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Mary Leakey & Her Words

by Samantha LaFalce

Mary Leakey & Her Words

by Samantha LaFalce

Mary Leakey was an inquisitive [adjective: curious to discover] person.  She always had a burning desire to discover more about the early humans and their ways.  She even said “Basically I have been compelled by curiosity.”  Throughout her childhood she had been interested to learn about archaeology.  She wanted to learn more.

She was born February 6, 1913 in London England.  Her parents are Erskine Nicol and Cecilia Marion Frere.  Her father was a well known painter; so they traveled quite often.  They mostly traveled to different parts of England and France.

Mrs. Leakey developed a strong devotion [noun:loyalty to a person, activity, or cause] to studying prehistory and drawing ancient stone tools.  As a matter a fact, she was phenomenal at drawing.  She used every chance she got to draw.  In school when a teacher would be teaching a lesson Mary would be drawing.  Other times, when she had no drawing utensils, she would just imagine herself drawing.

Mary became fascinated with ice age decorated caves.  Her interest of the caves began in france’s Vezere Valley.  When she visited Stonehenge with her aunt, Mary’s interest for archaeology [noun: the finding of human history through the digging of excavation sites] shined through.  Stonehenge is a unique archaeological location with rectangular shaped stones that are formed in a circle.  It is one of the world’s most famous prehistoric monuments.

Excavation sites [ a piece of property that is used for the digging up of human remains]

Despite the unfortunate events that occured in her life so far, Mrs. Leakey got into Oxford college (which was her mother’s choice).  There she studied Archaeology and Geology.  What would Mary do? What path would she take?  Well, she choose Archaeology.  She continued to draw stone tools and continue her passion.

In the 1930’s she moved to a neolithic site, [noun: an area of ground in which the ffinding of fossils from the later part of the stone age is occuring] Hembury Devon. While Mary was in Hembury Devon, she continued to draw ancient tools.  Her drawings caught the eye of a British archaeologist Gertrude Thompson.  He is the one who introduced her to Louis Leakey.

Admiring Mary’s sketches, Louis thought of Mary as a possible artist for his book. In 1934 she continued her final training with Louis’s help.  Later that year Mary began work for Louis in the site of Swan Combe.  By the mid 1930’s she had already had experience in finding artifacts from ancient[adjective: belonging to the very distant past]cultures.  This was considered impressive during this time.

In 1935 Mrs. Mary Leakey discovered the first fossil [noun:the remains or impression of a prehistoric figure often found in rock] fragment of the Hominid[noun:one of the earliest human species] species!  

Mary would be forced to question what tools did this person use? What did they eat? How can I find more of their people?  Where did he or she originate from?

Soon after Mary and Louis fell in love.  In 1936 They got married .  Later they  moved to Kenya and had her first son, Jonathan Leakey.  Then, in 1944 they had their second son Richard Leakey.  They moved because Louis had family that he wanted to see there.  Together as a team they studied the Kikuyu tribe [noun: a social division in a traditional society consisting of families or communities linked by social, economic, religious, or blood ties.

Next, she started excavating the site Hyrax Hill.  In 1948 she discovered the only known skull of the Miocene Hominid species! Mary later continued her passion for archaeology and family.  In 1949 Mary’s third son was born.  His name is Philip Leakey.

Mary and Louis wanted to know more about these early humans.  They  asked themselves “ could humans and apes be related?”Louis hired Jane Goodall to study chimps in the forest.  She helped him prove the connection between humans and apes.  At that time women weren’t thought of to go searching through the forest.  But with the Leakey  charm, Mrs. Goodall did it anyways.

In 1959 she led a search.

Later she discovered [verb: to find something over the course of a search] the first whole Hominid body!  She named it Zinjanthropus Boisei.

Prehistoric is definitely the name for this species.  It is 1.75 million years old!  She named this outstanding discovery after the site that it was found on.

In 1966 Mary published a book based on the Odwan culture.  In this book she recognized the characteristics of this culture.  Mary continued to observe the traces of Hominid tracks.  She continued to observe neolithic sites.  She was determined to discover even more.

During the year of 1972 Mary’s beloved husband Louis Leakey died of a heart attack.  Leakey may have been sad, but her career path didn’t stop.  Mary kept digging and drawing.  She kept doing what she had a passion for.  With or without her husband.

Louis Leakey

In 1979 she wrote a book called Olduvai Gorge: My Search For Early Man.  She also wrote Africa's Vanishing Art: The Rock Paintings of Tanzania.  Later she helped her son Richard start his career as an archaeologist.  He became just as successful as his family.

Later, Mary discovered a trail of human footprints that came from the stone age.  She discovered this in Tanzania.  All of Mary’s activities were funded [verb: to provide money for a certain purpose] by the National Geographic Society.

Mrs. Leakey continued to stay active.   She traveled a lot.  Mary began to give lectures and fundraise.  Mrs. Leakey was awarded with many honors.  Some of them were Gold Medal of Society of Women Geographers, Linnaeus Gold Medal of the Royal Swedish Academy , The Elizabeth Blackwell Award , an honorary membership in the American Association for the Advancement of Science, The Prestwich Medal, Geological Society of London , and the Hubbard Medal of National Geographic Society.

When Mary received the Gold Medal of Society of Women Geographers award, she was especially proud.  She claimed “an undercurrent of women's lib among some of the women geographers present, and women's lib is something for which I carry no banner, though quite often people expect me to do so. What I have done in my life I have done because I wanted to do it and because it interested me. I just happen to be a woman, and I don't believe it has made much difference."

Throughout her final years Mary continued to stay lively.  She maintained a strong bond with her children and grandchild.  Her son Richard Leakey had a beautiful daughter Louise Leakey.  Her mother is Meave Leakey.  Meave Leakey has helped the Leakey’s find several discoveries.

Mary returned to Kenya in 1983.  During those years mary settled down.  She didn’t do as much as she used to.  On December ninth, 1996 Mary Leakey passed away.  This imposing and astonishing women will be strongly remembered.

Mary Leakey displaying an artifact she found

Mary Leakey and her family looking for clues from the ancient past


Mary Leakey hanging out with her dog

Mary Leakey examining a fossil from the ancient past