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On This Day… One Of History’s Heroes

Written by: George Chittenden : 08 Jun 2019

It was on this day, 6th Oct, back in 1948 when a rather incredible woman named Mary Leakey discovered the first piece of a skull belonging to an eighteen-million-year-old ancestor of both apes and humans, the proconsul africanus. Mary was a British physical anthropologist and her archaeological excavations led to some of the most significant discoveries of the twentieth century.

A postage stamp featuring Mary Leakey

A postage stamp featuring Mary Leakey

Along with her husband Louis Leakey, their lifetime’s work changed our view of human evolution. One thing I love about Mary’s story is that she never completed a formal university education, yet she achieved so, so much, and I find her an inspiration. Following the end of WWII the Leakey's spent several years on Rusinga Island, just off the east coast of Lake Victoria. It was during this period that she discovered the proconsul africanus.

Mary and her husband Louis Leakey

Mary and her husband Louis Leakey

Initially she found some bone and tooth fragments buried in the side of a cliff, and over the next few days found enough pieces to reconstruct the skull and jaws of an apelike creature from the Miocene era. Her discovery was one of the oldest and most important finds discovered in Africa up to that point. The proconsul africanus was just one of many incredible things she found. During her career, Leakey discovered fifteen new species of animal.

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