Louis Leakey

Louis Leakey Louis Leakey Discovering the Secrets of Humankind’s Past Louis Leakey was born to be an archaeologist, for his childhood in Africa truly prepared him for the field life he would later lead. The son of missionaries Harry and Mary Leakey, Louis grew up in Kenya near Nairobi, among the Kikuyu African tribe who the elder Leakeys were trying to convert. Despite intervening periods in which the Leakeys moved back to England, Louis grew up practically as a Kikuyu tribe member, and at the age of eleven he not only built his own traditional hut in which to live but was also initiated as a member of the Kikuyu tribe. It was within this hut that the beginnings of Leakeys archaelogical aspirations took place. In one section he started a personal museum, collected all things naturalistic, from bird eggs to animal skulls. It was in 1916, at the age of fourteen, when Leakey first truly realized that he was meant for archaeology; after reading the account of stone-age men entitled Days Before History he was hooked.

After reading about the arrowheads and axeheads created by these people, Louis began collecting and classifying as many pieces of obsidian flakes and tools as he could find. After confirmation by a prehistory expert that these were truly stone tools of ancient Africans, truly links to the past, Leakey knew that the rest of his life would be devoted towards discovering the secrets of the prehistoric ancestors of humankind. Despite not being accustomed to the school structure back in England and the accompanying problems he had in public school, Leakey was accepted into Cambridge in 1922. However, blows to the head sustained during rugby games resulted in epilepsy and headaches for Leakey, and he had to leave school in 1923. This, however, was a blessing in disguise, for Leakey landed a job as an African expert on an archaeological mission to Tendaguru in what is now Tanzania.

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He was to accompany the archaeologist and dinosaur bone expert William E. Cutler. With his fluency in Swahili, Leakey soon orgainized an entire safari to the site. Working with and observing Cutler, Leakey learned more about the technical side of the search for and preservation of fossil bones than [he] could have gleaned from a far longer period of theoretical study. Many dinosaur bones were dug up although a complete skeleton was never found.

After several months Leakey was forced to leave, leaving Cutler to continue. Back in England, Leakey wrote many articles and letters about the dig. Cutler, however, died in Africa a few months later, a victim of Blackwater fever. Leakey returned to Cambridge and studied anthropology. From these studies and independent ones, Leakey developed the view that early man had originated in Africa, not in Asia as most scholars believed at the time.

He became fascinated with the Olduvai Gorge site and the Homo sapiens skeleton discovered by German paleontologist Hans Reck. Great controversy surrounded Recks find because the age of the skeleton could not be proven. Further, Reck could not return to the site because, as he was German and Britain had won that region of Africa in World War I, he was not able to go there. Leakey was fascinated with the site and told Reck that they would one day go back. For the time being, this had to be put on hold.

Finishing finals, Leakey graduated with excellent marks and recieved many grants for research in Africa. He was twenty-three, and he was about to lead his own expeditions. Over the next few years Leakey dug at many sites, finding many stone tools, animal bones, and other artifacts. His search, however, was for proof of the use of a specific Chellean hand-axe style found in other parts of the world. This he found in 1929, and its discovery pushed back the age of the Great Rift Valley in Africa a great deal. Further, it provided critical evidence for a level of sophistication in East Africa equal to that of European cultures at the time.

By this time Leakeys work at caught the attention of the archaeological community and he began to receive much acclaim. In November 1929 he returned to England with a two-year fellowship at St. Johns College, and a wife, Frida, as well, whom he had married in 1928. However, excavating the site at Olduvai Gorge was on his mind, and he made plans to return to Africa. With the publish of his first book, The Stone Age Cultures of Kenya Colony, his extensive fieldwork, and his position at St.

Johns College, Leakey obtained a grant to go to the Olduvai Gorge site in 1931. Along with Reck at the site, Leakey excavated five different beds, finding an amazing number of hand tools. In addition, Leakey analyzed the site of the original skeleton and concluded it was the oldest Homo sapiens in Africa and probably anywhere else. On returning from the excavation, Leakey received much acclaim for his discovery. But this was not to last, for rumblings of doubt began to be heard as to the true age of the skeleton.

Various tests contradicted Leakeys claims, and he decided to return to the site to find more skeletons to prove his theory. Leakey first went to explore fossil beds at Kanjera near Lake Victoria, and it is here where he made a startling discovery of more Homo Sapiens skulls. Further, one of the skulls found at the nearby Kanam site was found in situ, providing proof of its age. He had thus found compeers of the Olduvai man at Kanjera. However, on his return to England he found his academic reputation greatly hurt.

The original Olduvai man was generally accepted to not be of such a great age, and he was seen as pigheaded for maintaining his belief on the subject. He finally withdrew his support for the Olduvai mans great age in 1933. He still held that the fossils from Kanam and Kanjera were of great age, but he recieved little support due to his hurt reputation. However, he soon restored his reputation by proving to the scientific community the great age of these fossils at a conference in Cambridge, when he showed his evidence to twenty-six leading scientists. They agreed with his interpretation, and his career began to soar.

In 1934 Leakey returned to the Kanam and Kanjera sites to further substantiate his claims. In addition, the eminent professor P.G.H. Boswell was to visit the site, as he was one of the few scientists to still have misgivings about the age of the skulls. On Leakeys return, however, he found the iron markers he used to mark the spots where the skulls were found to be stolen, with only a photograph to show the area of the site. When Boswell arrived, Leakey still had not found the exact spot where the skulls were found.

In addition to this, Boswell found Leakeys erratic methods and absentmindedness to be very unsettling. Disgusted with Leakeys losing of the exact site, Boswell returned to England, writing scathing papers about Leakeys techniques and casting great doubt on the true age of those skulls. This, along with Louis separation from wife Frida and his living with girlfriend Mary (which was not tolerated in the 1930s) led to the ruining of Leakeys reputation once again. Although Louis and Mary worked on the Olduvai site for the next year …