It is the deep interest in what makes us who we are
and do the things we do that forces us to look deeper
into our past and try to understand our origins.
Not many people even mildly interested in human origins, much less anthropology itself, will not recognize the name Leakey. First there was Louis Leakey, who with his wife Mary, made the first major discoveries in East Africa of skeletal remains associated with our past; then came their son Richard Leakey, who with his wife Meave, followed in the Leakey footsteps as well as those discovered on the African floor. And now, without so much as a pause, comes their daughter, Louise Leakey.
Louise was born in Kenya in 1972 and just four months later, some say six weeks, was with her parents, who were searching for fossils in a remote region along Lake Turkana in the area of the Great Rift Valley. Barely out of the cradle, Louise was immersed in the workings of what just happened to be, the cradle of mankind. Louise still remembers the excitement, when as an adolescent, her father, Richard, led the team that discovered Turkana Boy, the first ever Homo erectus skeleton. But she had her own duties to consider. At the ripe old age of 12, she was driving the Land Rover back and forth from the camp to procure drinking water for the team. Barely able to see over the steering wheel, Louise made the best of the situation and today, fears not on the back bumpy landscape of northern Kenya. Where, by the way, she still, at the age of 31, continues to work.
The decision to follow in the Leakey footsteps wasn't an easy one, but searching for million year old fossils keeps her keenly aware of just how short her time on earth is and helped her finally decide that, "life's too short for me to work in a cubicle." Now working closely with her mother, Meave Leakey, this team recently wrote a paper for the National Geographic Society announcing the discovery of what they call Kenyanthropus playtops, culminating from their discovery of a 3.5 million year old skull a few years ago. A discovery that occurred about the same time Louise, with time to spare, earned her PhD in paleontology from the University of London. Her dissertation focused on the influences of climate on faunal evolution at West Turkana between 3.3 and 1.6 million years ago. Today, Doctor Louise Leakey, doubts there are any new species to uncover in the soils of Turkana, but she plans to continue to try and sort out arguments that always reign about how man developed.
These days, the newest standard-bearer for the Leakey family, Louise is working on the finishing touches of a research station she developed at Koobi Fora, East Turkana, to help house and study long term data collections. Also, Louise and her mother Meave are National Geographic Explorers-in-Residence. These are "scientists and explorers whose discoveries generate critical science, conservation efforts and compelling stories..," which in essence attracts readers to their compelling and historic magazine. Maybe the only thing left for Louise to do, time permitting, is to bear children to carry on this rich tradition of the Leakey family, for our sakes.