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Louis Leakey

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Louis Leakey
Louis Leakey with his wife Mary in 1962
Louis Seymour Bazet Leakey

(1903-08-07)7 August 1903
Died1 October 1972(1972-10-01) (aged 69)
London, England
NationalityKenyan, British
Known forPioneering the study of human evolution in Africa
  • (m. 1928; div. 1936)
  • (m. 1936)
AwardsHubbard Medal (1962)
Royal Geographical Society's Founder's Medal (1968)
Prestwich Medal (1969)
Scientific career
FieldsArchaeology, paleoanthropology, paleontology

Louis Seymour Bazett Leakey (7 August 1903 – 1 October 1972) was a Kenyan-British palaeoanthropologist and archaeologist whose work was important in demonstrating that humans evolved in Africa, particularly through discoveries made at Olduvai Gorge with his wife, fellow palaeoanthropologist Mary Leakey. Having established a programme of palaeoanthropological inquiry in eastern Africa, he also motivated many future generations to continue this scholarly work. Several members of the Leakey family became prominent scholars themselves.[1]

Another of Leakey's legacies stems from his role in fostering field research of primates in their natural habitats, which he saw as key to understanding human evolution. He personally focused on three female researchers, Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey, and Birutė Galdikas, calling them "The Trimates."[2][3] Each went on to become an important scholar in the field of primatology. Leakey also encouraged and supported many other PhD candidates, most notably from the University of Cambridge. As well, Leakey played a role in creating organizations for future research in Africa and for protecting wildlife there.



When I think back... of the serval cat and a baboon that I had as pets in my childhood days—and that eventually I had to house in large cages—it makes me sad. It makes me sadder still, however, and also very angry, when I think of the innumerable adult animals and birds deliberately caught and locked up for the so-called 'pleasure' and 'education' of thoughtless human beings.

— Louis Leakey, By the Evidence, Chapter 4

Louis's parents, Harry (1868–1940) and Mary (May) Bazett Leakey (died 1948), were Church of England missionaries in British East Africa (now Kenya). Harry was the son of James Shirley Leakey (1824–1871), one of the eleven children of the portrait painter James Leakey. Harry Leakey was assigned to an established post of the Church Mission Society among the Kikuyu at Kabete, in the highlands north of Nairobi. The station was at that time a hut and two tents. Louis's earliest home had an earthen floor, a leaky thatched roof, rodents and insects, and no heating system except for charcoal braziers. The facilities slowly improved over time. The mission, a center of activity, set up a clinic in one of the tents, and later a girls' school. Harry was working on a translation of the Bible into the Gikuyu language. He had a distinguished career in the CMS, becoming canon of the station.[4]

Louis had a younger brother, Douglas, and two older sisters, Gladys and Julia. Both sisters married missionaries: Gladys married Leonard Beecher, Anglican Bishop of Mombasa and then Archbishop of East Africa from 1960 to 1970; Julia married Lawrence Barham, the second Bishop of Rwanda and Burundi from 1964 to 1966; their son Ken Barham was later the Bishop of Cyangugu in Rwanda.

The Leakey household came to contain Miss Oakes (a governess), Miss Higgenbotham (another missionary), and Mariamu (a Kikuyu nurse). Louis grew up, played, and learned to hunt with the native Kikuyus. He also learned to walk with the distinctive gait of the Kikuyu and speak their language fluently, as did his siblings. He was initiated into the Kikuyu ethnic group, an event of which he never spoke, as he was sworn to secrecy.[5]

Louis requested and was given permission to build and move into a hut, Kikuyu style, at the end of the garden. It was home to his personal collection of natural objects, such as birds' eggs and skulls. All the children developed a keen interest in and appreciation of the pristine natural surroundings in which they found themselves. They raised baby animals, later turning them over to zoos. Louis read a gift book, Days Before History, by H. R. Hall (1907), a juvenile fictional work illustrating the prehistory of Britain. He began to collect tools and was further encouraged in this activity by a role model, Arthur Loveridge, the first curator (1914) of the Natural History Museum in Nairobi, the predecessor of the Coryndon Museum. This interest may have predisposed him toward a career in archaeology. His father was also a role model: Canon Leakey co-founded East Africa and Uganda Natural History Society.[6]

Neither Harry nor May were of strong constitution. From 1904 to 1906 the entire family lived at May's mother's house in Reading, Berkshire, in England, while Harry recovered from neurasthenia, and again in 1911–1913, while May recovered from general frailty and exhaustion. During the latter stay, Harry bought a house in Boscombe, Hampshire.[7]

Formative years


Attendance at Cambridge


In Britain, the Leakey children attended primary school; in Africa, they had a tutor. The family spent World War I in Africa. When the sea lanes opened again in 1919, they returned to Boscombe, and Louis was sent to Weymouth College, a private boys' school, when he was 16 years old. In about three years, he did not do well and complained of hazing and rules that he considered an infringement on his freedom. Advised by one teacher to seek employment in a bank, he secured help from an English teacher in applying to St John's College, Cambridge. He received a scholarship for his high scores on the entrance exams.

Louis matriculated at the University of Cambridge, his father's alma mater, in 1922, intending to become a missionary to British East Africa.

He frequently told a story about his final exams. When he had arrived in Britain, he had notified the registrar that he was fluent in Swahili. When he came to his finals, he asked to be examined in this language, and the authorities agreed. Then one day, he received two letters. One instructed him to report at a certain time and place for a viva voce examination in Swahili. The other asked if, at the same time and place, he would examine a candidate in Swahili.[citation needed]

Archaeological and paleontological research


In 1922, the British had been awarded German East Africa as part of the settlement of World War I. Within the Tanganyika Territory the Germans had discovered a site rich in dinosaur fossils, Tendaguru. Louis was told by C. W. Hobley, a friend of the family, that the British Museum of Natural History was going to send a fossil-hunting expedition led by William E. Cutler to the site. Louis applied and was hired to locate the site and manage the administrative details.[8] In 1924 they departed for Africa. They never found a complete dinosaur skeleton, and Louis was recalled from the site by Cambridge in 1925.

Louis switched his focus to anthropology, and found a new mentor in Alfred Cort Haddon, head of the Cambridge department. In 1926, Louis graduated with a "double first", or high honours, in anthropology and archaeology. He had used some of his preexisting qualifications; for example, Kikuyu was offered and accepted as the second modern language in which he was required to be proficient, even though no one there could test him on it. The university accepted an affidavit from a Kikuyu chief signed with a thumbprint.

From 1925 on Louis lectured and wrote on African archaeological and palaeontological topics. On graduation he was such a respected figure that Cambridge sent him to East Africa to study prehistoric African humans. He excavated dozens of sites, undertaking for the first time a systematic study of the artifacts. Some of his names for archaeological cultures are still in use; for example, the Elmenteitan.[9]

Research Fellow

St. John's College, Cambridge.

In 1927, Louis received a visit at a site called Gamble's Cave, near Lake Elmenteita, by two women on a holiday, one of whom was Frida Avern (1902–1993). Avern had done some coursework in archaeology. Louis and Frida began a relationship, which continued upon his return to Cambridge. In 1928, they married and continued work near Lake Elmenteita. Finds from Gamble's Cave were donated by Leakey to the British Museum in 1931.[10] At that time he discovered the Acheulean site of Kariandusi, which he excavated in 1928.

On the strength of his work there, he obtained a post-graduate research fellowship at St. John's College and returned to Cambridge in 1929 to classify and prepare the finds from Elmenteita. His patron and mentor at Cambridge were now Arthur Keith. While cleaning two skeletons he had found, he noticed a similarity to one found in Olduvai Gorge by Professor Hans Reck, a German national, whom Louis had met in 1925 in Germany while on business for Keith.

Olduvai Gorge 2011.

The geology of Olduvai was known. In 1913, Reck had extricated a skeleton from Bed II in the gorge wall. He argued that it must have the date of the bed, which was believed to be 600,000 years, in the mid-Pleistocene. Early dates for human evolution were not widely accepted by the general public at the time. Reck became involved in a media uproar. He was barred from going back to settle the question by the war and then the terms of the transfer of Tanganyika from Germany to Britain.[11] In 1929, Louis visited Berlin to talk to the now skeptical Reck. Noting an Acheulean tool in Reck's collection of artifacts from Olduvai, he bet Reck he could find ancient stone tools at Olduvai within 24 hours.[12]

Louis received his PhD in 1930 at the age of 27. His first child, a daughter named Priscilla Muthoni Leakey, was born in 1931. His headaches and epilepsy returned, and he was prescribed Luminal, which he took for the rest of his life.

Reversals of fortune


Defense of Reck


In November 1931, Louis led an expedition to Olduvai whose members included Reck,[13] whom Louis allowed to enter the gorge first. Leakey had bet Reck that Leakey would find Acheulean tools within the first 24 hours, which he did.[14] These verified the provenance of the 1913 find, now called Olduvai Man. Non-humanoid fossils and tools were extracted from the ground in large numbers. Frida delayed joining her husband and was less enthusiastic about him on behalf of Priscilla. She did arrive eventually, however, and Louis put her to work. Frida's site became FLK, for Frida Leakey's Karongo ("gully").[15]

Back in Cambridge, the sceptics were not impressed. To find supporting evidence of the antiquity of Reck's Olduvai Man, Louis returned to Africa, excavating at Kanam and Kanjera. He easily found more fossils, which he named Homo kanamensis. While he was gone, the opposition worked up some "evidence" of the intrusion of Olduvai Man into an earlier layer, evidence that seemed convincing at the time, but is missing and unverifiable now. On his return, Louis' finds were carefully examined by a committee of 26 scientists and were tentatively accepted as valid.[citation needed][16]



Following their marriage in 1928, Louis and Frida lived in Foxton near Cambridge. In November 1932, Frida used an inheritance to purchase a large brick house in Girton, which the family named "The Close".

The following year, Frida was pregnant, suffered from morning sickness most of the time, and was unable to work on the illustrations for Louis's second book, Adam's Ancestors. At a dinner party given in his honor, after a lecture of his at the Royal Anthropological Institute, Gertrude Caton-Thompson introduced her own illustrator, the twenty-year-old Mary Nicol. Louis convinced Mary to take on the illustration of his book, and a few months later companionship turned into an affair.[17] Frida gave birth to Colin in December 1933, and the next month Louis left her and his newborn son.[15] She would not sue for divorce until 1936.[17]

A panel at Cambridge investigated his morals. Grants dried up, but his mother raised enough money for another expedition to Olduvai, Kanam, and Kanjera, the latter two on the Winam Gulf.[18] His previous work there was questioned by P. G. H. Boswell,[19] whom he invited to verify the sites for himself. Arriving at Kanam and Kanjera in 1935, they found that the iron markers Louis had used to mark the sites had been removed by the Luo tribe for use as harpoons and the sites could not now be located. To make matters worse, all the photos Louis took were ruined by a light leak in the camera. After an irritating and fruitless two-month search, Boswell left for England, promising, as Louis understood it, not to publish a word until Louis returned.

Boswell immediately set out to publish as many words as he was able, beginning with a letter in Nature dated 9 March 1935, destroying Reck's and Louis's dates of the fossils and questioning Louis's competence. Despite the searches for the iron markers, Boswell averred that "the earlier expedition (of 1931–32) neither marked the localities on the ground nor recorded the sites on a map."[20] In a field report of March 1935, Louis accused Boswell of reneging on his word, but Boswell asserted he had made no such promise, and now having public opinion on his side, warned Louis to withdraw the claim. Louis was not only forced to retract the accusation in his final field report in June 1935 but also to recant his support of Reck. Louis was through at Cambridge. Even his mentors turned on him.[21]

On the road in Africa


Meeting Mary in Africa, he proceeded to Olduvai with a small party. Louis' parents continued to urge him to return to Frida, and would pay for everyone in the party but Mary. Mary joined him under a stigma but her skill and competence eventually won over the other participants. Louis and his associates did the groundwork for future excavation at Olduvai, uncovering dozens of sites for a broad sampling, as was his method. They were named after the excavator: SHK (Sam Howard's karongo), BK (Peter Bell's), SWK (Sam White's), MNK (Mary Nicol's). Louis and Mary conducted a temporary clinic for the Maasai, made preliminary investigations of Laetoli, and ended by studying the rock paintings at the Kisese/Cheke region.[22]

Return to England

Steen Cottage, Nasty, Great Munden in 2011

Louis and Mary returned to England in 1935 without positions or any place to stay except Mary's mother's apartment. They soon leased Steen Cottage in Great Munden. This settlement was in Hertfordshire and had an unusual name which Louis, with his sense of humor noted in his Memoirs, Chapter 5, as "the village of Nasty." They lived without heat, electricity, or plumbing, fetching water from a well and writing by oil lantern. They lived in poverty for 18 months at this low point of their fortunes, visited at first only by Mary's relatives. Louis gardened for subsistence and exercise and improved the house and grounds. He appealed at last to the Royal Society, who relented with a small grant to continue work on his collection.

In British East Africa


Return to British East Africa


Louis had already involved himself in Kikuyu tribal affairs in 1928, taking a stand against female genital cutting. He got into a shouting match in Kikuyu one evening with Jomo Kenyatta, later the president of Kenya, who was lecturing on the topic. R. Copeland at Oxford recommended he apply to the Rhodes Trust for a grant to write a study of the Kikuyu and it was given late in 1936 along with a salary for two years. In January 1937 the Leakeys travelled to Kenya. Colin would not see his father for 20 years.

Louis returned to Kiambaa near Nairobi and persuaded Senior Chief Koinange, who designated a committee of chiefs, to help him describe the Kikuyu the way they had been. Mary excavated at Waterfall Cave.[23] She fell ill with double pneumonia and was near death for two weeks in the hospital in Nairobi, during which time her mother was sent for. Contrary to expectation, she recovered and began another excavation at Hyrax Hill and then Njoro River Cave. Louis got an extension of his grant, which he used partially for fossil-hunting. Leakey discoveries began to appear in the newspapers again.

Tensions between the Kikuyu and the settlers increased alarmingly. Louis jumped into the fray as an exponent of the middle ground. In Kenya: Contrasts and Problems, he angered the settlers by proclaiming Kenya could never be a "white man's country."

Fossil police


The government offered Louis work as a policeman in intelligence, which he accepted. He traveled the country as a pedlar, reporting on the talk. In September 1939, when Britain went to war, the Kenyan government drafted Louis into its African intelligence service.[24] Apart from some bumbling around, during which he and some settlers stalked each other as possible saboteurs of the Sagana Railway Bridge,[25] his first task was to supply and arm Ethiopian guerrillas against the Italian invaders of their country. He created a clandestine network using his childhood friends among the Kikuyu. They also hunted fossils on the sly.

Louis conducted interrogations, analyzed handwriting, wrote radio broadcasts and took on regular police investigations. He loved a good mystery of any sort. The white leadership of the King's African Rifles used him extensively to clear up many cultural mysteries; for example, he helped an officer remove a curse he had inadvertently put on his men.[26]

Mary continued to find and excavate sites. In 1940, their son Jonathan Leakey was born. She worked in the Coryndon Memorial Museum (later called the National Museums of Kenya) where Louis joined her as an unpaid honorary curator in 1941. Their life was a melange of police work and archaeology. They investigated Rusinga Island and Olorgesailie. At the latter site they were assisted by a team of Italian experts recruited from the prisoners of war and paroled for the purpose.[27]

In 1942, the Italian menace ended, but the Japanese began to reconnoiter with a view toward landing in force. Louis found himself in counter-intelligence work, which he performed with zest and imagination. In the same year, their daughter Deborah was born, but died at the age of three months. They lived in a rundown and bug-infested Nairobi home, provided by the museum. Jonathan was attacked by army ants in his crib.[28]

Turn of the tide


In 1944 Richard Leakey was born. In 1945 the family's income from police work all but vanished. By now Louis was getting plenty of job offers but he chose to stay on in Kenya as Curator of the Coryndon Museum, with an annual salary and a house, but more importantly, to continue palaeoanthropological research.

In January 1947 Louis conducted the first Pan-African Congress of Prehistory at Nairobi. Sixty scientists from 26 countries attended, delivering papers and visiting the Leakey sites. The conference restored Louis to the scientific fold and made him a major figure in it. With the money that now poured in Louis undertook the famous expeditions of 1948 and beyond at Rusinga Island in Lake Victoria, where Mary discovered the most complete Proconsul fossil up to that time.

Charles Watson Boise donated money for a boat to be used for transport on Lake Victoria, The Miocene Lady. Its skipper, Hassan Salimu, was later to deliver Jane Goodall to Gombe. Philip Leakey was born in 1949. In 1950, Louis was awarded an honorary doctorate by Oxford University.

Kenyan affairs


... I sought a personal interview with the governor, hoping to make him appreciate that it was no longer possible to continue along the lines of the old colonial regime. ... Colonial governors and senior civil servants are not easy people to argue with; and, of course, I was not popular, because of my criticism of the colonial service ... Had it been possible to make the government open its eyes to the realities of the situation, I believe that the whole miserable episode of what is frequently spoken of as 'the Mau Mau rebellion' need never have taken place.

— By the Evidence, Chapter 18

While the Leakeys were at Lake Victoria, the Kikuyu struck at the European settlers of the Kenyan highlands, who seemed to have the upper hand and were insisting on a "white" government of a "white" Africa. In 1949 the Kikuyu formed a secret society, the Mau Mau, which attacked settlers and especially loyalist Kikuyu.

Louis had attempted to warn Sir Philip Mitchell, governor of the colony, that nocturnal meetings and forced oaths were not Kikuyu customs and foreboded violence, but was ignored. Now he found himself pulled away from anthropology to investigate the Mau Mau. During this period his life was threatened and a reward placed on his head. The Leakeys began to pack pistols, termed "European National Dress." The government placed him under 24-hour guard.

In 1952, after a Mau Mau massacre of pro-British chiefs, the government arrested Jomo Kenyatta, president of the Kenya African Union. Louis was summoned to be a court interpreter, but withdrew after an accusation of mistranslation because of prejudice against the defendant. He returned on request to translate documents only. Because of lack of evidence linking Kenyatta to the Mau Mau, although convicted, he did not receive the death penalty, but was sentenced to several years of hard labour.

The government brought in British troops and formed a home guard of 20,000 Kikuyu. During this time, Louis played a difficult and contradictory role. He sided with the settlers, serving as their spokesman and intelligence officer, helping to ferret out bands of guerrillas. On the other hand, he continued to advocate for the Kikuyu in his 1954 book Defeating Mau Mau and numerous talks and articles. He recommended a multi-racial government, land reform in the highlands, a wage hike for the Kikuyu, and many other reforms, most of which were eventually adopted.

The government then realized the rebellion was being directed from urban centers, instituted martial law and detained the committees. Following Louis' suggestion, thousands of Kikuyu were placed in re-education camps and resettled in new villages. The rebellion continued from bases under Mount Kenya until 1956, when, deprived of its leadership and supplies, it had to disperse. The state of emergency lasted until 1960. In 1963 Kenya became independent, with Jomo Kenyatta as prime minister.[29]

Work in palaeoanthropology


Olduvai Gorge


We know from the study of evolution that, again and again, various branches of animal stock have become over-specialized, and that over-specialization has led to their extinction. Present-day Homo sapiens is in many physical respects still very unspecialized ... But in one thing man, as we know him today, is over-specialized. His brain power is very over-specialized compared to the rest of his physical make-up, and it may well be that this over-specialization will lead, just as surely, to his extinction. ... if we are to control our future, we must first understand the past better.

— Adam's Ancestors, 4th ed., final page

Beginning in 1951, Louis and Mary began intensive research at Olduvai Gorge. A trial trench in Bed II at BK in 1951 was followed by a more extensive excavation in 1952. They found what Louis termed an Oldowan "slaughter-house", an ancient bog where animals had been trapped and butchered. Excavations stopped in 1953 but were briefly resumed in 1955 with Jean Brown.[30]

In 1959, excavations at Bed I were opened. While Louis was sick in camp, Mary discovered the fossilized skull OH 5 at FLK, Paranthropus boisei, famously identified as "Zinjanthropus" or "Zinj." The question was whether the fossil belonged to a previous genus discovered by Robert Broom, Paranthropus, or a member of a different genus ancestral to humans. Louis opted for Zinjanthropus, a decision opposed by Wilfrid Le Gros Clark, but one which attracted the attention of Melville Bell Grosvenor, president of the National Geographic Society. That contact resulted in an article in National Geographic[31] and a large grant to continue work at Olduvai.

In 1960, geophysicists Jack Evernden and Garniss Curtis dated Bed I from 1.89 to 1.75 million years ago, confirming the great antiquity of fossil hominids in Africa.[32]

In 1960, Louis appointed Mary director of excavation at Olduvai. She brought in a staff of Kamba assistants, including Kamoya Kimeu, who later discovered many of eastern Africa's most famous fossils. At Olduvai, Mary set up Camp 5 and began work with her own staff and associates.

At "Jonny's site", FLK-NN, Jonathan Leakey discovered two skull fragments without the Australopithecine sagittal crest, which Mary connected with Broom's and Robinson's Telanthropus. The problem with it was its contemporaneity with Zinjanthropus. When mailed photographs, Le Gros Clark retorted casually "Shades of Piltdown." Louis cabled him immediately and had some strong words at this suggestion of his incompetence. Clark apologized.[33]

Not long afterwards, in 1960, Louis, his son Philip and Ray Pickering discovered a fossil he termed "Chellean Man", (Olduvai Hominid 9), in context with Oldowan tools. After reconstruction Louis and Mary called it "Pinhead." It was subsequently identified as Homo erectus, contemporaneous with Paranthropus at 1.4 million years old.[34]

In 1961 Louis got a salary as well as a grant from the National Geographic Society and turned over the acting directorship of Coryndon to a subordinate. He created the Centre for Prehistory and Paleontology on the same grounds, moved his collections to it, and appointed himself director. This was his new operations center. He opened another excavation at Fort Ternan on Lake Victoria. Shortly after, Heselon discovered Kenyapithecus wickeri, named after the owner of the property. Louis promptly celebrated with George Gaylord Simpson, who happened to be present, aboard the Miocene Lady with "Leakey Safari Specials", a drink made of condensed milk and cognac.

In 1962 Louis was visiting Olduvai when Ndibo Mbuika discovered the first tooth of Homo habilis at MNK. Louis and Mary thought it was female and named her Cinderella, or Cindy. Phillip Tobias identified Jonny's Child with it and Raymond Dart came up with the name Homo habilis at Louis' request, which Tobias translated as "handyman."[35] It was seen as intermediary between gracile Australopithecus and Homo.[36]

Calico Hills


In 1959 Leakey, while at the British Museum of Natural History in London, received a visit from Ruth DeEtte Simpson, an archaeologist from California. Simpson had acquired what looked like ancient scrapers from a site in the Calico Hills and showed it to Leakey.

In 1963, Leakey obtained funds from the National Geographic Society and commenced archaeological excavations with Simpson. Excavations at the site carried out by Leakey and Simpson revealed that they had located stone artifacts which were dated 100,000 years or older, suggesting a human presence in North America much earlier than others had estimated.[37]

The geologist Vance Haynes had made three visits to the site in 1973 and had claimed that the artifacts found by Leakey were naturally formed geofacts. According to Haynes, the geofacts were formed by stones becoming fractured in an ancient river on the site.[38]

In her autobiography, Mary Leakey wrote that because of Louis's involvement with the Calico Hills site she had lost academic respect for him and that the Calico excavation project was "catastrophic to his professional career and was largely responsible for the parting of our ways".[39]

The Trimates


One of Louis's legacies stems from his role in fostering field research of primates in their natural habitats, which he understood as key to unraveling the mysteries of human evolution. He personally chose three female researchers, Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey, and Birutė Galdikas, calling them The Trimates.[2][40] Each went on to become an important scholar in the field of primatology, immersing themselves in the study of chimpanzees, gorillas and orangutans, respectively. Leakey also encouraged and supported many other PhD candidates, most notably from Cambridge University. Louis believed that women were better at studying primates than men, as shown in the book Primates.

Last years


During his final years Louis became famous as a lecturer in the United Kingdom and United States. He did not excavate any longer, as he was impaired by arthritis, for which he had a hip replacement in 1968. He raised funds and directed his family and associates. In Kenya he was a facilitator for hundreds of scientists exploring the East African Rift system for fossils.

In 1968, Louis refused an honorary doctorate from the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, primarily because of apartheid in South Africa. Mary accepted one, and they thereafter led separate professional lives.[41]

In the last few years Louis' health began to fail more seriously. He had his first heart attacks and spent six months in the hospital. An empathy over health brought him and Dian Fossey together for a brief romance, which she broke off. Richard began to assume more and more of his father's responsibilities, which Louis resisted, but in the end was forced to accept.[42]

Death and legacy


On 1 October 1972, Louis had a heart attack in Vanne Goodall's apartment in London (Jane Goodall's mother). Vanne sat up all night with him in St. Stephen's Hospital and left at 9:00 a.m. He died 30 minutes later at the age of 69.

Mary wanted to cremate Louis and fly the ashes back to Nairobi. Richard intervened. Louis' body was flown home and interred at Limuru, near the graves of his parents.

In denial, the family did not face the question of a memorial marker for a year. When Richard went to place a stone on the grave he found one already there, courtesy of Louis' former secretary Rosalie Osborn. The inscription was signed with the letters, ILYUA, "I'll love you always", which Rosalie used to place on her letters to him. Richard left it in place.[43]

Prominent organizations

  • In 1947, Leakey was central to the organisation of the first PanAfrican Archaeological Association congress, held in Nairobi. From 1955 to 1959 he was its president.[44]
  • In 1958, Leakey founded the Tigoni Primate Research Center with Cynthia Booth, on her farm north of Nairobi. Later it was the National Primate Research Center, currently the Institute of Primate Research, now in Nairobi.[45] As the Tigoni center, it funded Leakey's Angels.[46]
  • In 1961, Leakey created the Centre for Prehistory and Paleontology on the same grounds as Coryndon Museum, appointing himself director.[47]
  • In 1968, Leakey assisted with the founding of The Leakey Foundation[48] to ensure the legacy of his life's work in the study of human origins.

Prominent family members


Louis Leakey was married to Mary Leakey, who made the noteworthy discovery of fossil footprints at Laetoli. Found preserved in volcanic ash in Tanzania, they are the earliest record of bipedal gait.

He is also the father of paleoanthropologist Richard Leakey and the botanist Colin Leakey. Louis's cousin, Nigel Gray Leakey, was a recipient of the Victoria Cross during World War II.



Leakey's books are listed below.[49] The gaps between books are filled by too many articles to list. It was Louis who began the Leakey tradition of publishing in Nature.

First publication date Title Notes
1931 The Stone Age Culture of Kenya Colony Written in 1929. Illustrated by Frida Leakey.
1934 Adam's Ancestors: The Evolution of Man and His Culture Multiple editions with rewrites, the 4th in 1955. Illustrated by Mary Leakey. Book reviews:[50]
1935 The Stone Age races of Kenya Proposes Homo kanamensis.
1936 Kenya: Contrasts and Problems Written in 1935.
1936 Stone Age Africa: an Outline of Prehistory in Africa Ten chapters consisting of the ten Munro Lectures delivered in 1936 by Louis to Edinburgh University and intended by him as a textbook. Illustrated by Mary Leakey.
1937 White African: an Early Autobiography Louis described it as a "pot-boiler" written in 1936 for Hodder & Stoughton.
1951 The Miocene Hominoidea of East Africa With Wilfrid Le Gros Clark. Volume I of the series Fossil Mammals of Africa published by the Natural History Museum in London.
1951 Olduvai Gorge: A Report on the Evolution of the Hand-Axe Culture in Beds I–IV Started in 1935. Names the Olduwan Culture.
1952 Mau Mau and the Kikuyu Online at[51]
1953 Animals in Africa Photographs by Ylla.
1954 Defeating Mau Mau With Peter Schmidt. Online at[52]
1965 Olduvai Gorge: A Preliminary Report on the Geology and Fauna, 1951–61 Volume 1.[53]
1969 Unveiling Man's Origins With Vanne Morris Goodall.
1969 Animals of East Africa: The Wild realm
1970 Olduvai Gorge, 1965–1967
1974 By the Evidence: Memoirs, 1932–1951 Written in 1972 and published posthumously. Louis finished writing on the day before his death.
1977 The Southern Kikuyu before 1903 Published posthumously. The manuscript remained in Louis' safe for decades for lack of a publisher. It was 3 volumes. He refused to follow editorial advice and shorten it.

See also



  1. ^ "The Leakey Family". The Leakey Foundation. Retrieved 24 January 2022.
  2. ^ a b Galdikas, Birute Mary (6 January 2007). "The Vanishing Man of the Forest". The New York Times. Retrieved 8 December 2013.
  3. ^ Morell, Virginia, "Called "'Trimates,' Three Bold Women Shaped Their Field". Science, Vol. 260, 16 April 1993, pp. 420–425.
  4. ^ Louis reports in his Memoirs, Chapter 6
  5. ^ According to Blake Edgar in Louis Leakey's Legacy: Celebrating the Centennial of His Extraordinary Life and Finds Archived 7 February 2007 at the Wayback Machine in AnthroQuest Online for Fall, 2003, Louis received the Kikuyu name Wakuruigi, "Son of the Sparrow Hawk." Harry also had a name, apparently not an initiation name, but rather descriptive: Giteru, "Big beard".
  6. ^ Canon Leakey also was a naturalist and must have been a significant model, as Louis wished originally to pattern his life after his father's, according to Louis' Memoirs, Chapter 8.
  7. ^ The facts for this section were gathered mainly from Ancestral Passions, Chapter 1, "Kabete", and from the "Publisher's Prologue" of the Harcourt Brace Jovanovich edition of By the Evidence.
  8. ^ New Perspectives on Horned Dinosaurs: The Royal Tyrrell Museum Ceratopsian Symposium editors Michael J. Ryan, Brenda J. Chinnery-Allgeier, David A. Eberth. Indiana University Press 2010. Chapter 35 "Lost in plain sight: Rediscovery of William E. Cutler's lost Eoceratops" by Darren Tanke of the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology
  9. ^ Robertshaw, Peter (1988). "The elmenteitan: An early food-producing culture in East Africa". World Archaeology. 20 (1): 57–69. doi:10.1080/00438243.1988.9980056.
  10. ^ "Collection search: You searched for". Retrieved 14 March 2017.
  11. ^ For an account of the incident refer to Hans Reck and the Discovery of O.H.1 Archived 3 February 2007 at the Wayback Machine at the "Always Something New" site.
  12. ^ The source for this subsection is Morell, Chapter 3, "Laying Claim to the Earliest Man".
  13. ^ Arthur Tindell Hopwood, Donald MacInnes, Vivian Fuchs, Captain Hewlitt, Frances Kenrick, Frida, Reck, and a number of African assistants.
  14. ^ Morton, Glenn R. (1997). Adam, Apes and Anthropology. Spring, Texas: Lulu.com (self-published). p. 11. ISBN 0-9648227-2-5.[self-published source]
  15. ^ a b "Leakey, Henrietta Wilfrida (1902–1993)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. 2004. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/52219. Retrieved 23 September 2020. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  16. ^ Read about these events in Recent Research into Oldowan Hominin Activities at Kanjera South, Western Kenya, by L. C. Bishop et al., published in the African Archaeological Review.
  17. ^ a b This account is based on Morell, Chapter 4, "Louis and Mary".
  18. ^ The guest list is Peter Bell (zoologist), Sam White (surveyor), Peter Kent (geologist), Heselon Mukiri, Thairu Irumbi, Ndekei.
  19. ^ Head of the Department of Geology at the Imperial College of Science, London.
  20. ^ Boswell, P. G. H. (9 March 1935). "Human Remains from Kanam and Kanjera, Kenya Colony". Nature. 135 (3410): 371. Bibcode:1935Natur.135..371B. doi:10.1038/135371a0. S2CID 4079483.
  21. ^ This account is based on Morell, Chapter 5, "Disaster at Kanam", supplemented with detail from Louis' account in By the Evidence, Chapter 2. Olduvai Man languished through World War II in a Berlin museum and then partially disappeared, but preservative applied to the bones took away any hope of an accurate C-14 date; however, neither can any evidence of intrusion be located. Kanjera Man is ancient, possibly Homo habilis; Homo kanamensis is an intrusion.
  22. ^ The initial chapters of By the Evidence and Morell, Chapter 6, "Olduvai's Bounty", describe the explorations on which these few sentences are based.
  23. ^ According to Louis's Memoirs, Chapter 6, it was the chief who suggested she excavate. He knew artifacts were being washed from the cave. Louis and Mary had moved into a hut in his compound at his invitation.
  24. ^ Louis describes this authority in Chapter 8 of his Memoirs as "...the CID... Special Branch, Section 6, concerned with civil intelligence." The drafting authority was the "Kenya government" and there is no indication in the Memoirs that the service was more directly British; in fact, he refers to "my counterpart in military intelligence." However, Louis would not be revealing everything he knew. Morell portrays him as having been in police work before being drafted. She had personal access to the surviving Leakeys.
  25. ^ Memoirs, Chapter 8.
  26. ^ Memoirs, Chapter 9.
  27. ^ Memoirs, Chapter 12.
  28. ^ This section is based on Morell, Chapter 8, "Cloak-and-Dagger".
  29. ^ This subsection is based on Morell's chapter 11, "Louis and Kenyatta".
  30. ^ Morell, Chapter 12, "Our Man".
  31. ^ September 1960, Finding the World's Earliest Man.
  32. ^ Taylor, R. E.; Aitken, M. J., eds. (1997). Chronometric Dating in Archaeology, Vol. 2. Springer-Verlag New York. p. 110. ISBN 978-0-306-45715-9.
  33. ^ Morell, Chapter 14, "Mary's Dig".
  34. ^ "OH 9". Smithsonian Institution, Human Origins Initiative. 7 February 2010. Retrieved 17 May 2016.
  35. ^ Morell Chapter 16, "The Human with Ability." Richard Leakey tells a different story about the name. See the Notes section of Homo habilis.
  36. ^ These few paragraphs rely on Morell, Chapter 16, "The Human with Ability".
  37. ^ Cameron B. Wesson, Historical Dictionary of Early North America, 2005, p. 35.
  38. ^ Steven Mithen, After the Ice: a global human history, 20,000–5000 BC, 2006, p. 540.
  39. ^ Mary Leakey, Disclosing the past, 1984, pp. 142–144.
  40. ^ Morell, Virginia, "Called 'Trimates,' Three Bold Women Shaped Their Field", Science, Vol. 260, 16 April 1993, pp. 420–425.
  41. ^ Morell Chapter 23, "Mining Hominids at Olduvai".
  42. ^ Morell, Chapters 27-30.
  43. ^ Morell, Chapter 30, "An End and a Beginning".
  44. ^ "Congresses and Presidents – PanAfrican Archaeological Association". www.panafprehistory.org. Retrieved 22 October 2021.
  45. ^ Else, James G. (1 January 1983). "A national primate centre for Kenya". Kenya Past and Present. 15 (1): 35–39. Retrieved 6 January 2024.
  46. ^ Dale, Peterson; Goodall, Jane (2008). The Woman Who Redefined Man. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. ISBN 978-0-395-85405-1.
  47. ^ "The Leakey family - PBS". PBS.
  48. ^ "The Leakey Foundation". The Leakey Foundation. Retrieved 6 September 2022.
  49. ^ Most of them have many publishers in many editions.
  50. ^ "Prehistory and Physical Anthropology", American Anthropologist.
  51. ^ "Mau Mau and the Kikuyu – 1952, Page iii by L. S. B. Leakey". Archived from the original on 22 August 2009.
  52. ^ "Defeating Mau Mau – 1954, Page iii by L. S. B. Leakey". Archived from the original on 18 August 2009.
  53. ^ The second volume, Olduvai Gorge: the Cranium and Maxillary Dentition of Australopithecus (Zinjanthropus) boisei, was written by Phillip Tobias. The third volume was written by Mary Leakey.