The Rarámuri people’s ancient traditions of footracing have captured global attention. New research by a biological anthropologist and his colleagues debunks stereotypes and contextualizes the community’s famous races.

Surrounded by torch-bearing supporters, runners kick a ball as part of a traditional rarajípare racing event practiced by the Rarámuri people of Mexico. Photo: Marcos Ferro

By Francine Russo

On a mesa above 6,000 feet in elevation among the Sierra Madre peaks of Northwestern Mexico, the Rarámuri racers, carrying flaming torches under a star-studded sky, ran steadily. The teams had been at this rarajípare event since noon and would persist past midnight.

The runners maintained a roughly 10-minute-mile pace, racing back and forth on a more than 3-mile track. Around them, people shouted encouragement in the Rarámuri language: “ Iwériga!” (Breath! Soul!) and “Iwérisa!” (Stamina!).

In the midst of these colorfully clothed, torch-carrying followers was a figure clad in a sweatshirt and trail pants: Harvard anthropologist…


An anthropologist investigates how U.S. prison policies systematically deny deaf incarcerated people adequate access to hearing aids — severely hindering their sensory engagement and quality of life

Deaf people in prison are often granted only one hearing aid, even when they need devices for both ears. Photo: Vilma Liella/Wikimedia Commons

By Michele Friedner

I grew up wearing two hearing aids and currently have two cochlear implants. From a young age, soon after I was diagnosed as deaf, audiologists and speech and language pathologists instructed my parents to make sure that I always wore my hearing aids. That way, I could “live up to my potential,” they said. According to the professionals, listening and speaking was essential to participating in “normal” life and becoming successful.

And indeed, hearing technology enabled me to fit in and perform well in mainstream educational settings — although it did not reduce the structural barriers that…


Great apes provide a window into the story of human evolution — and that’s one more reason to protect them

Except for humans, every great ape is endangered — many at great risk of going extinct. There are fewer than 300,000 chimpanzees living in the wild. Photo: USAID Africa Bureau/Wikimedia Commons

By Mary Shirley Mitchell

When I was a kid, every trip to the zoo featured a visit to the orangutan habitat. I was fascinated by the animals’ long fingers, how they took shelter when it started to rain, the affection they showed for their children, and the way they stretched after sitting too long in one position. Sometimes watching them felt like watching any other animal at the zoo, but sometimes it felt like watching people who happen to be visiting a nearby park. I swear I knew what they were thinking and feeling.

As an adult anthropologist, the sense…


Zooarchaeologists and geneticists are exploring how wolves and domestic dogs have been humanity’s predator, prey, and partner

Researchers found this dog skull in a Czech Republic site inhabited by humans some 28,500 years ago, offering a clue to understanding the ancient story of domestication. Photo: Mietje Germonpré. Skull from the collections of the Moravian Museum, Brno, Czech Republic.

By Richard Kemeny

On a dusty plain, east of the Tigris River in Iraqi-Kurdistan, lies the ancient settlement of Tell Surezha. This excavation site is a remnant of a period and place where the world’s first known urbanized civilization took shape as humans transitioned from the Neolithic to the Bronze Age around 7,000 years ago.

Archaeologists have been digging at Surezha since 2013, uncovering insights into early human behavior and the evolution of society. In 2019, Max Price was studying bones collected from the site by colleagues from the University of Chicago’s Oriental Institute. …


Research shows that real differences exist in athletic capacities, on average, between men and women. But they cut both ways.

Photo: Nicolas Hoizey

By Cara Ocobock

As the Summer Olympics gear up to kick off in Tokyo, Japan, on July 23 — delayed a year thanks to the pandemic — sexism in sports has again become a hot topic. In February, Olympic organizing committee president Yoshiro Mori resigned after saying he thought women talked too much; in March, the games’ creative director Hiroshi Sasaki stepped down after directing demeaning comments at a female celebrity in Japan.

Also in March, an Instagram photo of training equipment provided to the men’s teams versus the women’s teams for the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) basketball players…


The 1950s Hollywood movie The Bridge on the River Kwai, about a Japanese POW camp during World War II, nearly contained a fascinating side story about a dedicated archaeologist prisoner. Hendrik Robert van Heekeren deserves the spotlight.

WWII Allied prisoners of war and civilian laborers worked in horrendous conditions to install a railway between Thailand and Burma. Photo: Australian War Memorial, P00406.026

By Cyler Conrad

In retrospect, I was probably far too young to be whistling that captivating tune of resistance from the Hollywood classic The Bridge on the River Kwai, but I was enthralled. The visuals, the history, the war: I remember feeling genuinely engrossed in the film, despite being a young teenager and understanding little about the struggle portrayed on screen. As a millennial, born in 1989, I grew up with a fascination of wars past, especially movies about World War II. Nothing quite stood out like The Bridge on the River Kwai and the human experience it portrayed.

It…


The Southern African concept of ubuntu offers a crucial lesson for the U.S.: By recognizing our interconnections and actively undoing systemic racism, we can all become more fully human.

Photo: Martin Engel — Grafiker Hamburg

By Christine Weeber

In the weeks leading up to the one-year anniversary of the murder of George Floyd, I passed dozens of Donald Trump 2024 banners and thin blue line flags in support of police while traveling through rural Colorado and eastern Utah. A rare Black Lives Matter poster hung in a few windows.

The human rights issues that sparked uprisings in response to the murder of Floyd, an African American man, by White police officer Derek Chauvin, seemed a distant memory in this part of the country.

With White populations of 68 percent and 78 percent, respectively, these western…


It is beautiful when museums go beyond returning objects toward “propatriation” — collaborating to commission new objects for display

Photo: Mihai Surdu

By Stephen E. Nash

Back in 1990, when I was in my third year of graduate school, then-President H.W. Bush signed the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act ( NAGPRA) into law: an act under which federally recognized Native American tribes can formally request the repatriation of ancestors and their belongings, among other items, from museums and repositories.

I remember speaking with museum curators, directors, archaeologists, and biological anthropologists (all of whom happened to be non-Native, as was common at the time), many of whom thought NAGPRA would be the death knell for museums and collections-based scholarly research as…


An anthropological assessment of the differences between pills and injections may shed some light on vaccine hesitancy

Photo: Diana Polekhina

By Monica L. Smith

If you’re watching a news show or reading a magazine article about vaccine hesitancy, you might find your program interspersed with advertisements for prescription medications: beguiling ads of cheerful, energetic people promising relief from everything from arthritis to late-stage cancer.

The juxtaposition seems completely illogical: How did some people develop a simultaneous rejection of certain medications and a whole-hearted zest for others?

As an archaeologist, I’m fascinated by the diversity of objects our ancestors have invented over millions of years, including those that people have used to introduce substances into their bodies. That includes culinary equipment…


Contemplating Pompeii’s sudden demise in A.D. 79, an anthropologist asks what future generations will uncover when they sift through the pandemic’s remains

Illustration: Kim Herbst

By Sarah Ives

With over 131 million people fully vaccinated in the U.S. and numbers of new infections dropping nationwide, some have started to declare the “end” of the pandemic, despite surging cases across much of the world.

Whenever the pandemic officially ends, it will leave traces that will linger well into the future. As archaeologists know, even events in the deep past — long over and largely forgotten — continue to haunt the present.

No one knows this better than the researchers who are still sifting through the remains of Pompeii, a city consumed by a volcanic eruption in…

SAPIENS

SAPIENS is a digital magazine about the human world.

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