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Louis Leakey

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Louis Leakey

  • Morales, M.N.; Ståhls, G.; Hippa, H. 2013: Two new species of Meropidia Hippa & Thompson, 1983 (Diptera, Syrphidae) from the Andes Mountains. ZooKeys, 338: 55-65. doi:10.3897/zookeys.338.6093  
    • mater = |doctoral_advisor = |doctoral_students = |known_for = Pioneering the study of human evolution,
      human evolutionary development in Africa |author_abbrev_bot = |author_abbrev_zoo = |influences = |influenced = |prizes = Hubbard Medal (1962)
      Prestwich Medal (1969) |religion = Anglican |footnotes = |signature =

}} Louis Seymour Bazett Leakey (7 August 1903 – 1 October 1972), also known as L. S. B. Leakey, was a British palaeoanthropological inquiry, he was able to motivate the next generation to continue it, notably within his own family, many of whom also became prominent. Leakey participated in national events of British East Africa and Kenya during the 1950s.

In natural philosophy, he asserted Charles Darwin's theory of evolution unswervingly and set about to test Darwin's hypothesis that humans arose in Africa. Leakey was also a devout Christian.[1]

One of Louis's greatest legacies stems from his role in fostering field research of primates in their natural habitats, which he understood as key to unraveling the mysteries of human evolution. He personally chose three female researchers, Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey, and Birute 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 Cambridge University.

Background

Louis' parents, Harry and Mary Bazett Leakey (called May by her friends), were British missionaries of the Christian faith in then British East Africa, now Kenya.[3] Harry had taken a previously established post of the Church Mission Society among the Kikuyu at Kabete. The station was at that time a hut and two tents in the highlands north of Nairobi. Louis' 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 girl's school for African women. Harry was working on a translation of the Bible into a Kenyan language, Kikuyu.

Louis had a younger brother, Douglas, and two older sisters, Gladys Leakey Beecher and Julia Leakey Barham. Louis' primary family came to contain also Miss Oakes (a governess), Miss Higgenbotham (another missionary), and Mariamu (a Kikuyu nurse). Unsurprisingly, Louis grew up, played, and learned to hunt with Africans. 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]

One of Louis's greatest legacies stems from his role in fostering field research of primates in their natural habitats, which he understood as key to unraveling the mysteries of human evolution. He personally chose three female researchers, Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey, and Birute Galdikas, calling them The Trimates.[5][6] 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 Cambridge University.

Background

Louis' parents, Harry and Mary Bazett Leakey (called May by her friends), were British missionaries of the Christian faith in then British East Africa, now Kenya.[7] Harry had taken a previously established post of the Church Mission Society among the Kikuyu at Kabete. The station was at that time a hut and two tents in the highlands north of Nairobi. Louis' 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 girl's school for African women. Harry was working on a translation of the Bible into a Kenyan language, Kikuyu.

Louis had a younger brother, Douglas, and two older sisters, Gladys Leakey Beecher and Julia Leakey Barham. Louis' primary family came to contain also Miss Oakes (a governess), Miss Higgenbotham (another missionary), and Mariamu (a Kikuyu nurse). Unsurprisingly, Louis grew up, played, and learned to hunt with Africans. 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.[8]

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.[9]

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.[10]

The formative years

His father's example

In Britain, the Leakey children attended elementary school; in Africa, they had a tutor, Miss Laing. They sat out World War I in Africa. When the sea lanes opened again, they returned to Boscombe, where Louis was sent to Weymouth College, a private boy's school, in 1919 when he was 16. In three years there, he did not do well and complained of rules that he considered an infringement on his freedom and hazing by the other boys. Advised by one teacher to seek employment in a bank, he appealed to his English teacher, Mr. Tunstall, who started him in the application process to Cambridge. His excellent scores on the entrance exams won him a scholarship.

Louis matriculated at the University of Cambridge, his father's alma mater, in 1922, intent on becoming a missionary to British East Africa.

For the rest of his life, he would dine out on the story of his finals. When he had arrived in Britain, he had notified the register of people with a knowledge of rare languages that he was fluent in Swahili. When he came to his finals, he asked to be examined in this and after some hesitation the authorities agreed. Then one day, he received two letters. One instructed him to report at a certain time and place for a viva voce examination in * Morales, M.N.; Ståhls, G.; Hippa, H. 2013: Two new species of Meropidia Hippa & Thompson, 1983 (Diptera, Syrphidae) from the Andes Mountains. ZooKeys, 338: 55-65. doi:10.3897/zookeys.338.6093  

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