Family of British scientists. Louis S(eymour) B(azett) (1903–1972) is known for fossil discoveries made in close collaboration with his wife Mary (1913–1996) of early humans. In 1959, while working in Tanzania, Africa, Mary Leakey uncovered skull and teeth fragments of a species the Leakeys named Zinjanthropus, since renamed Australopithecus boisei. The next year the Leakeys discovered remains of a larger-brained species, Homo habilis. Their discoveries provided powerful evidence that human ancestors were of greater age than was previously thought, and that they had evolved in Africa rather than in Asia. Their son Richard (born 1944) and his wife Meave (born 1942) have continued the family's research and discoveries. In 2001 Meave Leakey discovered a skull belonging to an entirely new genus, called Kenyanthropus platyops and believed to be 3.5 million years old.
Biography The discoveries made by the famous Leakey family of anthropologists and paleontologists are nowadays so familiar (at least in their general import) that we can easily forget how much they changed our views of hominid evolution. Before Louis and his wife Mary made their first major discoveries, it was widely thought that humans had originated in Asia. This was because our immediate ancestor, Homo erectus, had been discovered in East and Southeast Asia, and for a long time its best and oldest fossil remains came from there (such as the famous “Java Man” and “Peking Man”). The Leakeys' discoveries of an earlier hominid species, Homo habilis, showed not only that hominid evolution was a good deal earlier than previously thought, but also that it had been centered in East Africa. Interestingly, Louis Leakey had (at least indirectly) almost as much influence on the study of modern primates as he did on the study of ancient ones: he persuaded Jane Goodall and Dian Fossey to live among gorillas and chimpanzees to study their behavior over long periods of time.