help us understand what it means to be human amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Do you have a question, thought, or idea about what it means to be human right now? Tweet at us , message us...
Thumbnail for "The Problem With Abstract Threats".
Everyone seems to have a story about the moment when the novel coronavirus pandemic stopped being an abstract problem “somewhere out there” and started being a very real and personal threat. In this episode of the SAPIENS podcast, hosts Jen...
Thumbnail for "What Pandemics Leave Behind".
At some time in the future, the novel coronavirus pandemic will fade. What will this globally traumatic contagion leave in its wake? In this episode of the SAPIENS podcast, hosts Jen Shannon and Chip Colwell keep an eye on the future while looking to...
Thumbnail for "Police Violence and the Pandemic".
SAPIENS host Jen Shannon interviews Laurence Ralph, a professor of anthropology at Princeton University. Ralph is also a co-director of Princeton’s , the editor of , and the author of the new book , which exposes the Chicago Police Department’s...
Thumbnail for "Could the Coronavirus Pandemic Be Good for the Environment?".
SAPIENS host Chip Colwell interviews Elic Weitzel, a doctoral candidate in anthropology at the University of Connecticut, about his recent article for SAPIENS that considers how the global pandemic may impact climate change—for better or for worse. ...
Thumbnail for "Preppers and the Pandemic".
With the arrival of the coronavirus pandemic, the SAPIENS podcast is going viral. In this first episode of season 3, SAPIENS hosts Chip Colwell and Jen Shannon revisit  from our first season. Jen calls Chad Huddleston, one of the anthropologists...
Thumbnail for "What Does it Mean to be Human? Your Questions, Answered".
In this season 2 finale of the SAPIENS podcast, hosts Jen Shannon, Chip Colwell, and Esteban Gómez field questions from listeners on Twitter and at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science about what it means to be human. They address human origins and...
Thumbnail for "Does Generosity Come Naturally?".
Until very recently, Colin Turnbull was the only anthropologist who had lived and studied with both the Mbuti people of the Congo region and the Ik of Uganda. Because of his writings, one community became known for its egalitarianism and the other for...
Thumbnail for "How Belonging Shapes the Vaccination Crisis".
Anthropologist Elisa Sobo never wanted to study the issue of vaccination. The topic was too fraught, she says, and she didn't want to touch it. But then she initiated a children’s health study at a school in California. Today her work on vaccine...
Thumbnail for "The Deep Roots of Navajo Country Music".
What is it about certain musical traditions that cause them to take root in communities far away from where they originated? Anthropologist Kristina Jacobsen leads SAPIENS hosts Jen Shannon and Chip Colwell on a musical journey into the U.S. Southwest...
Thumbnail for "Are Colors Universal?".
How do language, biology, and culture shape an individual’s experience of color? A journalist investigates the anthropological debate about whether color is a human universal.  Remember the meme ? Was it white and gold, or blue and black? With...
Thumbnail for "Stringing Together an Ancient Empire’s Stories".
Anthropologist Sabine Hyland attempts to uncover the secrets held in twisted and colored Andean cords called khipus. Thanks to the collaborative approach of anthropologist Sabine Hyland and local communities, outsiders are finally coming to understand...
Thumbnail for "Do You Dream What I Dream?".
Anthropologist Roger Lohmann sees a ghost in a dream while working in Papua New Guinea. Even though he knows it's just a dream, he's scared long after he wakes up. To make sense of his dream, Lohmann explores the role dreams play in our waking life...
Thumbnail for "What to Expect When You’re Not Expecting Down Syndrome".
When ’s newborn daughter was diagnosed with Down syndrome, it changed the course of his life forever. Pearson joins SAPIENS hosts Jen Shannon and Chip Colwell to talk about his story, how his training in anthropology prepared him for his...
Thumbnail for "Where Have All the Denisovans Gone?".
The Denisovans have long been one of the most elusive ancient human cousins, until now. In May 2019, scientists revealed the first fossil evidence of Denisovans outside of the Denisova Cave in Siberia. As the historical human family tree grows, what...
Thumbnail for "Eating Insects and the Yuck Factor".
How come some people think eating insects is disgusting? Join SAPIENS hosts Jen Shannon and Chip Colwell as they dine on many-legged delicacies and delve into the world of entomophagy with anthropologist , author of the new book Edible Insects...
Thumbnail for "Season 2 is Coming Soon and We Want to Hear From You".
Hello fellow sapiens! We’re coming back with new episodes starting on July 30. This season is just a little different, though. SAPIENS hosts Jen Shannon and Chip Colwell are still asking big questions about what it means to be human, but this time...
Thumbnail for "Being Afghan in America: In the Field with Morwari Zafar".
How does an immigrant become an American? How does anyone join any group? SAPIENS host Esteban Gomez shares the story of Dr. Morwari Zafar, a researcher who has studied the changes in her own community of Afghan-Americans in Fremont, California, in...
Thumbnail for "What’s the Cost of Quinoa?".
SAPIENS host Jen Shannon goes on a mission to find out how quinoa travels from farmers’ fields in Huanoquite, Peru, to markets in Lima and the U.S. She discovers quinoa’s complicated past and present: a bloody civil war that shook the nation, the...
Thumbnail for "How to Care for the Dead".
Scientists have thought about burial—the act of interring a dead body—as a distinctly human behavior. So what happened when a group of paleoanthropologists discovered a primitive hominid that may have entombed its dead?   ...
Thumbnail for "BONUS: A Conversation with Carl Zimmer about DNA, Identity, and Heredity".
Surprise! As a special holiday treat, the SAPIENS team is presenting this unedited conversation between SAPIENS host Chip Colwell and acclaimed science journalist Carl Zimmer about DNA, identity, and heredity. This conversation was previously...
Thumbnail for "Is Space a Human Place?".
From space junk and the International Space Station to Elon Musk and SpaceX, space is becoming a more human place. What will it mean for us to live among the stars? SAPIENS host Jen Shannon probes the nascent field of space archaeology and looks to...
Thumbnail for "Power Players: US Football and French Rugby".
Some athletes seem larger than life. They are revered and imitated—and they seemingly hold a lot of power. But whether they feel empowered in their lives and choices off the field depends on a variety of complex factors. We explore the experiences...
Thumbnail for "Close to Home: In the Field With Amy Starecheski".
What is home? Is it a physical space, a set of relationships, or a state of mind? SAPIENS host Esteban Gómez follows Amy Starecheski, a researcher who has studied how squatters went legit and secured homeownership in New York City, as she seeks to...
Thumbnail for "The Mastodon in the Room".
Humans may have been in North America much earlier than previously thought. Here’s the evidence: chipped rocks, crushed mastodon bones, and reliable dates showing the remains are 130,000 years old. Is that enough to rewrite the history? SAPIENS...
Thumbnail for "Prepping for TEOTWAWKI".
It’s the end of the world as we know it. How do you feel? SAPIENS co-host Jen Shannon follows the trail of some contemporary preppers with the help of anthropologist Chad Huddleston. Then she dives into history with Tim Kohler, an archaeologist and...
Thumbnail for "Is Robot Empathy a Trap?".
Can robots care? And why should we care if they do? SAPIENS host Jen Shannon meets Pepper the robot, and host Chip Colwell goes on a quest to find out how the robotics industry is (re)shaping intimacy in Japan. He speaks with anthropologists Jennifer...
Thumbnail for "Is Your DNA You?".
What does your DNA have to do with who you are? On a journey for answers, SAPIENS hosts Chip Colwell, Jen Shannon, and Esteban Gómez take consumer DNA tests and confront murky, interconnected issues of identity and heredity. Their guides include...
Thumbnail for "A Trailer for Everything Human".
What makes you … you? Is it your DNA, culture, environment? SAPIENS hosts Jen Shannon, Esteban Gómez, and SAPIENS.org Editor-in-Chief Chip Colwell speak with anthropologists from around the globe to help us uncover what makes us human. Subscribe...

Redrawing Boundaries

Thumbnail for "Redrawing Boundaries".
February 2, 202227min 33sec

For many, archaeology means digging up historical artifacts from beneath the ground. But to some, that framework is also violent and colonial. What would it mean to leave ancestors and belongings where they’re found? In this episode, Gabrielle Miller, a PhD student studying African Diaspora Archaeology at the University of Tulsa shares a story about excavations in St. Croix. And Dr. Ayana Flewellen and Dr. Justin Dunnavant discuss how black archaeologists began uncovering sunken slave ships.

  • (00:02:26) What parts of Archaeology as we know it should be preserved? And what needs to be destroyed?

  • (00:02:51) Introduction.

  • (00:03:24) Gabrielle Miller explains their research on the Free Black Community in St. Croix.

  • (00:07:07) Meet, a ship called the Guerrero.

  • (00:08:43) How Diving with a Purpose originated.

  • (00:09:39) Justin Dunnavant and Ayana Flewellen create The Society of Black Archaeologists.

  • 00:12:25) A guide to underwater, or maritime archaeology.

  • 00:16:09) What Black Feminist archaeology is adding to the field.

  • (00:21:29) How learning from artists can help stretch the academic container.

  • (00:25:17) Credits.

SAPIENS: A Podcast for Everything Human, is produced by House of Pod and supported by the Wenner-Gren Foundation. SAPIENS is also part of the American Anthropological Association Podcast Library. This season was created in collaboration with the Indigenous Archaeology Collective and Society of Black Archaeologists, with art by Carla Keaton, and music from Jobii, _91nova, and Justnormal.

This episode was also sponsored by the Scripps Center for Marine Archaeology at the University of California, San Diego and The Imago Mundi Fund at Foundation for the Carolinas.

For more information and transcripts, visit https://www.sapiens.org/.

Additional Resources:


Gabrille Miller is a PhD student at the University of Tulsa studying African Diaspora Archaeology. Her current research engages the expressions and legacies of freedom and resistance in an eighteenth-and-nineteenth-century free Black community in St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands in collaboration with the heritage practitioners, artisans, historians, and descendants of that community.

Dr. Justin Dunnavant is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Anthropology at UCLA. His current research in the US Virgin Islands investigates the relationship between ecology and enslavement in the former Danish West Indies. In addition to his archaeological research, Justin is co-founder of the Society of Black Archaeologists and an AAUS Scientific SCUBA Diver.

Dr. Ayana Omilade Flewellen (they/she) is a Black Feminist, an archaeologist, a storyteller, and an artist. Flewellen is the co-founder and current President of the Society of Black Archaeologists and sits on the Board of Diving With A Purpose. They are an Assistant Professor in the Department of Anthropology at the University of California, Riverside. Her research and teaching interests address Black Feminist Theory, historical archaeology, maritime heritage conservation, public and community-engaged archaeology, processes of identity formations, and representations of slavery.