Though technically defined as an archaeologist, Mary chose to follow a route of interesting research relating to physical anthropology. She is known mostly for the excavation of a two million-year-old fossilized human skull in 1959. She has also worked to help the world understand that the evolution of humans follows a principle rather than a theory.
The name Leakey is synonymous in most people's minds with the successive dramatic discoveries of fossilized hominid bones and stone artifacts that have, over the years, pushed the origins of true man further and further back in prehistory. Less flamboyant than her husband, Louis S. B. Leakey, or her son Richard Leakey, Mary Leakey was the "unsung hero," of the clan for years, even though she was, in fact, responsible for many of the spectacular Leakey finds, including the nearly complete skull of Zinjanthropus, which was at first thought to be the missing human evolutionary link. Mrs. Leakey finally received a measure of long-overdue public recognition with her discovery, in 1978, of 3.5-million-year-old fossilized hominid footprints at Laetoli in Tanzania, proving beyond a doubt that the australopithecines had walked upright. On July 17, 1959 Mary Leakey made her second major discovery. Accompanied only by her two Dalmatians, Mary Leakey set off to investigate the oldest layer at the site. As she surveyed the exposure with her practiced eye, a scrap of bone protruding from the ground caught her attention. Gently brushing aside some of the deposit, she saw two large hominid teeth in place in an upper jaw. Mrs. Leakey raced back to camp shouting, "I've got him! I've got him!" Using camel's-hair brushes and dental picks, the Leakeys gingerly uncovered a full palate and set of teeth; by sifting through tons of eroded scree, they eventually found about 400 bone fragments, which when pieced together formed an almost complete hominid skull, later dated at 1.75 million years, of the genus Zinjanthropus. Over the...
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