Join paleoanthropologist Dr. Richard Potts from the Human Origins Program at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History, who presents Innovation and Environmental Disruption during the Origin of Homo Sapiens May 3 at 6:30 p.m. in the Buffalo Bill Center of the West’s Coe Auditorium.
In studies published in 2018 in the journal Science, Potts and his research team working at the site of Olorgesailie, Kenya, proposed that environmental turmoil in the form of geological faulting and rapidly changing climate likely drove early humans in East Africa to develop stone tool innovations, exchange between distant groups, and the use of coloring material, tens of thousands of years earlier than previously thought. These milestones in technological, ecological, and social evolution coincided with the oldest ages for fossils attributed to humans in Africa.
Potts shares these findings in the presentation, as well as those in a follow-up study that shows that dramatic variations in the fresh water, vegetation, and landscapes took place during this critical transition in human behavior and may reflect the origin of adaptability in our species.
Potts founded and directs the Human Origins Program at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C. In partnership with the National Museums of Kenya, Potts leads ongoing excavations at the Olorgesailie and Homa Peninsula field sites in Kenya.
After receiving his PhD in biological anthropology at Harvard University in 1982, Potts taught at Yale University before joining the Smithsonian in 1985. his research investigates Earth’s environmental dynamics and the processes that have led to human evolutionary adaptations. His ideas about the influence of environmental instability on human evolution have stimulated new studies in Earth sciences, paleontology, and computational biology.
Potts is the curator of the Smithsonian’s Hall of Human Origins and of the exhibit Exploring Human Origins, which has been traveling across the United States since 2015. He is author of the exhibit companion book What Does It Mean to Be Human?
Learn more at the free, May 3, presentation. To stay abreast of upcoming lectures, programs, and events, visit centerofthewest.org/calendar.
Since 1917, the award-winning Buffalo Bill Center of the West in Cody, Wyoming, has devoted itself to sharing the story of the authentic American West. The Center is an affiliate of the Smithsonian Institution. For more information, visit centerofthewest.org or the Center’s pages on Facebook and Twitter.