Louis Seymour Bazett Leakey was born August 7, 1903 in Kabete, Kenya in Africa. His parents, Harry and Mary Bazett Leakey, were British missionaries. Louis grew up among the Kikuyu, Kenya's largest tribe. He learned to speak their language fluently, to hunt with their young men, and was officially initiated into the tribe.
Louis led fossil-hunting expeditions to East Africa during the 1920s. He studied at Cambridge University, graduating in 1926. In 1936, he married Mary Nicol, who shared his interest in anthropology. Over the next 36 years Louis and Mary made many important anthropological discoveries together.
Leakey fully supported Charles Darwin's theory of evolution. One of his motivations as an anthropologist was to prove Darwin's hypothesis that humans originated in Africa. He was largely responsible for convincing other anthropologists that Africa was the likely place to find evidence of human origins. Previously, most anthropologists had sought such evidence in Asia because of the discovery of human fossils in Java (now part of Indonesia) and in China.
In the early 1960's, an expedition led by the Leakeys uncovered fossils at Olduvai Gorge in Tanzania. They theorized the fossilized remains were those of an early human. Leakey and other scientists eventually named the species Homo Habilis, and identified it as the earliest member of the genus of human beings.
In the course of his life Leakey won the highest honors in 1953 a Doctor of Science degree from Oxford, in 1963 a Doctor of Laws from Berkeley, in 1966 he was made an Honorary Fellow of The British Academy, and in 1969 a Doctor of Laws from the University of Guelph in Canada.
Louis Leakey died of a heart attack in London on October 1, 1972. He was buried at All Saint's Church Cemetery in Nairobi, Kenya on October 4, 1972. Mary Leakey died on December 9, 1996 at the age of 82. Dr. Melvin Payne, president of the National Geographic Society, commemorated Leakey's passing with the following:
“Louis Leakey brilliantly rewrote the history of man as his astonishing fossil discoveries in Africa revolutionized our concept of man's development.”
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Olduvai Gorge 5 Volume Paperback Set
by Mary Leakey and Louis Leakey
The definitive series of works examining the findings at Olduval Gorge. Leakey and his collaborators discuss the geological evidence, its relation to the fauna and other fossil evidence, the problems of climatic sequence and the use of potassium-argon dating in the excavation of this site initiated in 1951.
Origins Reconsidered: In Search of What Makes Us Human
by Richard Leakey
Richard Leakey describes his discoveries of human origins and reflects on the nature of humanity.
Ancestral Passions: The Leakey Family and the Quest for Humankind's Beginnings
by Virginia Morell
A fascinating and authoritative personal and scientific biography of the real family (Louis, Mary, and Richard Leakey)
The First Human: The Race to Discover Our Earliest Ancestors
by Ann Gibbons
Science Magazine writer, Ann Gibbons explains how paleoanthropologists have struggled over the last 15 years to clarify our understanding of early humans.
Produced by PBS
This groundbreaking investigation explores how new discoveries are transforming views of our earliest ancestors. Becoming Human brings early hominids to life, examining how they lived and how we became the creative and adaptable modern humans of today.
The Incredible Human Journey
Produced by the BBC
When Homo Sapiens set out from East Africa on a treacherous journey to populate the world, they weren't the only human species on the planet, but they were the only one, ultimately, that would survive. Why is that? This fascinating series undertakes five epic journeys across the globe, tracing the ancient routes of our early ancestors to reveal the extraordinary and brutal challenges they faced.
The Leakey Family at the Leakey Foundation
100 years of the Leakey Family in East Africa.
The Legacy of Louis Leakey
Marking the Centennial of the Fossil-Hunting Patriarch
What does it mean to be human?
The Smithsonian Institution's Human Origins Initiative
Online Anthropology Resources
Valuable online resources for students of Anthropology
Related Figures in the Lucidcafé Library