- Leakey, Mary Douglas
▪ 1997British-born archaeologist and paleoanthropologist (b. Feb. 6, 1913, London, Eng.—d. Dec. 9, 1996, Nairobi, Kenya), made a number of significant finds of prehuman fossils in East Africa, discoveries that helped to supplant the formerly held notion that the human species evolved in Asia. Through her work as an excavator and an illustrator of tools found at various archaeological sites in England, she met archaeologist Louis Leakey; they were married in 1936 and shortly thereafter left for an expedition to East Africa, an area that became the central location of their work. Her skill at the painstaking work of excavation surpassed her husband's, whose brilliance lay in interpreting and publicizing the fossils that she uncovered. Her first important find was made in 1948 on Rusinga Island in Lake Victoria, Kenya. There she unearthed the skull of Proconsul africanus, an 18 million-year-old apelike creature. Her next major discovery was made on July 17, 1959, at Olduvai Gorge, the now-famous ravine in the Great Rift Valley of Tanzania. The jaw of the early hominid Zinjanthropus (now Australopithecus) boisei that she teased from its 1,750,000-year-old resting place brought worldwide recognition to the couple, although the claim that this was the "missing link" between primitive ape-men and early humans was later disproved. Not long after this find, the Leakey team discovered in a nearby spot in Olduvai Gorge skull fragments more similar to a modern human's, designated Homo habilis. After her husband's death in 1972, Leakey continued her work in Africa. In 1978 at Laetoli, a site about 48 km (30 mi) south of Olduvai Gorge, she made what she believed was her most important find, a trail of several sets of hominid footprints preserved in volcanic ash that were approximately 3.5 million years old. These prints provided evidence that hominids walked in an upright position at a much earlier date than had previously been thought. Leakey retired from fieldwork in 1983 and in 1984 published an autobiography, Disclosing the Past.
* * *▪ Kenyan archaeologistnée Mary Douglas Nicolborn February 6, 1913, London, Englanddied December 9, 1996, Nairobi, KenyaEnglish-born archaeologist and paleoanthropologist (paleoanthropology) who made several fossil finds of great importance in the understanding of human evolution. Her early finds were interpreted and publicized by her husband, the noted anthropologist Louis S.B. Leakey (Leakey, Louis S.B.).As a girl, Mary exhibited a natural talent for drawing and was interested in archaeology. After undergoing sporadic schooling, she participated in excavations of a Neolithic Period site at Hembury, Devon, England, by which time she had become skilled at making reproduction-quality drawings of stone tools. She met Louis Leakey in 1933, and they were married in 1936. Shortly thereafter they left for an expedition to East Africa, an area that became the central location of their work.Working alongside Louis Leakey for the next 30 years, Mary Leakey oversaw the excavation of various prehistoric sites in Kenya. Her skill at the painstaking work of excavation surpassed her husband's, whose brilliance lay in interpreting and publicizing the fossils that they uncovered. In 1948, on Rusinga Island in Lake Victoria, she discovered the skull of Proconsul africanus, an ancestor of both apes and early humans that lived about 25 million years ago. In 1959 at Olduvai Gorge, Tanzania, she discovered the skull of an early hominin (member of the human lineage) that her husband named Zinjanthropus, or “eastern man,” though it is now regarded as Paranthropus, a type of australopith (Australopithecus), or “southern ape.”After her husband's death in 1972, Leakey continued her work in Africa. In 1978 she discovered at Laetoli, a site south of Olduvai Gorge, several sets of footprints made in volcanic ash by early hominins that lived about 3.5 million years ago. The footprints indicated that their makers walked upright; this discovery pushed back the advent of human bipedalism to a date earlier than the scientific community had previously suspected. Among Mary Leakey's books were Olduvai Gorge: My Search for Early Man (1979) and the autobiographical Disclosing the Past (1984).
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