In 1959, Mary found the "Zinjanthropus" (Australopithecus boisei) fossil which was to propel the Leakey family to worldwide fame. From the mid-1960's, she lived almost full time at Olduvai Gorge, often alone, while Louis worked on other projects. She and Louis grew apart, partly because of his womanizing and partly because Louis was dividing his time between many other projects. In 1974, she commenced excavations at nearby Laetoli, and in 1976 her team found huge numbers of animal footprints that had been fossilized in ash deposited by a volcano. In 1978 they found what would be her greatest discovery, adjacent footprint tracks that had been left by two bipedal hominids.
In 1983, Mary retired from active fieldwork, moving to Nairobi from Olduvai Gorge, where she had lived for nearly 20 years. She died in 1996 at the age of eighty-three. Although it was Louis Leakey who was the more charismatic and well-known figure, Mary became a famous scientist in her own right. Although she had never earned a degree, by the end of her life she had received many honorary degrees and other awards. It is generally agreed that Mary was a better scientist, far more meticulous and cautious than the often reckless Louis. Her prodigious achievements in archaeology make her a giant in the field.
Morell V. (1995): Ancestral passions: the Leakey family and the quest for humankind's beginnings. New York: Simon & Schuster.
Mary Leakey: Unearthing History (a Scientific American interview)
Mary Leakey, fossil hunter
This page is part of the Fossil Hominids FAQ at the talk.origins Archive.
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