Photo Credit: Human Origins Program, Smithsonian

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Photo Credit: Human Origins Program, Smithsonian

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Innovation and Environmental Disruption During the Origin of Homo sapiens

Speaker(s): Rick Potts

Cody, WY

May 3, 2019 @ 6:30 pm - 8:00 pm



Photo Credit: Jason Nichols

Recent discoveries at the Kenyan site of Olorgesailie offer insight into how environmental shifts drove early humans in East Africa to develop stone tool innovations, trade between distant groups, and use coloring material by 320,000 years ago, 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 Homo sapiens in Africa.

In this talk, Dr. Rick Potts will discuss the exciting implications of his team’s findings. These obsidian tools, valued for their sharp edges, were carried up to 55 miles from their source into the rugged terrain of the Kenya rift valley. This long-distance exchange between distant groups is an indicator of social networks, which are critical for survival in unpredictable environments. He will also discuss how dramatic variations in fresh water, vegetation, and landscapes took place during this critical transition in human behavior and may reflect the origin of adaptability in our species.

Registration is not required for this event and admission is free.


May 3, 2019
6:30 pm - 8:00 pm
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Coe Auditorium, Buffalo Bill Center of the West
720 Sheridan Avenue
Cody, WY 82414 United States
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Rick Potts

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, 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, he taught at Yale before joining the Smithsonian in 1985. Potts’s 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. He is the curator of the Smithsonian’s Hall of Human Origins and of the exhibit
“Exploring Human Origins,” which has been traveling across the U.S. since 2015. Rick is author
of the exhibit companion book What Does It Mean To Be Human?

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