The Leakey Family

Essay by strawberry_qteeHigh School, 11th gradeA+, February 2005

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The Leakey Family

The Leakey family was the most dominant family over physical anthropology. Their key discoveries shaped our understanding of human origin, while their enthusiasm for Africa and devotion to the search for early man were contagious, and inspired a whole new generation of researchers to continue where they had left off. Without their groundbreaking efforts, much of the story of how we evolved would still be unknown.

The Leakey family consisted of Louis, his wife Mary, and their three sons, one of which was Richard. Born in Kenya to English parents, Louis Leakey was a self-proclaimed white African. Even as a young boy, he often found prehistoric stone tools in the riverbeds, which influenced his career. Mary, on the other hand, was born into a family of artists and archaeologists. She too was influenced as a child to follow a career in geology and archaeology, and her specialty was drawing prehistoric tools and artefacts.

Louis and Mary met and married in England, though they soon returned to Kenya and had three children. Their second son Richard made his very first fossil find when he was six. Richard had discovered a part of an extinct giant pig, but that field did not seem to catch his interest. He was a high-school dropout who led photo safaris, and seldom led archaeological digs. He eventually began to join and lead more expeditions as he gained more interest in the field, and attempted to follow in his parents' footsteps.

The family entered the field with different aspirations and techniques. Louis Leakey first set out to prove Darwin's theory that man had originated from Africa. He had also hoped to discover evidence that true man had a very ancient origin. Louis was often impulsive and careless in his decrees, while Mary preferred to...