On February 6, 1913, Mary Douglas Leakey was born. Interested in art and archaeology from an early age, she was deeply impressed by the prehistoric cave paintings she visited at several sites in France. Leakey distinguished herself as a scientific illustrator of ancient and prehistoric tools and related objects for several archaeologists at their digs. She joined Louis Leakey to illustrate stone tools he had found in his search for human fossils in Africa.
Together they spent decades finding mammal fossils and stone tools that indicated prehistoric human inhabitants before she uncovered the skull and jaw bones that would lead to a long series of discoveries of prehistoric human ancestors in East Africa. Their group of sites in the Olduvai Gorge in Tanzania’s Great Rift Valley contains evidence and artifacts indicating close to 2,000,000 years of occupation and activity. These helped establish the African origin of humankind. Leakey developed techniques of excavation, descriptive archeology, and developed a system for classifying stone tools found at the gorge. She eventually became director of excavation there.
From illustrator to fossil hunter and renowned paleoanthropologist, Leakey made her own discoveries. She wrote articles for periodicals such as the National Geographic and Scientific American, contributed co-authorship and assessments to others, illustrated and wrote four books including her autobiography, Disclosing the Past. Her tracings and drawings of Stone Age rock-art in Africa’s Vanishing Art: the Rock Paintings of Tanzania brought the Kondoa Irangi Rock-Art sites to international attention and their eventual listing as UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
Her work has been honoured by the National Geographic Society for distinction in discovery and research as well as the Geologists’ Association (London) for her work on the prehistory of man and his geological environment.
The Leakey family is now in its third generation of contribution to the understanding of our human species.
B Bondar / Real World Content Advantage