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Potts, Richard

Curator of Biological Anthropology, Peter Buck Chair of Human Origins Director

Paleoanthropologist Dr. Rick Potts founded and directs the Human Origins Program at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History, Washington, DC. In partnership with the National Museums of Kenya, Rick leads ongoing excavations in the Rift Valley of southern Kenya and the Homa Peninsula, Kenya. After receiving his PhD in biological anthropology at Harvard University in 1982, he taught at Yale before joining the Smithsonian in 1985. Rick’s research investigates Earth’s environmental dynamics and the processes that have led to human evolutionary adaptations. His ideas about the significant effect of environmental instability on human evolution have stimulated new studies in Earth sciences, paleontology, and biology. He is also curator of the Smithsonian’s Hall of Human Origins.


Geographic Focus

Background And Education

Education And Training

Research And Grants


Selected Publications


Responsible Collections Areas

  • Hominin and primate fossil cast collection.  Shanidar 3 Neanderthal skeleton.
    Biological anthropology skeletal remains (Africa).
    Fossil and archeological collections from Olorgesailie, Nyokie, and Homa Peninsula site (National Museums of Kenya).

Outreach Overview

  • Exploring Human Origins: A U.S. national conversation on human evolution (traveling exhibition)