SB: Richard Leakey, your son, was scheduled to speak at Yale in 2003 on "Wildlife Wars." The announcement mentioned that he and his team, The Hominid Gang, had found more than 200 fossils since Richard took part in his first expedition in 1967. I must apologize for my first name basis here. There are several Leakey names that I would like to bring up.
Leakey: You are a darling! First, my interview occurs on Halloween. Second, you start with Richard, my pride and joy. He is a good boy. He found the "Turkana Boy" in 1984 near Kenya's Lake Turkana -- a complete skeleton. One of the rare finds, you know.
SB: Indeed. The Peabody Museum at Yale highlights a full-size replica of the Turkana Boy, a homo erectus 1.6 million years old. The young male was 5'6" tall. There is a replica of a hominid footprint trail that was made 3.7 million years ago on volcanic ashes. There are also the tools of Neanderthals -- the hominids who lived from some 300,000 to 32,000 years ago. Even though they traveled out of Africa we now know by the DNA evidence that Neanderthals became extinct and did not contribute to the modern human gene pool.
Your own original plans of a site, Mary, in Olduvai in Africa were transformed into a floor mural by New England artist Tony Falcone. I like this integration of art and science as your life appears to me.
Leakey: How clever! You must know that Louis asked me to illustrate his new book "Adam's Ancestors" after we met. My father was a painter who traveled a lot. In fact that is how my early interest in archeology began at foreign places like France and Italy. He also knew Howard Carter, an archaeologist in Egypt.
Let me ask you, darling, why you wanted to interview me all of a sudden.
SB: Well, this year is your 50th anniversary. I noticed that you were hardly being mentioned in the year of Darwin. When I tried to write about your achievements, I found much gossip about you and Louis. An interview seemed a fair way to honor you.
Leakey: I am delighted that you are sensitive to my story. It was not easy to carry on with science and family at the same time. All my three children were raised while we were doing our digs. I was not busy making meat pies so to speak. When Louis wanted to leave the family, it was Richard who talked him out of his plans.
I smiled earlier when you talked about a hominid footprint trail in volcanic ash. Wasn't it the Laetoli hominid footprint trail that my staff and I worked on from 1978 to 1981!
SB: You were a pioneer in several ways: (1) In October of 1947, you unearthed a Proconsul africanus skull which was the first skull of a fossil ape ever to be found. It is one of three known to date and twenty million years old. You and Louis were awarded the Stopes Medal in 1955; (2) The 1.75 million-year-old Australopithecus boisei skull was uncovered by you, Mary, fifty years ago. Happy anniversary!
Leakey: Thank you, darling. (3) Soon after that, a Homo habilis skull and bones of a hand were found. The thumb of the hand was capable of precise manipulation. (4) In 1965, we, Louis and I, unearthed a one million years old Homo erectus cranium.
That reminds me of our receiving the 1962 Gold Hubbard Medal in Washington.
SB: After your husband died in 1972, you continued at Olduvai and Laetoli. (5) You found many Homo fossils at Laetoli older than 3.75 million years old, fifteen new species, and one new genus. (6) As you said above, you with your staff, found the Laetoli hominid footprint trail which had been preserved in volcanic ashes.
Here is a footprint that was excavated by Professor Cynthia Liutkus of Appalachian State University this year. Modern humans made all 58 of them 120,000 years ago near a volcano in northern Tanzania.
SB: Thank you, very much. Mary. I plan to read in the next fifty years every one of the Leakey books and articles in preparation for your 100th anniversary interview. Perhaps even have another interview soon on the recent finds!
[Thanks much for letting me speak for you.]