Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Mary Leakey

Mary Leakey was born on this date in 1913. When I was younger, everyone knew who the Leakeys were, but this doesn't appear to be the case any longer, so let me tell you a little:

Mary and Louis Leakey were paleoanthropologists, who both discovered a number of ancient humans and human ancestors in their research in Africa. (Louis was also responsible for sending Dian Fossey out to live with gorrilas, as seen in the movie Gorillas in the Mist.) Many other Leakeys have been involved in paleontology; their son Richard also became deeply involved in elephant conservation.

One of Mary's most amazing discoveries was of the Laetoli footprints in Tanzania, which she found along with some other notable researchers. The footprints of a few individuals, walking across damp volcanic ash, were cemented in place. Dated to 3.7 million years ago, it was the first indication that there were people (or human ancestors) walking around on two arched feet so long ago. I think the early skeletal remains are interesting, but the footprints were the first evidence I'd seen that actually got my imagination quivering (at least in terms of paleoanthropology).

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