Leakey, Mary Douglas

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

Leakey, Mary Douglas

Mary Douglas Leakey, 1913–96, British archaeologist, b. London as Mary Douglas Nicol; wife of Louis Leakey and mother of Richard Leakey. She had little formal education, but a fascination with archaeology led to her supervising her first dig in England in 1934. Several years after she met Louis Leakey in England she began work with him at Olduvai Gorge (now in Tanzania). In Africa she made some of anthropology's most significant finds. In 1948 she discovered a 20-million-year-old skull of Proconsul africanus (see Proconsul); in 1959 she discovered a hominin fossil (Paranthropus, originally classified as Zinjanthropus) believed to be 1,750,000 years old. Her work Excavations in Beds I and II, 1960–63 (1971, Vol. III of Olduvai Gorge, 1951–1961, 6 vol., 1965–94) contains a detailed analysis of the thousands of 2-million-year-old stone tools from that site. In 1978 she supervised excavations at Laetoli, Tanzania, where a set of footprints preserved in hardened volcanic ash were uncovered. These indicate a 3.6-million-year-old hominin—presumablyAustralopithecus)—walked upright. Mary Leakey employed her artistic talents in her book Africa's Vanishing Art: The Rock Paintings of Tanzania (1983).

See her autobiography, Disclosing the Past (1984), and her account of her investigations, Olduvai Gorge: My Search for Early Man (1979); see also V. Morell, Ancestral Passions: The Leakey Family and the Quest for Humankind's Beginnings (1995).

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