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Wed Feb 6, 2013, 07:32 PM

a biography of the day-mary leakey (paleoanthropologist) 100th birthday

Mary Leakey

Mary Leakey (6 February 1913 9 December 1996) was a British paleoanthropologist who discovered the first fossilized Proconsul skull, an extinct ape now believed to be ancestral to humans, and also discovered the robust Zinjanthropus skull at Olduvai Gorge. For much of her career she worked together with her husband, Louis Leakey, in Olduvai Gorge, uncovering the tools and fossils of ancient hominines. She developed a system for classifying the stone tools found at Olduvai. She also discovered the Laetoli footprints. In 1960 she became director of excavation at Olduvai and subsequently took it over, building her own staff. After the death of her husband, she became a leading palaeoanthropologist, helping to establish the Leakey tradition by training her son, Richard, in the field.
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Mary Leakey was born Mary Douglas Nicol on February 6, 1913, in London, England to Erskine Edward Nicol and Cecilia Marion (Frere) Nicol. Since Erskine worked as a painter, specializing in watercolor landscapes, the Nicol family would move from place to place, visiting numerous locations in the USA, Italy, and Egypt, where Erskine painted scenes to be sold in England. Erskine Nicol developed an amateur enthusiasm for Egyptology during his travels. Mary Leakey was a direct descendant of antiquarian, John Frere, and cousin to archaeologist, Sheppard Frere, on her mother's side. The Frere family had been active abolitionists in the British colonial empire during the nineteenth century and established several communities for freed slaves. Three of these communities remained in existence as of Mrs. Leakey's 1984 autobiography: Freretown, Kenya, Freretown, South Africa, and Freretown, India. She also was a distant relative of baronet Henry Bartle Frere.[1]
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The Leakeys unearthed a Proconsul africanus skull on Rusinga Island, in October 1948.
After Mary's husband died, she continued her work at Olduvai and Laetoli. It was here, at the Laetoli site, that she discovered Hominin fossils that were more than 3.75 million-years-old. She also discovered fifteen new species of other animals and one new genus.

From 1976 to 1981 Leakey and her staff worked to uncover the Laetoli hominid footprint trail which was left in volcanic ashes some 3.6 million years ago. The years that followed this discovery were filled with research at Olduvai and Laetoli, the follow-up work to discoveries and preparing publications.

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