The Human Origins Initiative at the National Museum of Natural History

The Human Origins Initiative is a Smithsonian program dedicated to understanding our evolutionary past. This initiative, comprised of three main components – the Human Origins exhibit at the National Museum of Natural History, an educational program through the Human Origins website, and a dedication to ongoing scientific research – asks the perennial question, “What does it mean to be human?” By examining our evolutionary past through fossils, genetics, and artifacts of our past society such as tools, figurines, paintings, etc we are able to chart the universal human story in its broadest time scale. With this evidence, we are able to see the ways in which human brain and body size, locomotion, diet, and many other aspects changed throughout our 6 million year history.

Web PageLearn about Briana’s research in Kanjera, Kenya



Web PageSee what bones can tell us in the interactive “Fossil Forensics” Exhibit



Web PageRead Briana’s bio with a list of her publications:



Web PageSee video of Briana and other researchers on the Human Origins project talk about their work



Web PageDiscover the types of evidence used to track the course of human evolution



Web PageFind teacher resources, including lesson plans, a teacher’s forum, and a guide for planning a field trip to the Human Origins exhibit


Briana’s other presentations:

Web PageThis powerpoint, presented at a scientific conference in 2004, compares how the impacts of predators on bones can differ depending on what predator species is dominant by investigating bone damage levels in two different study locations: Ol Pejeta and Amboseli, Kenya.




Web PageThis poster, presented at a scientific conference in 2008, introduces the Ol Pejeta Research project: the location, the background, the overall and some specific research questions.




Photo Gallery: (Click on images below for full-sized images.)

Dr. Pobiner posing with one of the Smithsonian’s 4 wheel drive vehicles used for fieldwork at Olorgesailie, southern Kenya. One of her favorite parts of fieldwork is getting to drive big Land Cruisers!

Dr. Pobiner examines modern bones at Ol Pejeta, central Kenya, as part of her research investigating what modern bones can tell us about the present – and past.

Dr. Pobiner uses a GPS receiver to record the location of every bone she examines at Ol Pejeta, central Kenya, but still uses old-fashioned pen and paper to collect bone data.

Dr. Pobiner may be smiling now, but she wasn’t smiling a few minutes later when the impeding rainstorm you can see behind her hit, leaving her completely soaked!

Butchery marks on a 1.5 million year old fossilized antelope bone from Koobi Fora, northern Kenya, shows evidence that early humans butchered and ate this animal.

Like many of the butchery marks on 1.5 million year old fossilized bones from Koobi Fora, northern Kenya, this bone’s marks are on the ‘meaty’ part, showing early humans were able to get to this animal before their carnivore competitors did.

Dr. Pobiner crouches in the footprint of an extinct hippopotamus at Olorgesailie, southern Kenya.

Dr. Pobiner shows a human skull to an after-school group at the National Museum of Natural History.

Dr. Pobiner explores the diversity of early humans with an after-school group at the National Museum of Natural History.

Dr. Pobiner photographs butchery marks on a 990,000 year old fossil elephant vertebrae from Olorgesailie, Kenya, in the National Museums of Kenya.

Dr. Pobiner leads a group of East African teachers and museum educators on a post-conference field trip to Olorgesailie, Kenya, after the first ever conference on teaching human evolution in Kenya, held in 2007.

Dr. Pobiner excavates in a deep pit in hot, humid Indonesia alongside local Indonesian excavators in 2006.

Dr. Pobiner’s research on modern bones involved watching carnivores, like this lion from central Kenya, eat their prey.

Dr. Pobiner takes a break during a trip to Olduvai Gorge, Tanzania, after the East African Association for Paleoanthropology and Paleontology conference in Arusha, Tanzania, in 2009. She did part of her PhD research at Olduvai Gorge.