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The 2022 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine was awarded to Svante Pääbo "for his discoveries concerning the genomes of extinct hominins and human evolution". Svante Pääbo pioneered the study of ancient DNA from archaeological samples and extinct species including hominins. His work changed how we understand human evolution and has implications for modern-day human physiology. To celebrate the award, Nature Portfolio presents a Collection of publications from Svante Pääbo as well as reviews and opinion from the field of ancient DNA including ethical concerns and future directions.