It’s hard to imagine the study of human origins without the Leakey family. Three generations of Leakeys have scratched in the baked, unfriendly soil of East Africa to unearth fossil evidence of the earliest humans and their ancient ancestors. In the process they have practically defined the field of paleoanthropology, while eliciting admiration as well as controversies and criticism. In this engrossing biography, prolific writer and educator Mary Bowman-Kruhm tells the story of three generations of Leakeys. Beginning with patriarch Louis Leakey, a native of Kenya, she describes how he turned his boyhood love of exploring the Kenyan countryside into a scientific profession that eventually garnered international recognition. As the author shows, Leakey struggled in the early years, often barely able to make a living. The end of World War II, a trip to Rusinga Island in Lake Victoria, and an injection of money from a benefactor led to the discovery of Proconsul africanus, an 18-million-year-old skull that was a precursor to both later evolving apes and humans. Then Leakey and his wife, Mary, discovered fragments of what came to be known as Paranthropus boisei, which lived about 1.75 million years ago. These findings brought the Leakeys great attention and important funding from the National Geographic Society.
Bowman-Kruhm intersperses her discussion of the Leakeys’ important scientific contributions with interesting asides about their personal life: from the trying 1950s when the Mau Mau revolt in Kenya threatened all of their lives; through Louis’s interest in young proteges, including Jane Goodall and Diane Fossey; to the rocky relationship between the Leakeys and Donald Johanson, the discoverer of "Lucy."
By the time of Louis’s death in 1972, Mary and their son Richard were making dramatic finds on their own. When Richard discovered a rich cache of fossils in northern Kenya, he soon attained a level of acclaim to rival his father and mother’s. Eventually, he turned his attention to fighting for the cause of wildlife conservation, a passion that he continues to the present. Today, the paleontology work of the Leakey family continues, carried on mainly by Meave, Richard’s wife, and their daughter, Louise, at Koobi Fora in northern Kenya. They regularly report the results of their research at the Koobi Fora Research Project Web site (www.kfrp.com).
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About the Author
Mary Bowman-Kruhm is the author of more than thirty books for children and young adults. She is a faculty associate at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Education, Center for Technology in Education. More on the author can be found at www.marybk.com.
Table of Contents
Timeline: Significant Events in the Lives of the Leakeys 13
Chapter 1 A Fact-Finding Mission (Forward to the Past) 15
Chapter 2 In the Beginning...(Louis, 1925-1933) 28
Chapter 3 Positive Choices, Negative Voices (Mary, 1913-1936, Louis, 1937-1946) 42
Chapter 4 War and Children: Real Time (1937-1946) 57
Chapter 5 Peace and Turmoil, Personal and Political (1947-1958) 70
Chapter 6 Human History Carved in Bone (1959-1971) 85
Chapter 7 Skull Drudgery and Skullduggery (1972-1977) 102
Chapter 8 Contentious, contention, and a Critical Condition (1978-1988) 116
Chapter 9 Burning His Tusks behind Him (1989-2003) 130
Chapter 10 But Wait, There's More...(2004 and Beyond) 146
What People are Saying About This
"Mary Bowman-Kruhm finally offers her readers a condensed, but comprehensive biography of the Leakey legacy. For those not planning to read the several Leakey biographies and autobiographies, this one-stop treatise details the anthropological achievements of three generations of this world-renowned family. This book, written in simple language for general readers, not only illustrates the events in the personal lives of the Leakeys, but it also effectively gives a timeline of discoveries of the human fossils that have helped unravel the story of our origins and evolution. The storyline has not omitted the world historical events that affected and shaped the lives of the Leakeys. Mary has also acknowledged the contribution of native Kenyans in this anthropological adventure. She shows how the legacy torch is not only being passed to Louise Leakey, but also how the senior generation of the Leakeys inspired many into pursuing the knowledge of our origins. Mary has given a new meaning to the Leakey legacy."--(NASSER MALIT, PhD, Leakey Foundation's Baldwin Fellow, Department of Anthropology, Binghamton University)
"Louis and Mary Leakey, my grandparents, were so certain that they would find fossils that would prove that humans first evolved in Africa that they repeatedly returned to explore the sun baked soil at Olduvai Gorge over a period of 24 years. Finally, in 1959, my grandmother found the 1.8 million year old skull that they named Zinj and it amazed the world. During their careers, my mother Meave and father Richard added significantly to the trove of fossils from the Rift Valley and the understanding of our origins. Now, with an experienced field crew, I continue the work in northern Kenya. This biography well describes the personal story of three Leakey generations as we've searched for fossils that will help all of us understand our human past."