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About the Human Origins Initiative

The past decade has seen astonishing discoveries about human origins that captivate the imagination. We walk on two legs, make tools, and have large brains. We solve complex problems and communicate through language and art. We express our feelings and our spirituality. How did we acquire these extraordinary qualities? Are we still evolving or are we ‘it’, the endpoint of the evolutionary story?

These questions excite the deepest levels of human curiosity about our own identity and origins, and help shape one of the most awe-inspiring areas of scientific inquiry. ‘What does it mean to be human?’ – the theme of the Human Origins Initiative of the Smithsonian Institution – reflects one of humanity’s most profound quests. The initiative’s goal is to explore the universal human story at its broadest time scale. It seeks to stimulate new research findings that deepen an understanding of what makes our species unique and how we came to be.

The Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History is committed to expanding the public understanding of human evolution:

  • An unforgettable museum experience presents the epic story of human ancestry.
  • Pioneering research investigates fundamental questions about our evolutionary past, including the roots of human adaptability.
  • Innovative educational programs meet the critical need for expanding public knowledge of scientific research and evolution.

Our web site is dedicated to bringing you the excitement, latest findings, and profound implications of the scientific exploration of human origins.


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We express our gratitude to the many individuals and institutions who have contributed to the exhibition, research, and educational goals of the Human Origins Initiative.

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The Human Origins Initiative offers Scientist is In programs, HOT (Human Origins Today) Topic discussions, occasional lectures, and a variety of other onsite and online events.

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Broader Social Impacts Committee

The Smithsonian’s Human Origins Initiative has formed the Broader Social Impacts Committee (BSIC), comprised of people from diverse religious communities from around the United States, to assist in public communication and dialogue surrounding the exhibition ‘What Does It Mean To Be Human?’ and outreach efforts in human origins.

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Become Involved

There are many ways you can becoming involved with the Human Origins Initiative - read more here.

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Browse human origins-related products available for online purchase.

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For Press

The Office of Public Affairs at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History is the official liaison for the news media.