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About the Society Awards Past Award Winners 2016 Awardees 2016 (Gregory Award) Richard Cifelli


Rich Cifelli was born January 11, 1954, in Centralia, Washington, and grew up in suburban Maryland. He graduated from Colby College in 1976 and at that time was enamored with physical anthropology. A chance encounter with Ray Alf in 1974 led to field and lab work at the Webb School in California, and the Kenyan National Museum in Nairobi, exposing Rich to other sorts of fossil vertebrates. He earned an A.M. degree in Anthropology at the University of Chicago. While there, he joined SVP, attending his first meeting at the University of Colorado, Boulder, in 1976. Field work with Malcolm McKenna in 1977 kindled a broader interest in vertebrate paleontology and led to further graduate studies under McKenna’s direction at Columbia University and the American Museum of Natural History, New York. Cifelli studied South American mammals for his Ph.D. degree, completed in 1983.

Cifelli was a Fellow-in-Residence (1983–1985) at the Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C., where he worked on living mammals (specifically, squirrels) with Richard Thorington. In parallel, he had ephemeral appointments at the Museum of Northern Arizona, Flagstaff beginning in 1979, and by 1983 had become interested in Cretaceous mammals through his friends there, Will Downs and Scott Madsen. Interest in early mammals, and Mesozoic faunas generally, soon became (and remain to this day) the focus of Cifelli’s collecting and research program.

In 1986, Cifelli joined the staff of the Sam Noble Museum and the faculty of the Department of Biology, both at the University of Oklahoma. A major task in his early years at the museum was to breathe life into the VP collection, which was largely uncurated and in a state of extreme disrepair. Thanks to the efforts of Nick Czaplewski and the late Wann Langston, the collection is now accessible. In recent years, its size has roughly tripled.

In addition to field “work” (generally regarded as both avocation and job), Rich enjoys music, cabinetmaking, studying languages, and yard work. He has two sons, Graham (age 18) and Mason (age 15).