National Geographic : 1973 Jan
Partners in probing the distant past, Louis and Mary Leakey examine a hatful of fossils. Mary's first hominid find in 1959 pushed back the known age of the manlike creatures to 1,750,000 years. BOBCAMPBELL Carrying on the quest, son Richard Leakey dis plays a skull found in 1972 near Kenya's Lake Rudolf. He believes it to be that of a 2.6 -million year-old member of the genus Homo. continues today. Louis once told me that the Society's early grants enabled them to ac complish more at Olduvai in two years than they had in the preceding thirty. In 1960 Louis and Mary unearthed 1.8 million-year-old skull fragments of Homo ha bilis. Louis identified this "man with ability" as a tool maker. Inevitably Louis's discoveries-or, more precisely, the conclusions he drew from them -came under fire from some academic quar ters. He relished challenge, and I recall how he met it-with a typical crinkly smile about his eyes. Just as inevitably, the controversies proved enlightening. A charismatic teacher, Louis inspired Jane van Lawick-Goodall to undertake a study of wild chimpanzees. Her startling findings, reported in your Society's journal, disclosed that these supposed vegetarians not only hunt and eat small game, but also fashion simple tools. A continuing study by Dian Fossey of another of man's close relatives, the shy, en dangered mountain gorilla, also began under Louis's tutelage. 2.6-million-year-old Man? Dr. Mary Leakey is carrying on the work at Olduvai. And for the past five years their son Richard has been working on the isolated eastern shore of Kenya's Lake Rudolf. His early explorations revealed stone tools ante dating the oldest found at Olduvai by 850,000 years. So rich is the Lake Rudolf site that it has already produced the remains of more than 80 hominids. This past August, Bernard Ngeneo, a Ken yan member of Richard's expedition, found an extraordinary skull, splintered into hun dreds of fragments. In remarks prepared for delivery at a scientific meeting in London on November 9, 1972, Richard described the fossil as "almost certainly the oldest complete skull of early man." His estimate of its age: a breathtaking 2.6 million years. It is reassuring to know that the vital work in East Africa will continue under Mary and Richard with the characteristic Leakey vigor and brilliance. Yet all who have known Louis Leakey will deeply miss this truly protean man. O Your Society was Dr. Leakey's major financial supporter for 13 years and is now a principal sponsor of the early-man research being carried forward by Dr. Mary D. Leakey and Richard E. Leakey. The L. S. B . Leakey Foundation has also been a substantial contributor to these important projects and would welcome contributions as a living memorial to Dr. Leakey in furtherance of his life's work. Such gifts are tax deductible and should be sent to: L. S. B. Leakey Foundation, 1100 Glendon Avenue, Suite 1634, Los Angeles, California90024.