Best of SAPIENS 2020


In the wildest of years, SAPIENS writers covered a stunning range of stories about human culture, biology, history, and language. The editorial team selected some of their top favorites.

This year humanity was confronted with a crush of pressing issues both old and new: a pandemic, political unrest, a widespread reckoning with racism and racist violence, climatic chaos, and so much more. In 2020, SAPIENS published more articles than ever before—more than 160 in total—to understand these events and the human condition. Here are some of our favorites, in chronological order.

The SAPIENS Editorial Team

 

Sophie Chao

Corporate “Sorcerers” Reveal the Magical Power of Capitalism

A company’s appropriation of an Indigenous ritual highlights the power of businesses to destroy traditions, community ties, and ecosystems.

 

Josie Glausiusz

Were Neanderthals More Than Cousins to Homo Sapiens?

These members of the genus Homo have long occupied two different branches on the family tree. But now that researchers think these groups interbred, scholars are giving serious consideration to whether we are the same species after all.

 

Justin D. Wright

The National Lynching Memorial Speaks to My Black ’Bama Body OR Imma Be Here Forever, You Gon’ Remember This (Poem)

A SAPIENS poetry contest winner reflects on a new memorial dedicated to the lynching of more than 4,400 people between 1877 and 1950 in the United States.

 

Hugh Gusterson

The Problem of Imagining the Real

One of the challenges of the COVID-19 crisis is taking serious action against a threat that seems so abstract and intangible.

 

Emily Laber-Warren

Can an “Invasive Species” Earn the Right to Stay?

An anthropologist applies the practice of “multispecies ethnography” to study a controversial, flourishing population of macaques on Florida’s Silver River.

 

William White and Catherine Draycott

Why the Whiteness of Archaeology Is a Problem

Archaeology remains a profession with an overwhelmingly White workforce. Two archaeologists ask why that matters and what can be done about it.

 

Darcie DeAngelo

How Rats Are Overturning Decades of Military Norms

An anthropologist explores how the use of rats to clear ordnance in Cambodia is changing the culture of mine clearance.

 

Grace Neveu

When Deafness Is Not Considered a Deficit

In the Peruvian Amazon, the Maijuna peoples created their own sign language—which hints at the importance of community in the evolution of language.

 

Kimberley D. McKinson

Do Black Lives Matter in Outer Space?

Elon Musk’s company, SpaceX, is ramping up its efforts to inhabit Mars, raising crucial questions about who gets left out of fantasies of space colonization.

 

Keridwen Cornelius

Did Processed Foods Make Us Human?

Experimental archaeologist Bill Schindler’s globe-trotting research has led him to champion a diet based on humanity’s long history of inventive food preparation techniques, from nose-to-tail butchery to sourdough bread.