This note accompanies the follow episode(s):
The Writer’s Almanac for August 7, 2017: Heritage

August 7, 2017: birthday: Louis Leakey

Today is the birthday of anthropologist and archeologist Louis Leakey, born in Kabete, Kenya (1903). His parents were Anglican missionaries to Africa, and he lived in Kenya until he was 16. He studied anthropology at Cambridge at a time when most anthropologists believed that human beings had originated in Asia. But Leakey had read Darwin’s theory that human beings might have originated in Africa, because Africa is the home of our closest relatives: chimpanzees and gorillas. As soon as he graduated from Cambridge, he moved back to Africa to prove Darwin right.

In 1948, Leakey and his wife found one of the earliest fossil ape skulls ever discovered; it was between 25 and 40 million years old. It is now believed to be the skull of the ancestor of all large primates, including humans. Then, in 1959, they turned up another hominid skull, which was 1.75 million years old. It was the oldest skull of a close human relative ever found at that point, and it helped persuade other anthropologists that Africa was indeed the place where human beings had evolved.