ExplorersProjects

Photo: Hominid recreation by John Gurche

Photograph by Dave Einsel/Getty Images

About the Project

The Human Origins Project, a joint initiative of the National Geographic Society and the Turkana Basin Institute, will utilize cutting-edge technology to become the largest and most informative multilingual resource available on the subject of human evolution.

Over the past 35 years, the Koobi Fora region in northern Kenya’s Turkana Basin has yielded a wealth of fossil material that has revealed a great deal of information about human history and origins. Some 16,000 fossils, including 350 hominid specimens, have been collected from the basin. The findings help scientists understand hominid behavior like tool use, piece together basic hominid lineages, and understand hominid diversity.

Based on past successes in the Turkana Basin, researchers are hopeful that the next five to ten years of fieldwork will yield important new finds. Paleontologists are frequently discovering new sites, and greater numbers of students and professionals are now devoted to this project. Additionally, advances in technology are making paleontological and archaeological research more efficient and accurate. Using new methods of analyzing oxygen and carbon isotopes in fossils, scientists are now able to study the diet of extinct herbivores and the environments in which they lived. Satellite technology has also improved collection techniques and advanced computers can analyze and store more complex sets of data.

Project Goals

The Human Origins Project is the most ambitious and comprehensive undertaking of its kind, and researchers have high hopes for its outcomes. Goals of the mission include creating a Web resource that contributes to our understanding of human origins; educating and inspiring the next generation of scientists; providing means of research for global and indigenous paleontologists, geologists, scientists, and students; creating a collaborative community and virtual meeting space for anyone interested in human origins; and presenting a prehistory of early humans. Scientists in the field and in the lab are working hard to ensure the vast potential of the Human Origins Project is realized.

Education

  • bones-of-turkana-edu.jpg

    Bones of Turkana

    Students can learn about human evolution with this collection of activities and videos.

Photos

Videos

  • Video Still from Maeve Leakey NGLive program

    Piecing Together Human Ancestors

    Adding understanding to human origins,  Leakey continues uncovering fossils of ancient ancestors in East Africa.

  • curiosity-meave-leakey_990x742.jpg

    Meave Leakey

    NG Explorer-in-Residence Meave Leakey talks about an amazing discovery of a human fossil.

Listen: Explorer Interviews

Listen to Nat Geo Explorer Interviews

Fascinating Conversations From Our Weekly Radio Show—Nat Geo Weekend

  • 00:11:00 Bob Ballard

    Boyd heads out of the studio to join National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence Bob Ballard aboard his vessel the E/V Nautilus. Currently in Turkey, Ballard tells Boyd about the many shipwrecks he is finding in the Mediterranean. You can follow Ballard and his team, live as they explore the ocean at www.nautiluslive.org.

  • 00:06:00 Valerie Clark

    National Geographic grantee Valerie Clark licks frogs for a living. As Clark tells Boyd, she’s not looking for Prince Charming. Instead, she is studying how the diet of frogs in Madagascar relates to the toxicity of their skin.

    • 00:11:00 Lee Berger Audio

      National Geographic grantee and paleoanthropologist Lee Berger has been searching for the fossils of human ancestors, but it was his 9-year-old son who stumbled upon the find of a lifetime: a partial skeleton that may very well change our understanding of the genus Homo.

    • 00:07:59 Brad Norman

      Some go swimming with dolphins or stingrays, Brad Norman, National Geographic Emerging Explorer and marine conservationist, talks about swimming with the largest fish in the world: the whale shark. Norman speaks with Boyd about his research concerning whale shark habitats, tracking and conservation.

    • 00:11:00 Losang Rabgey

      National Geographic Emerging Explorer Losang Rabgey has found her life's work in strengthening rural communities on the Tibetan plateau, which includes building schools to educate local students. Rabgey joins Boyd with updates on the successful work of Machik, the non-profit she founded and now directs.

    • National Geographic Explorers-in-Residence Dereck and Beverly Joubert capture astounding images of African wildlife in their beautiful films. The Jouberts live in the African bush alongside the lions and other animals they profile. They explain to Boyd that, because big cats are in such danger, their work is now focused on conservation projects such as the Cause an Uproar program.

    • 00:11:00 Nathan Wolfe

      National Geographic Emerging Explorer and virus hunter Nathan Wolfe says there is a disease pandemic lurking just around the corner. But, we can prepare ourselves.  Wolfe says there are even ways to harness and use the power of viruses. Wolfe joins Boyd to talk about his new book, The Viral Storm: The Dawn of a New Pandemic Age, which is changing the way we think about viruses.

      • National Geographic Emerging Explorer Joshua Ponte was a successful young English entrepreneur when, over breakfast one morning, his eye fell on a newspaper ad that said "Gorilla Reintroduction Program, Gabon." His life has never been the same since. Pursuing his passion for conservation, Ponte moved to a central African forest where 13 orphaned gorillas were being studied. Boyd talks with Ponte about the joys and dangers of raising young gorillas.

      • 00:11:00 Wade Davis

        How did the death and destruction of World War One lead young British climbers to attempt an epic conquest of Mount Everest? National Geographic Explorer in Residence Wade Davis answers that question in his new book “Into the Silence: The Great War, Mallory, and the Conquest of Everest.” Davis joins Boyd in the studio to chat about the book.

      • 00:11:00 Sylvia Earle

        National Geographic Explorer in Residence Sylvia Earle has been deeper undersea than any other woman. Earle is an oceanographer, explorer, author, lecturer, field scientist, and an inspiration to women around the world. She recently received the Royal Geographic Society’s 2011 Patron’s Medal. Boyd talks to Earle about some of her early dives in the Jim Suit.

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      • 00:08:00 Bruce Bachand

        Many people picture archaeology as the swashbuckling adventure portrayed in the Indiana Jones trilogy. But in reality, it can be much more tedious than discovering the Holy Grail and fighting Nazis. National Geographic grantee Bruce Bachand has been meticulously sewing a 3,000 bead necklace back together in Mexico after discovering a pre-Olmec burial site that housed a tribal chief and his wife, undisturbed for several centuries.

      • 00:09:00 Catherine Jaffee

        Turkey is famed for its honey, which is music to Boyd's ears—he has a notorious sweet tooth. He visited National Geographic grantee Cat Jaffee, a beekeeper who left her job in Washington, D.C. to make honey in rural Turkey. She says that bees harvest pollen from their surroundings: the best honey comes from bees with natural surroundings, large meadows, rather than urban environments. Most people, Jaffee says, eat honey that is basically a synthetic mix of sugars from all over the world.

      • Most of human history existed before the advent of GPS technologies that can pinpoint where we are at any time. National Geographic Fellow and ethnonavigation expert, Elizabeth Lindsey has taken it upon herself to understand what it was like for Polynesian explorers to colonize tiny, remote islands across the south Pacific Ocean. To better appreciate the skills it takes to study the clouds and winds in search of land, Lindsey plans to join a team of Polynesian women who are island-hopping using traditional methods: no GPS, no cellphones and no compass.

      • 00:11:00 Lucy Cooke

        Lucy Cooke