Season 1



The SAPIENS podcast is an editorially independent series supported by the Wenner-Gren Foundation and produced by House of Pod.

Dr. Chip Colwell is the editor-in-chief of SAPIENS, a co-host of the SAPIENS podcast, and the senior curator of anthropology at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science. He has authored and edited 11 books, most recently Plundered Skulls and Stolen Spirits: Inside the Fight to Reclaim Native America’s Culture. He currently lives in Denver, but he dreams of moving to Tristan da Cunha with his family and cat adopted from Mexico.

Dr. Esteban Gómez is a visual ethnographer and curator in the department of anthropology at the University of Denver. When he is not co-hosting the SAPIENS podcast, Esteban conducts ethnographic research on the educational and environmental problems affecting youth and established residents in Denver’s gentrified neighborhoods. At home, Esteban works tirelessly to perfect his dad jokes, with the sole purpose of one day embarrassing his son Benjamin.

Dr. Jen Shannon is a museum curator and an associate professor of cultural anthropology at the University of Colorado, Boulder, and a co-host of the SAPIENS podcast. She is the author of Our Lives: Collaboration, Native Voice, and the Making of the National Museum of the American Indian. Jen is also an avid ultimate frisbee player who embraces the “spirit of the game” and loves passing it on to the high schoolers she coaches.



Being Afghan in America: In the Field With Morwari Zafar

How does an immigrant become an “American”? SAPIENS host Esteban Gómez shares the story of Morwari Zafar, an anthropologist who has studied post-9/11 changes in Afghan-American communities across the U.S. From the first major wave of immigration in the late 1980s and early 1990s, to 9/11 and the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, Afghan-American communities have been in flux, exemplifying the mysteries of group identity, dynamics among the diaspora, and nationhood.



What’s the Cost of Quinoa?

SAPIENS host Jen Shannon goes on a mission to find out how quinoa travels from fields to markets and discovers its complicated past and present: a bloody civil war that shook the nation, the chefs who tried to use food as a racial reconciliation project, and the current economic and social pressures small producers face when they take on huge risks to bring their product from field to market.



How to Care for the Dead

Scientists have thought about burial—the act of interring a dead body—as a distinctly human behavior. So what happened when a group of paleoanthropologists discovered a primitive hominid that may have entombed its dead? And how do modern-day humans respond when they are unable to find and care for the remains of their loved ones?



What Carl Zimmer Learned About DNA, Identity, and Heredity

BONUS: Suprise! As a special holiday treat, the SAPIENS team is presenting this unedited conversation between SAPIENS host Chip Colwell and acclaimed science journalist Carl Zimmer about DNA, identity, and heredity. This conversation was previously excerpted in our episode “Is Your DNA You?” It took place in front of a live audience at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science on June 20, 2018.



Is Space a Human Place?

Episode 7: From space junk and the International Space Station to space colonization and SpaceX, space is becoming a more human place. What will it mean when we finally settle among the stars? We might relate to one another, and to these new environments, in novel ways—or we might not. SAPIENS host Jen Shannon probes the nascent field of space archaeology and looks to human understandings of exoplanets for answers.



Power Players: US Football and French Rugby

Episode 6: Some athletes seem larger than life. They are revered and imitated—and they seemingly hold a lot of power. But whether they feel empowered in their lives and choices off the field depends on a variety of complex factors. We explore the experiences of black college football players in the U.S. and Fijian rugby players who migrate to play on teams in France to learn more.



Closer to Home

Episode 5: What is home? Is it a physical space, a set of relationships, or a state of mind? SAPIENS host Esteban Gómez follows Amy Starecheski, a researcher who has studied how squatters went legit and secured homeownership in New York City, as she seeks to answer these questions and more. They move through some of of New York’s most fascinating neighborhoods and discuss how people have navigated massive restructuring and shifts in housing policy over the last century.



The Mastodon in the Room

sapiens podcastEpisode 4: Humans may have been in North America much earlier than previously thought. Is the evidence enough to rewrite history? SAPIENS co-hosts Chip Colwell and Jen Shannon talk to Steven and Kathleen Holen, archaeologists and co-authors of a controversial discovery. And they further evaluate the claims with the help of anthropologist Todd Braje.



Are You Ready for TEOTWAWKI?

Episode 3: It’s the end of the world as we know it. How do you feel? SAPIENS co-host Jen Shannon follows the trail of some contemporary preppers with the help of anthropologist Chad Huddleston. Then she dives into history with Tim Kohler, an archaeologist and expert on Ancestral Puebloan peoples of the U.S. Southwest.



Is Robot Empathy a Trap?

Episode 2: Can robots care? And why should we care if they do? SAPIENS host Jen Shannon meets Pepper the robot, and host Chip Colwell goes on a quest to find out how the robotics industry is (re)shaping intimacy in Japan. He speaks with anthropologists Jennifer Robertson, Daniel White, and Hirofumi Katsuno, all researchers who investigate the field of robotics, to learn more about what artificial emotion can teach us about what it means to be human.



Is Your DNA You?

Episode 1: What does your DNA have to do with who you are? On a journey for answers, the SAPIENS hosts take consumer DNA tests and confront murky, interconnected issues of identity and heredity. Their guides include science journalist Carl Zimmer and anthropologists Deborah Bolnick and Kim TallBear.