The Leakeys


ANTH 395 Leakey family in Olduvai from Price and Feinman 2003 p 60


The Leakey Family were the giants when it comes to paleoanthropology. “Without the groundbreaking — and backbreaking — efforts of Louis, Mary and Richard, the story of how we evolved would still be largely untold,” eulogized Time magazine. 

Louis Leakey was born in Kabete, Kenya, of English missionaries parents. Leakey was largely responsible for convincing scientists that Africa, rather than Java or China, was the most significant area to search for evidence of human origins. Leakey led fossil-hunting expeditions to eastern Africa from the 1920’s.

He married Mary D. Nicol in 1936 and the couple discovered many important fossils together. In 1964, on an expedition to the Olduvai Gorge in Tanzania (pictured in middle), he found fossil remains of, he believed, the earliest member of the genus of human beings. He named the species Homo habilis. However, it was Mary’s earlier discovery of the Zinjanthropus cranium at Olduvai (1959) that captured worldwide attention and made the Leakeys a household name. 

Their at-first-reluctant son Richard continued their legacy. Their son, Richard, in 1978 with two of his team’s most important finds, a beetle-browed Australopithecus (which he held in above picture on his left hand) and a 2-million-years old hominid, listed as 1470, which confirmed coexistence theories of the origins of man in Africa. 


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