Essay / Letters

Best of SAPIENS 2023

In another year of exceptional challenges and hardships, anthropologists tackled a range of issues and questions about what it means to be human. Here are some of SAPIENS’ best from this year.
A photograph looks down a gray gravel road with two yellow lines down its center. The road cuts through a dark forest of tall, green, leafy trees with a single ray of sunshine getting through the forest’s canopy.

IN 2023, SAPIENS published more than 150 essays, opinion pieces, poems, and podcast episodes. These pointed a light on the diverse challenges of being human in 2023. Our anthropologist contributors from around the world offered their insights on everything human, such as dating apps, animal abuse, ethnographic filmmaking, solar power, police violence, cochlear implants, Bigfoot myths, games with spiders in the Philippines—and much more. While we’re proud of every piece we’ve published this year at SAPIENS, we’ve selected 10 that especially stand out to us (ordered to celebrate the wide range of topics anthropologists explore).

—The SAPIENS Editorial Team


How Eugenics Shaped the U.S. Prenatal Care System

By Dána-Ain Davis and Kelley Akhiemokhali

Black women in the U.S. are far more likely to die from complications related to pregnancy and birth than White women. Two scholars explore how the discrediting of Black midwives helped create these racial disparities—and call for alternative models of prenatal care.


My Search for the Origins of Clothing

By Ian Gilligan

An archaeologist uses climate data and tailoring tools to trace the invention and evolution of apparel in the world’s colder climates.


Can Archaeology Help Restore the Oceans?

By Todd Braje, Emma Elliott Smith, Juliette Meling, and Torben Rick

On the Channel Islands, archaeologists draw lessons in sustainability from historic Chumash fishing practices.


Two Myths Fueling the Conservative Right’s Dangerous Transphobia

By Alex Hinton

An anthropologist attends the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC)—ground zero for the current onslaught of anti-trans rhetoric and legislation in the U.S.


Extinguishing the Idea That Hobbits Had Fire

By Elizabeth Grace Veatch

Research has overturned earlier claims that a diminutive human relative, Homo floresiensis, lit fires—but big stories die hard.


Advocating for Archaeology’s New Purpose

By Questions Worth Asking Symposium

Archaeologists can help communities retake what colonialism and racism tried to erase through a new goal of “archaeological reclamation.”


Fishing in the Shadow of Oil

By Scott T. Erich

In the Persian Gulf and Gulf of Oman, fishing communities have become part of a complex “assemblage” of human and natural worlds shaped by the global fossil fuel industry.


What Does the Armenian Genocide Have to Do With Florida?

By Adam T. Smith

Archaeologists have increasingly ignored evidence for the 1915 Armenian genocide that has long been denied by Turkey. The consequences have lessons for the U.S. as Florida seeks to prevent educators from teaching about injustices in the country’s history.


Inside Mexico City’s Surveillance State

By Esteban Salmón

An anthropologist investigates how one city’s rapidly expanding video surveillance system is transforming criminal investigation—sometimes in deeply flawed ways.


To Wear the Wind

By Beni Sumer Yanthan

A tribal scholar from the state of Nagaland in India engages with the loss of traditional cultural practices and locates the creation of a new world order where the “natural” is increasingly isolated from the “human.”


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