Richard Scott

Alumni Occupation
Professor emeritus of the University of Alaska, Fairbanks, and the Department of Anthropology chair at the University of Nevada, Reno
Alumni Degree
Physical Anthropology, Ph.D.
Graduation Date
Alumni Photo
Alumni Interview

Richard Scott was the first student to graduate with a doctorate in physical anthropology from Arizona State University. He is now a professor emeritus of the University of Alaska, Fairbanks, and the Department of Anthropology chair at the University of Nevada, Reno. A specialist in dental anthropology, Scott carries on the legacy of his mentor, ASU professor emeritus Christy Turner, and calls his latest book an homage to the man who started him "down the dental path."

Scott began his career at ASU in 1964. He was one of the first anthropology students in a program with only seven faculty members. "It seemed like the department was adding a new faculty member every year during my time in Tempe," Scott recounts. When he reached his senior year, his plans of going to graduate school for archaeology were drastically changed by a "young charismatic professor" by the name of Christy Turner. After taking several of his classes, Scott gained Turner as a mentor who recommended him as a candidate for a National Institutes of Health training fellowship in genetics directed by professor emeritus Charles M. Woolf, with ASU's School of Life Sciences.

Later, Scott would become the third doctorate to graduate from the Department of Anthropology and the first to do so with a degree in physical anthropology. "Little did I know that the department would develop into one of the preeminent schools of anthropology in the country," he says, commenting on the unit's evolution into a highly successful transdisciplinary School of Human Evolution and Social Change eight years ago. "ASU has literally been transformed from a minor player in the discipline to what some may argue is the best department – sorry, school – in the United States."

Scott's dissertation looked at the dental morphology of Native Americans in the Southwest, and firmly placed him in the field of dental anthropology. "I give all the credit to Christy Turner for starting me down the dental path," Scott says.

Physical anthropologists can tell a lot about a person – or an entire line of people – by examining their teeth. Because genetics influence tooth traits, the size and shape of roots and crowns and a variety of dental features can lead researchers to important information that can help identify individual remains or link groups of remains to particular population groups.

Perhaps the best regarded system for grading varying dental complexity was developed several years ago at Arizona State University by Christy Turner, a professor emeritus in the School of Human Evolution and Social Change in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. Richard Scott, one of Turner's protégés, helped tweak the dental classification system before moving on from ASU with his doctorate. He continues to carry forward what he learned at his alma mater, including editing a forthcoming publication based on his mentor's work.

Published this month is his newest book, "Anthropological Perspectives on Tooth Morphology: Genetics, Evolution, Variation," focuses on applied dental research and features several of the world's premier dental morphologists weighing in on the concepts and methods presented in Scott and Turner's first book on dental morphology.

"Every chapter in the new book reflects how Christy's work on teeth was a catalyst for systematic studies in not only human populations throughout the world but also fossil hominids and primates," Scott says. He considers the book an homage to Turner.

Presently, Scott chairs the anthropology department at the University of Nevada, Reno, and is a professor emeritus of the University of Alaska Fairbanks. Although he is a diverse and prolific physical anthropologist, with research interests ranging from Alaska's Inuit to Nevada's Donner Party to the Norse peoples of Greenland, his heart is still in the Southwest, an area he considers a "laboratory of anthropology with its rich and varied panoply of native populations."

Written by Isaac Gilbert, School of Human Evolution and Social Change