Director, Human Origins Program, Peter Buck Chair in Human Origins

Dr. Rick Potts standing in a desert landscape of the Kenya Rift Valley.  There is also a small hill behind him.
Dr. Rick Potts at the Smithsonian's long-term research site, Olorgesailie, in the southern Kenya Rift Valley. Photo from Smithsonian's Human Origins Program.

Paleoanthropologist Dr. Rick Potts is the director of the Smithsonian’s Human Origins Program and curator of anthropology at the National Museum of Natural History. Since joining the Smithsonian in 1985, Rick has dedicated his research to piecing together the record of Earth’s environmental change and human adaptation.  His ideas on how human evolution responded to environmental instability have stimulated wide attention and new research in several scientific fields.  Rick has developed international collaborations among scientists interested in the ecological aspects of human evolution.  He leads excavations at early human sites in the East African Rift Valley, including the famous handaxe site of Olorgesailie, Kenya, and Kanam near Lake Victoria, Kenya.  He also co-directs ongoing projects in southern and northern China that compare evidence of early human behavior and environments from eastern Africa to eastern Asia.

He received his Ph.D. in biological anthropology from Harvard University in 1982, after which he taught anthropology at Yale University and served as curator of physical anthropology at the Yale Peabody Museum.  Rick is curator of The David H. Koch Hall of Human Origins, at the Smithsonian’s Natural History Museum, and has authored the companion book, "What Does It Mean To Be Human?" When he’s not time-traveling, Rick enjoys singing, Halloween, and the Phillies.