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Essay / Letters

Best of SAPIENS 2022

In a year of continuing global conflagrations, anthropologists investigated a wide range of pressing and curious questions about humanity’s past, present, and future. Here are the editors’ picks for this year's most compelling contributions.
From an aerial perspective, a photograph features a large circular garden with green shrubs crisply pruned into arc shapes oriented to form a maze. A gazebo topped with similar greenery sits at the maze’s center.

Nearly 4 million readers came to SAPIENS this year to expand their worlds by exploring everything human. The stories they explored ranged from what biological science says about a sex binary to the refugee crisis that has followed from Russia’s war on Ukraine to how humans collected fossils and made meaning of them in ancient times. The editorial team’s annual effort to pick its top 10 list is as fun as it is difficult. We share some of our favorites with you, in chronological order.

—The SAPIENS Editorial Team



How Filipino Sailors—and Coconuts—Helped Create Mexico’s National Drink

Most people see tequila and mezcal as quintessentially Mexican spirits—but recent research has uncovered their unlikely connection with the Philippines.


#MeToo Anthropology and the Case Against Harvard

When anthropologist John Comaroff at Harvard University was put on unpaid leave for allegations of sexual misconduct, a network of colleagues rallied to support him—revealing how entrenched systems in academia often allow sexual violence and other power-based abuse to continue.


Untangling Race From Hair

One anthropologist has made it her mission to remove racial prejudices from the study of hair and find the evolutionary roots of hair diversity.


What Kenya’s Killer Cops Reveal About Police Culture

Anthropologists studying police violence in Nairobi are uncovering systemic problems that shed light on brutal law enforcement tactics around the world.


Maize and Okra (poem)

A poet-anthropologist recollects when Muscogee (Creek) people offered his formerly enslaved ancestors refuge, extending the bonds of kinship.


How a Coerced Confession Shaped a Family History

A researcher delves into her family’s oral history and local archives to tell the story of a relative—falsely accused as a boy of a crime in Jim Crow–era South Carolina.


Did Neanderthals Make Art?

Experts continue to debate whether Neanderthals were painters and jewelry-makers. A paleoanthropologist explores the evidence for Neanderthal art and the sources of people’s skepticism.


An Archaeology of Personhood and Abortion

Opinions about fetal personhood and abortion have fluctuated enormously throughout history and differ in surprising ways between cultures.


Excavating My Dad’s Life

An archaeologist navigates her dad’s passing by using the methods of her discipline to preserve his office and gain insight into the mysteries of his personality.


Heritage Forensics Is Tackling Devastating New Forms of Cultural Erasure

In the Caucasus, researchers are using aerospace technology to expose the clandestine obliteration of Armenian cultural heritage. These new methods of archaeology will prove necessary in the global fight against authoritarianism.


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