Discovering Our Distant Ancestors

Understanding what we inherit from our animal and primate past—and how we differ—is the first step in understanding our unique place and potential as human beings.
double helix

Recent technological breakthroughs in genomic analysis, combined with archeological, paleoanthropological, linguistic and other information, now give us an unparalleled opportunity to trace humanity’s evolution and movement in time.

Photo of a Chimp and Bonobo

What we share with our nearest surviving relatives, the male-centered chimpanzee and the female-centered, erotic, and peaceable bonobo. How that understanding helps shape who we are vs. who we think we are.

Homonid skulls

Six million years ago as many as 18 different hominid species lived in East Africa. Now only one is left. How did it evolve and survive?

Travel the Journey

Smithsonian website

What Does It Mean to Be Human?

Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History

Learn about 5 million years of early human evolution, track research in the science of paleoanthropology, get answers to your questions from the institute’s researchers, and much more.

photo of a neanderthal skull

Scientists Find Evidence of ‘Ghost Population’ of Ancient Humans

Ian Sample, The Guardian

Traces of unknown ancestor emerged when researchers analyzed genomes from west African populations.

Lice and human evolution - PBS video

Watch: Lice and Human Evolution


Watch the amazing story of how the genetic history of lice gives us clues to mysteries of our own evolution.

Hairless shoulder

The Naked Truth

Nina G. Jablonski, Scientific American

Our nearly hairless skin was a key factor in the emergence of other human traits.

Unprecedented Study of Aboriginal Australians Points to One Shared Out of Africa Migration for Modern Humans

Tom Kirk, Phys.Org

Outside Africa, Australia has one of the longest histories of continuous human occupation, dating back about 50,000 years.The first significant investigation into the genomics of Aboriginal Australians has uncovered several major findings about early human populations.

clovis points

The First People Who Populated the Americas

Melissa Hogenboom, BBC

Archaeological evidence of people living in the Bluefish Caves in the northern Yukon Territory of western Canada as early as 24,000 years ago now suggests that the people who left Siberia did so 10,000 years earlier than previously thought. They remained genetically and geographically isolated in Beringia until about 16–15,000 years ago before dispersing south.

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