|Dr. Meave Leakey is the standard-bearer of a family of paleoanthropologists who have dominated their field since the beginning of the 20th Century. For 70 years, the Leakeys have been digging in Africa, uncovering fossilized clues to the origins of our earliest ancestors. Dr. Leakey’s field and lab work have established her as one of the most visible and distinguished scientists in a highly competitive and male-dominated profession.
Dr. Leakey’s research team at Lake Turkana, Kenya made a discovery in 1999 that completely redefined our understanding of early human ancestry: a 3.5 million-year-old skull and partial jaw (which she named Kenyanthropus platyops, or flat-faced man of Kenya) said to belong to a new branch of our early human family.
Announced in the journal, Nature, and the subject of a front-page story in The New York Times, this amazing discovery drew international attention, re-ignited the discussion of our ancient origins and challenged the view that human beings descended from a single line of evolution.
Dr. Leakey has authored numerous scientific articles. Her research also includes the evolution of monkeys, apes, carnivores and other mammalian fauna.
After completing her first degree at the University of North Wales, Meave came to Kenya to work for Louis Leakey at his primate research center near Nairobi. At the same time, she collected data for her doctoral dissertation, which she completed in 1968. In the 1960s women were frequently denied places on expeditions; but in 1969 she was invited by Richard Leakey to join his field team at Koobi Fora on the eastern shore of Lake Turkana. She has worked in the Turkana area every year since then.
Dr. Leakey is a masterful storyteller and an expert scientist. With vivid images and real-life stories of her fieldwork in Africa, she conveys the importance of studying our origins. “We are one species that originated in Africa,” says Dr. Leakey, “If we can understand our past, we can better understand our future.”
Dr. Leakey is a Research Associate in the Palaeontology Division of the National Museum of Kenya. She recently was named a National Geographic “explorer-in-residence,” in honor of the “43-year relationship between the National Geographic Society and the Leakey family dynasty of pioneering fossil hunters.” In conjunction with her ongoing projects, Meave will conduct research at the Society’s Washington headquarters for a period of time each year.