Anthropologist G. Philip Rightmire, an internationally known leader in human paleontology, has been designated a distinguished professor by the SUNY Board of Trustees.
In nominating Rightmire, President Lois B. DeFleur wrote that Rightmire has developed a research record that places him among an elite handful of world scientists in the field of paleoanthropology who have made significant contributions to the field.
The distinguished professor designation, which is the highest academic rank possible, is conferred on individuals who have achieved national or international prominence. Rightmire is the University’s 22nd distinguished professor. Seven emeriti professors hold the designation.
Rightmire, who joined the faculty in 1969, is considered among an elite and highly reputed handful of world scientists in the field of paleoanthropology. His research has concentrated on the anatomy and evolutionary relationships of early members of the genus Homo. Although he has studied and written about human remains in Europe and Asia, his primary research has focused on African findings.
“I haven’t worked in a vacuum all these years,” Rightmire said. “I’ve worked with a lot of people in and outside of the SUNY system. They’ve helped me and I certainly need to acknowledge that.”
He said he was especially fortunate to have had so many good colleagues and students during his years at Binghamton.
This summer Rightmire will return to the former Soviet republic of Georgia to re-examine recently found fossilized bones from a skeleton believed to be 1.7 million years old. He was called to consult by Georgian anthropologists to help date the materials and place it in evolutionary context.
One of Rightmire’s nominators credited him with making the out-of-Africa theory of human origins and dissemination academically respectable.
One of Rightmire’s more recent and notable scholarly contributions is his complex reinterpretation of the thesis on the positioning of Homo heidelbergensis as precursor to Homo sapiens. The nomination citation noted that Rightmire’s hypothesis has become so important that scientists studying Homo heidelbergensis frequently refer to it as “Rightmire’s species.”
Rightmire earned his bachelor’s degree from Harvard and his master’s and doctorate from the University of Wisconsin. He was promoted to full professor in 1982 and in 1990-91 was awarded a University Award for Excellence in Research. The previous year he was named a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
The author of a book, Homo erectus, which serves as a basic text in the field, Rightmire has served on the editorial boards of scholarly publications such as the American Journal of Physical Anthropology and the Journal of Human Evolution.