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Raise a Toast to Mary Leakey!

Post by: Kabita Sonowal






“Basically, I have been compelled by curiosity.”

Mary Leakey: British archaeologist, anthropologist and writer


Mary Leakey was born on February 6, 1913. She was born to painter, Erskine Edward Nicol and Cecilia Marion (Frere) Nicol. Mary Leakey was related to antiquarian, John Frere and archaeologist, Sheppard Frere and distantly related to Baronet Henry Bartle Frere, the founder of the modern Indian postal service. As Erskine Nicol was a landscape artist, the family traveled across Egypt, the U.S., France and Italy. The Frere family was famous for their role as abolitionists.


Leakey received the quest for adventure and freedom from her father. She loved to draw. Later she was to say, “The first money I ever earned was for drawing stone tools.” She developed her interest in archaeology when she was twelve. She attended lectures on archaeology at University College London and the London Museum under the guidance of famous British archaeologist, Mortimer Wheeler. Her first dig was at St Albans in England, followed by a dig at a Neolithic site at Hembury. She went on to discover the first fossilized Proconsul skull and the Zinjanthropus (chimpanzee) skull at Olduvai Gorge in the Great Rift Valley of Africa. She authored books such as Excavations at Njoro River Cave, Olduvai Gorge: Excavations in Beds I and II, Olduvai Gorge: My Search for Early Man and Africa's Vanishing Art: The Rock Paintings of Tanzania.


Mary Leakey received an honorary doctorate from Oxford University. She married Louis Leakey, a British archaeologist and naturalist. They had three sons: Jonathan Leakey (businessman and paleoanthropologist), Richard Leakey (politician, paleoanthropologist and conservationist) and Philip Leakey (former member of the Kenyan parliament). Together they excavated and explored Africa. Her study and observation of the Laetoli hominid footprint trail led to several studies and publications.


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