Louis Leakey

Louis Leakey
Louis Leakey examining skulls from Olduvai Gorge
BornLouis Seymour Bazett Leakey
(1903-08-07)7 August 1903
Kabete, Kenya
Died1 October 1972(1972-10-01) (aged 69)
London, United Kingdom
CitizenshipKenyan, British
Known forPioneering the study of human evolution in Africa

Frida Avern (divorced 1936)

Mary Leakey (married 1936)
ChildrenColin Leakey with Frida Avern, Jonathan Leakey, Richard Leakey, Philip Leakey
AwardsHubbard Medal (1962)
Prestwich Medal (1969)
Scientific career
FieldsArchaeology, Paleoanthropology, Paleontology

Louis Seymour Bazett Leakey (7 August 1903 – 1 October 1972) was a Kenyan paleoanthropologist and archaeologist whose work was important in demonstrating that humans evolved in Africa, particularly through discoveries made at Olduvai Gorge with his wife, fellow paleontologist Mary Leakey. Having established a program of palaeoanthropological inquiry in eastern Africa, he also motivated many future generations to continue this scholarly work. Several members of Leakey's family became prominent scholars themselves.

Another of Leakey's legacies stems from his role in fostering field research of primates in their natural habitats, which he saw as key to understanding human evolution. He personally chose three female researchers, Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey, and Birutė Galdikas, calling them The Trimates.[1][2] Each went on to become an important scholar in the field of primatology. Leakey also encouraged and supported many other Ph.D. candidates, most notably from the University of Cambridge. Leakey also played a major role in creating organizations for future research in Africa and for protecting wildlife there.


"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 is 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's parents, Harry (1868–1940) and Mary (May) Bazett Leakey (died 1948), were Church of England missionaries in British East Africa (now Kenya). Harry was the son of James Shirley Leakey (1824–1871), one of the eleven children of the portrait painter James Leakey. Harry Leakey was assigned to an established post of the Church Mission Society among the Kikuyu at Kabete, in the highlands north of Nairobi. The station was at that time a hut and two tents. Louis's earliest home had an earthen floor, a leaky thatched roof, rodents and insects, and no heating system except for charcoal braziers. The facilities slowly improved over time. The mission, a center of activity, set up a clinic in one of the tents, and later a girls' school. Harry was working on a translation of the Bible into the Gikuyu language. He had a distinguished career in the CMS, becoming canon of the station.[3]

Louis had a younger brother, Douglas, and two older sisters, Gladys and Julia. Both sisters married missionaries: Gladys married Leonard Beecher, Anglican Bishop of Mombasa and then Archbishop of East Africa from 1960 to 1970; Julia married Lawrence Barham, the second Bishop of Rwanda and Burundi from 1964 to 1966; their son Ken Barham was later the Bishop of Cyangugu in Rwanda.

The Leakey household came to contain Miss Oakes (a governess), Miss Higgenbotham (another missionary), and Mariamu (a Kikuyu nurse). Louis grew up, played, and learned to hunt with the native kikuyus. 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.[4]

Louis requested and was given permission to build and move into a hut, Kikuyu style, at the end of the garden. It was home to his personal collection of natural objects, such as birds' eggs and skulls. All the children developed a keen interest in and appreciation of the pristine natural surroundings in which they found themselves. They raised baby animals, later turning them over to zoos. Louis read a gift book, Days Before History, by H. R. Hall (1907), a juvenile fictional work illustrating the prehistory of Britain. He began to collect tools and was further encouraged in this activity by a role model, Arthur Loveridge, first curator (1914) of the Natural History Museum in Nairobi, predecessor of the Coryndon Museum. This interest may have predisposed him toward a career in archaeology. His father was also a role model: Canon Leakey co-founded the East Africa and Uganda Natural History Society.[5]

Neither Harry nor May were of strong constitution. From 1904–1906 the entire family lived at May's mother's house in Reading, Berkshire, England, while Harry recovered from neurasthenia, and again in 1911–1913, while May recovered from general frailty and exhaustion. During the latter stay, Harry bought a house in Boscombe.[6]

Other Languages
العربية: لويس ليكي
تۆرکجه: لوئیس لیکی
беларуская: Луіс Лікі
български: Луис Лики
català: Louis Leakey
čeština: Louis Leakey
Deutsch: Louis Leakey
español: Louis Leakey
euskara: Louis Leakey
français: Louis Leakey
Gaeilge: Louis Leakey
galego: Louis Leakey
한국어: 루이스 리키
hrvatski: Louis Leakey
Bahasa Indonesia: Louis Leakey
interlingua: Louis Leakey
italiano: Louis Leakey
lietuvių: Louis Leakey
magyar: Louis Leakey
Nederlands: Louis Leakey
پنجابی: لوئیس لیکی
polski: Louis Leakey
русский: Лики, Луис
Simple English: Louis Leakey
српски / srpski: Луис Лики
srpskohrvatski / српскохрватски: Louis Leakey
svenska: Louis Leakey
Türkçe: Louis Leakey
українська: Луїс Лікі
Tiếng Việt: Louis Leakey