Mary Leakey was a British expert in ancient human fossils. She was one of the most important researchers in human evolution,and found the first examples of several extinct species that were human ancestors (Proconsul, an ape, Australopithecus boisei, an small early human who walked on two legs, and Homo habilis, one of the first tool-making human ancestors).
Throughout her career, Mary discovered a total of 15 new fossil species.
British paleoanthropologist who worked for most of her career in the Olduvai Gorge, in eastern Africa, uncovering the tools and fossils of ancient hominines believed to be more than 3.75 million-years-old. She is also known for discovering the Laetoli footprints as well as fifteen new species of other animals, and one new genus.
She found interest in the archaeological items she found in Elie Peyrony's excavation site.
She discovered the first fossilized Proconsul skull, an extinct ape now believed to be ancestral to humans.
She worked with her husband, Louis Leakey, a British archaeologist who she married in 1936 and had three songs with.
She was a renowned scientist and greatly inspired by the theories of Charles Darwin.
Inspirational Quotes from Mary Leakey:
"I've found him-found our man! »
"The first money I ever earned was for drawing stone tools. »
"Now this really is something to put on the mantelpiece."
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Mary Nicol was born on the 6th of February 1913 in London, England.
Her father was a painter who painted landscapes, and this meant the family traveled to different countries during Mary’s childhood.
Throughout Mary’s early years, the family spent much of their time in the south of France.
As a child, Mary had an adventurous spirit, much like her father. Her interest in prehistory started at the age of 12 when she was allowed to explore the finds from a cave in France at Les Eyzies. Here, Mary started a collection of stone tools.
At the age of 13, Mary’s father died and she moved back to London with her mother. She did not enjoy her time at school, and did not really have any interest in anything other than drawing and archaeology.
Becoming Mary the archaeologist
At the age of seventeen Mary worked on her first archaeological excavation as an illustrator, and then did the drawings for a book on stone tools from Egypt. After this she worked worked on illustrations from the human fossil site Olduvai Gorge, and married the site director Louis Leakey.
Mary spent 24 years in northern Tanzania, along with her husband and family, and this is where she made some of her best known discoveries, many at Olduvai Gorge.
During this time she discovered many different stone tools, aged between 100,000 and two million years old.
On various digs in the 1970s and early 1980s Mary found the fossil bones of extinct species, including probable human ancestors. Maybe her most amazing find was the footprints of a group of australopithecines, a type of early human ancestor, preserved in soft ash from a volcanic eruption. Her discovery showed that our ancestors were walking upright more than 3 million years ago!
Between the years of 1950 and 1984 Mary wrote five books on archaeology and human evolution.
Replica of an Australopithecus boisei skull discovered by Mary Leakey in 1959
During her professional career Mary worked incredibly hard. In 1962 she won the Hubbard medal, awarded for distinction in exploration, discovery and research. Seven years later, she was awarded the Prestwich medal, awarded
for her efforts in the advancement of the Science of Geology.
In 1951 Mary received an honorary doctorate degree from Oxford University, even though they had refused to let her study there many years before.
The spot where the first Australopithecus boisei was discovered in Tanzania.
She was elected in 1979 as a foreign honorary member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
In 2013, seventeen years after her death, Mary was honored by the Royal Mail in the UK; she was one of only six people to be chosen for the ‘Great Briton’ celebratory postage stamp issue.
Most importantly, her family followed in her footsteps as palaeoanthropologists(human evolution researchers) including her son Richard, his wife Meave, and her granddaughter Louise.
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