Leakey, Mary Douglas

Leakey, Mary Douglas,

1913–96, British archaeologist, b. London as Mary Douglas Nicol; wife of Louis LeakeyLeakey, Louis Seymour Bazett
, 1903–72, British archaeologist and anthropologist of E Africa, b. Kabete, Kenya; father of Richard Leakey. His fossil discoveries in E Africa demonstrated that humans were far older than had previously been suspected.
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 and mother of Richard LeakeyLeakey, Richard Erskine Frere
, 1944–, Kenyan paleoanthropologist, conservationist, and government official. The son of Louis and Mary Leakey, he spent much of his early life at archaeological sites in E Africa.
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. She had little formal education, but a fascination with archaeology led to her supervising her first dig in England in 1934. Several years after she met Louis Leakey in England she began work with him at Olduvai GorgeOlduvai Gorge
, a feature of the E African Rift Valley in Tanzania. Erosional processes have exposed geological strata in the gorge dating to the lower Pleistocene epoch, about 1.8 million to 600,000 years ago.
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 (now in Tanzania). In Africa she made some of anthropology's most significant finds. In 1948 she discovered a 20-million-year-old skull of Proconsul africanus (see ProconsulProconsul,
extinct group of apes. Proconsul fossils have been discovered in E Africa. It had a mixture of ape and Old World monkey characteristics, and lived from 23 to 25 million years ago.
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); in 1959 she discovered a hominin fossil (Paranthropus, originally classified as Zinjanthropus) believed to be 1,750,000 years old. Her work Excavations in Beds I and II, 1960–63 (1971, Vol. III of Olduvai Gorge, 1951–1961, 6 vol., 1965–94) contains a detailed analysis of the thousands of 2-million-year-old stone tools from that site. In 1978 she supervised excavations at Laetoli, Tanzania, where a set of footprints preserved in hardened volcanic ash were uncovered. These indicate a 3.6-million-year-old hominin—presumablyAustralopithecus)Australopithecus
, an extinct hominin genus found in Africa between about 4 and 1 million years ago. At least seven species of australopithecines are now generally recognized, including Australopithecus afarensis, A. africanus, A. bahrelghazali, A.
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—walked upright. Mary Leakey employed her artistic talents in her book Africa's Vanishing Art: The Rock Paintings of Tanzania (1983).

Bibliography

See her autobiography, Disclosing the Past (1984), and her account of her investigations, Olduvai Gorge: My Search for Early Man (1979); see also V. Morell, Ancestral Passions: The Leakey Family and the Quest for Humankind's Beginnings (1995).

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