- NAME: Mary Leakey
- OCCUPATION: Anthropologist, Scientist
- BIRTH DATE: February 06, 1913
- DEATH DATE: December 09, 1996
- PLACE OF BIRTH: London, England, United Kingdom
- PLACE OF DEATH: Nairobi, Kenya
- Originally: Mary Douglas Nicol
- AKA: Mary Nicol
- AKA: Mary Douglas Leakey
- Full Name: Mary Douglas Nicol Leakey
- Nickname: "Grande Dame of Archeology"
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Mary Leakey was a paleoanthropologist who, along with husband Louis, made several prominent scientific discoveries. Skull fossils found by the Leakeys advanced our understanding of human evolution.
Mary Leakey’s discovery of early human fossils helped scientists to further understand the origins of humankind.
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Mary Leakey was born on February 6, 1913, in London, England. She married Louis Leakey and the pair soon became one of science's best-known husband-wife teams. Among several prominent archaelogical and anthropological discoveries,
"I'd rather be in a tent than in a house."
"The first money I ever earned was for drawing stone tools."
"No amounts of stone and bone could yield the kinds of information that the paintings gave so freely."
the Leakeys discovered a skull fossil of an ancestor of apes and humans while excavating the Olduvai Gorge in Africa in 1960—a find that helped to illuminate the origins of humankind. Mary continued working after her husband's death. She died in Kenya in 1996.
Mary Douglas Leakey was a paleoanthropologist who is best known for making several prominent archaeological and anthropological discoveries throughout the latter half of the 20th century. Working with husband Louis Leakey, her longtime colleague, she uncovered a number of fossils in Africa, which significantly advanced scientific knowledge of the origins of humankind.
Mary Leakey was born Mary Douglas Nicol on February 6, 1913, in London, England. The daughter of an artist, at a young age, Leakey excelled at drawing—a talent that she later used to enter into the field of paleoanthropology. When she was just 17 years old, she served as an illustrator at a dig in England.
In the 1930s, Mary Leakey was asked to illustrate a book entitled Adam's Ancestors (1934), authored by Louis S.B. Leakey, an archaeologist and anthropologist. The pair hit it off quickly and soon developed a personal relationship. They married in 1937, forming one of science's most well-known husband-wife teams. The couple moved to Africa when Louis embarked on an excavation project at the Olduvai Gorge, a steep ravine in what is now Tanzania, East Africa.
Mary Leakey made her first big discovery in 1948: She found a partial skull fossil of Proconsul africanus, an ancestor of apes and humans that later evolved into the two distinct species. Her find was truly remarkable; the fossil, believed to be more than 18 million years old, was the first species of the primate genus to be discovered from the Oligocene era.
Mary Leakey further helped to unravel mystery surrounding the origins of humankind with her 1959 find: That July, while Louis was resting, recovering from a bout of the flu, Mary discovered the partial skull of an early human ancestor. Early analyses of the artifact—initially named Zinjanthropus boisei after Louis Leakey's financial sponsor, Charles Boysey (now known as Australopithecus boisei)—showed that this species was equipped with a small brain but massive teeth and jaws, and muscles so large they had to be anchored to a ridge at the top of the skull. It was later determined that Zinjanthropus boisei was nearly 2 million years old, showing how long the species had been in Africa.
In 1960, the Leakey team made its next major discovery: Fossils of Homo habilis, a species that is believed to be between 1.4 and 2.3 million years old, and to have originated during the Gelasian Pleistocene period. Their find also provided evidence that the species were adept in making stone tools—making them the earliest known experts in that field.
Learn more about The Leakey Foundation and its mission to increase understanding of human origins, evolution, behavior, and survival.
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