Louis Leakey


Louis Leakey : biography

7 August 1903 – 1 October 1972

On the strength of his work there he obtained a research fellowship at St. John’s College and returned to Cambridge in 1929 to do post-graduate work and to classify and prepare the finds from Elmenteita. His patron and mentor Cambridge was now Arthur Keith. While cleaning two skeletons he had found he noticed a similarity to one found in Olduvai Gorge by Professor Hans Reck, a German national, whom Louis had met in 1925 in Germany while on business for Keith. Olduvai Gorge. The geology of Olduvai was known. In 1913 Reck had extricated a skeleton from Bed II in the gorge wall. He argued that it must have the date of the bed, which was believed to be 600,000 years, in the mid-Pleistocene. The public was not ready for this news. Humans must have evolved or have been created long after then, was the general belief. Reck became involved in a media uproar. He was barred from going back to settle the question by the war and then the terms of the transfer of Tanganyika from Germany to Britain.For an account of the incident refer to at the "Always Something New" site. In 1929 Louis visited Berlin to talk to the now skeptical Reck. Noting an Acheulean tool in Reck’s collection of artifacts from Olduvai, he bet Reck he could find ancient stone tools at Olduvai within 24 hours.The source for this subsection is Morell, Chapter 3, "Laying Claim to the Earliest Man."

Meanwhile Frida worked on illustrations for The Stone Age Culture of Kenya Colony. Louis was given the PhD in 1930 at age 27. His first child, a daughter, Priscilla Muthoni Leakey, was born in 1931. His headaches and epilepsy returned in the excitement and he was prescribed Luminal, which he took the rest of his life.


"When I think back … of the serval cat and a baboon that I had as pets in my childhood days−and that eventually I had to house in large cages−it makes me sad. It makes me sadder still, however, and also very angry, when I think of the innumerable adult animals and birds deliberately caught and locked up for the so-called ‘pleasure’ and ‘education’ of thoughtless human beings. … surely there are today so many first-class films … that the cruelty of keeping wild creatures in zoos should no longer be tolerated."
From L.S.B. Leakey, By the Evidence, Chapter 4.

Louis’ parents, Harry and Mary Bazett Leakey (called May by her friends), were British missionaries of the Christian faith in then British East Africa, now Kenya.Harry: 1868-1940; Mary: ?-1948. Harry later became canon of the station and had a distinguished career. Louis reports in his memoirs, Chapter 6, that the Leakeys were of the Church of England, or Anglican Harry had taken a previously established post of the Church Mission Society among the Kikuyu at Kabete. The station was at that time a hut and two tents in the highlands north of Nairobi. Louis’ earliest home had an earthen floor, a leaky thatched roof, rodents and insects, and no heating system except for charcoal braziers. The facilities improved but slowly. The mission, a center of activity, set up a clinic in one of the tents, and later a girl’s school for African women. Harry was working on a translation of the Bible into a Kenyan language, Kikuyu.

Louis had a younger brother, Douglas, and two older sisters, Gladys Leakey Beecher and Julia Leakey Barham. Louis’ primary family came to contain also Miss Oakes (a governess) Miss Higgenbotham (another missionary), and Mariamu (a Kikuyu nurse). Unsurprisingly, Louis grew up, played, and learned to hunt with Africans. He also learned to walk with the distinctive gait of the Kikuyu and speak their language fluently, as did his siblings. He was initiated into the Kikuyu ethnic group, an event of which he never spoke, as he was sworn to secrecy.According to Blake Edgar in in AnthroQuest Online for Fall, 2003, Louis received the Kikuyu name Wakuruigi, "Son of the Sparrow Hawk." Harry also had a name, apparently not an initiation name, but rather descriptive: Giteru, "Big beard."