The Old Man of Olduvai Gorge- page 7 | History | Smithsonian
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The Old Man of Olduvai Gorge

Irrepressible Louis Leakey, patriarch of the fossil-hunting family, championed the search for human origins in Africa, attracting criticism and praise

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So right, in fact, that Leakey’s view would prevail and most anthropologists would eventually accept Homo habilis as a legitimate member of the human family, though not necessarily as the direct ancestor of Homo sapiens. Inspired by his father’s work on human origins, third son Richard Leakey has achieved fame for his own fossil discoveries. In late September 1972, Richard flew down to Nairobi from his research site at Lake Rudolf (now Turkana) to show his father his team’s latest find, a large-brained skull thought at the time to be 2.6 million years old. The specimen was named 1470.


“It’s marvelous,” exclaimed Louis. “But they won’t believe you.” Remembering his own experience with the skeptics, Louis was looking forward to the fight over whether 1470 was a species of Homo, which Richard argued it was. As Richard recalled the encounter, the skull “represented to [Louis] the final proof of the ideas he had held throughout his career about the great antiquity of quite advanced hominid forms.”



But on October 1, a few days after holding the fossil in his hands, Louis Leakey died of a heart attack on a visit to London. Thirty years later, the debate that he anticipated continues.


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