By HT School, Jul 15, 2021 12:00
Louis Seymour Bazett Leakey was born on August 7, 1903, in Kabete, Kenya, to English missionaries Harry and Mary Leakey. He grew up in Africa, surrounded by the Kikuyu tribe.
Leakey found some stone tools in 1916, when he was 13, and that fuelled his passion for studying prehistory.
In 1926, he graduated in both anthropology and archaeology from the Cambridge University. He earned his doctorate in African prehistory.
Mary Leakey was born on February 6, 1913, in London to Erskine Edward Nicol and Cecilia Marion (Frere) Nicol. The Nicols travelled to United States, Italy, and Egypt. Mary began to develop an enthusiasm for Egyptology during these travels.
In 1925, when Mary was 12, the Nicols stayed at the Les Eyzies commune, when Elie Peyrony, a French archeologist and prehistorian, was excavating a cave. Mary was allowed to go through the dig’s remnants, sparking her interests in prehistory and archaeology.
Mary’s father, an artist, loved Stone Age history and showed her archaeological sites in France. When she was 13, her father died. She was sent to Catholic schools in London. At 17 taking charge of her education, she attended lectures in archaeology.
Louis Leakey’s career
In 1930s, it was believed humans originated in Asia, due to the remains of the so-called Java Man, but Louis Leakey held fast onto Charles Darwin’s theories that humans originated in Africa. In 1931, Leakey made his first visit to Olduvai Gorge (in modern-day Tanzania). He discovered fossils in 1932 at Kanam and Kanjera, Africa. He hailed these finds as proof of humanity’s origin on the African continent.
Union with Mary Leakey
Mary and Louis met in London in 1933. In 1935, she joined him in Tanzania during one of his expeditions. They married the following year after his divorce. His first wife, Frida, was a British teacher who discovered a gorge that was named FLK (Frida Leakey Korongo). He had two children with Frida.
In 1948, at Rusinga Island, Mary Leakey discovered the fossil remains of Proconsul africanus, an ancestor of apes and humans that existed more than 18 million years ago.
In 1959, the Leakeys began major excavations at the Olduvai site. Mary discovered a human fossil dubbed Zinjanthropus boisei that would be estimated to be around 2 million years old.
In 1960, Leakey discovered a Homo erectus skull at Olduvai Gorge, and theorised that the two recent finds, H. habilis and Z. boisei, demonstrated distinct but co-existing hominid lineages.
Further discoveries later supported Leakey’s opinion. In the 1960s, he turned over hands-on anthropological studies and archaeological excavations to Mary and some of his children. He focused on lecturing, writing, and mentoring younger scientists.
During her career, Mary discovered 15 new species of animals and one new genus. In 1962, the Leakeys won the Hubbard Medal, while Louis Leakey won the Prestwich Medal in 1969. Louis passed away in 1972 while Mary breathed her last on December 9, 1996.