Google Honours Centenary of Anthropologist Mary Leakey

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Copy of skull of Proconsul Africanus found by Mary Leakey 1948. Image credit Nrkpan

Copy of skull of Proconsul Africanus found by Mary Leakey 1948. Image credit Nrkpan

Google celebrates anthropology with its tribute to Mary Leakey, born Mary Douglas Nicol, London, February 6 1913. Her life’s work demonstrated that humanity began in Africa millions of years ago, and her artistic talent recorded thousands of archaeological finds for posterity. In later years, she wrote several illustrated books about her work.

For Mary, it all began with childhood visits to the prehistoric cave paintings and archaeological excavations in France. Later she would discover many more rock paintings in Africa.

 Mary Leakey: Methodology of an Anthropologist

Mary’s ability to record her finds in comprehensive drawings with meticulous attention to detail was her way in to a career in archaeology, since she did not have an initial degree in the subject.

Her illustrations of the finds of other archaeologists such as Dorothy Liddell and Gertrude Caton-Thompson was an important part of her career training as she worked alongside them at digs, and this is how she met her equally famous husband, Louis. The evidence her attention to detail presented for interpretation greatly extended the timeline by which we understand the anthropology of the distant past.

Leakey preferred not to interpret or theorise about her results herself, asserting herself as a methodological archaeologist, who just came “to dig things up and get them out as well as I can.” (Anne I. Thackeray).

Her contribution to the archaeology and palaeontology of East Africa went directly against evolutionists’ beliefs and academic prejudice when she found ample proof that hominids had dwelt in Africa over millions of years. “Perhaps more than any other scholar, Mary Leakey patiently and perseveringly excavated many of Africa’s secrets and pioneered new methods of field research in archaeology,” Phillip V. Tobias stated, in his 1997 tribute in the American Journal of Physical Anthropology.

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