Louis Leakey

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Louis Leakey : biography

7 August 1903 – 1 October 1972

In 1963 he helped Ruth De Ette get started at a site in the Calico Hills of the Mojave Desert in California. The date then accepted for the arrival of humans in the Americas was about 12,000 BCE. On the basis of the time required for the evolution and distribution of native American languages, Louis hypothesized that the arrival must have been thousands of years previously. He encouraged Ruth to view the apparent artifacts she was finding as older than 100,000 years.

Mary did not share his visionary view. She was increasingly disrespectful, viewing him as incompetent, from 1963 on. The old intimacy was gone. Her professional opposition began over Calico Man. Under the rationale of trying to stop Louis from making a mistake that would tarnish his reputation, she persuaded the National Geographic Society to refrain from publishing Calico and pull funding from the project, but Louis found other means. On 26 March 1968, Alan and Helen O’Brien of Newport Beach, California, and some prominent Californians formed the Leakey Foundation. When Louis stayed with them when he was in California, the O’Briens noticed that he was very much underpaid on the lecture circuit. From then on Louis worked with them in fund-raising.

Mary’s opposition soon turned into a major schism in the palaeoanthropological village. For example, in 1968 Louis refused an honorary doctorate from the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, primarily because of apartheid in South Africa. Mary accepted one. Now it was Louis’ turn to be concerned about her reputation. The two still cared about each other, but were apart and conducted different professional lives.Morell Chapter 23, "Mining Hominids at Olduvai."

In the last few years Louis’ health began to fail more seriously. He had his first heart attacks and spent six months in the hospital. An empathy over health brought him and Dian Fossey together for a brief romance, which she broke off. Richard began to assume more and more of his father’s responsibilities, which Louis resisted, but in the end was forced to accept. Everything bad seemed to happen to him in a run of unfortunate luck: he had more heart problems, he was swarmed by bees and nearly killed, he had a stroke, he was involved in controversy over Calico Man, and he had to brook Mary’s opposition. One good thing that happened is that he found increasing support and comfort in his friend Vanne Goodall (mother of Jane Goodall), whose London apartment Louis visited when he could.These details and many more can be found in Morell, Chapters 27-30.

Books by Louis Leakey

Louis’s books are listed below.Most of them have many publishers in many editions. The gaps between books are filled by too many articles to list. It was Louis who began the Leakey tradition of publishing in Nature.

First Publication Date Title Notes
1931 The Stone Age Culture of Kenya Colony Written in 1929. Illustrated by Frida Leakey.
1934 Adam’s Ancestors: The Evolution of Man and His Culture Multiple editions with rewrites, the 4th in 1955. Illustrated by Mary Leakey. Book reviews:, American Anthropologist
1935 The Stone Age races of Kenya Proposes Homo kanamensis. 1936 Kenya: Contrasts and Problems Written in 1935. 1936 Stone Age Africa: an Outline of Prehistory in Africa Ten chapters consisting of the ten Munro Lectures delivered in 1936 by Louis to Edinburgh University and intended by him as a textbook. Illustrated by Mary. 1937 White African: an Early Autobiography Louis described it as a "pot-boiler" written in 1936 for Hodder & Stoughton. 1951 The Miocene Hominoidea of East Africa With Wilfrid Le Gros Clark. Volume I of the series Fossil Mammals of Africa published by the Natural History Museum in London. 1951 Olduvai Gorge: A Report on the Evolution of the Hand-Axe Culture in Beds I-IV Started in 1935. Names the Olduwan Culture. 1952 Mau Mau and the Kikuyu Online at Quaestia. 1953 Animals in Africa Photographs by Ylla. 1954 Defeating Mau Mau With Peter Schmidt. Online at Quaestia. 1965 Olduvai Gorge: A Preliminary Report on the Geology and Fauna, 1951-61 Volume 1.The second volume, Olduvai Gorge: the Cranium and Maxillary Dentition of Australopithecus (Zinjanthropus) boisei, was written by Phillip Tobias. The third volume was written by Mary Leakey. 1969 Unveiling Man’s Origins With Vanne Morris Goodall. 1969 Animals of East Africa: The Wild realm 1970 Olduvai Gorge, 1965-1967 1974 By the Evidence: Memoirs, 1932-1951 Written in 1972 and published posthumously. Louis finished writing on the day before his death. 1977 The Southern Kikuyu before 1903 Published posthumously. The manuscript remained in Louis’ safe for decades for lack of a publisher. It was 3 volumes. He refused to follow editorial advice and shorten it.