Paleobiologist and Curator of Fossil Vertebrates

Paleobiologist Dr. Kay Behrensmeyer in jeans, shirt, and hat, standing at a field slope with rocks and  writing in a notebook
Dr. Kay Behrensmeyer working on describing strata at Olorgesailie, Kenya. Image courtesy of Rick Potts, Smithsonian.

Dr. Anna Katherine “Kay” Behrensmeyer grew up in western Illinois and hunted fossils with her brothers in bluffs of Paleozoic marine limestone along the Mississippi River. Kay started undergraduate school as an art major at Monticello Junior College, but after taking an inspiring geology course she transferred to Washington University, St. Louis, for more geology and paleontology. Indiana University’s Geological Field Camp in Montana convinced her once and for all to become a geologist/paleontologist. She earned her doctorate in vertebrate paleontology and sedimentology from the Department of Geological Sciences, Harvard University.

Kay’s Smithsonian career has involved paleontological and geological research in the field and laboratory, with a particular focus on the ecological context of human evolution in East Africa. She is co-director of the Evolution of Terrestrial Ecosystems program, which is working with ecologists to understand natural communities of plants and animals and how these change over time. Kay also is working on paleontological and archeological field projects in Kenya and Arizona, and she also continues research on Pakistan fossil vertebrates. One of her favorite research areas is Amboseli National Park, Kenya, where she continues long-term (35-year) research on processes that affect bone destruction and preservation, a sub-field of paleontology known as taphonomy.