Louis Seymour Bazett Leakey (1903 - 1972)

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Birthplace: Kenya
Death: Died in London, Greater London, UK
Occupation: archaeologist, Paleoanthropologist, Paleontology (Pioneering the study of human evolution, human evolutionary development in Africa); curator of the Coryndon Museum
Managed by: Ashiya
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Immediate Family

About Louis Seymour Bazett Leakey

Louis Seymour Bazett Leakey (L.S.B. Leakey) (August 7, 1903 – October 1, 1972) was a Kenyan archaeologist and naturalist whose work was important in establishing human evolutionary development in Africa. He also played a major role in creating organizations for future research in Africa and for protecting wildlife there. Having been a prime mover in establishing a tradition of palaeoanthropological inquiry, he was able to motivate the next generation to continue it, notably within his own family, many of whom also became prominent. Louis participated in national events of British East Africa and then Kenya in critical if less spectacular ways.

"When I think back ... of the serval cat and a baboon that I had as pets in my childhood days−and that eventually I had to house in large cages−it makes me sad. It makes me sadder still, however, and also very angry, when I think of the innumerable adult animals and birds deliberately caught and locked up for the so-called 'pleasure' and 'education' of thoughtless human beings. ... surely there are today so many first-class films ... that the cruelty of keeping wild creatures in zoos should no longer be tolerated."

From L.S.B. Leakey, By the Evidence, Chapter 4.

Background:

Louis' parents, Harry and Mary Bazett Leakey (called May by her friends), were British missionaries of the Christian faith in then British East Africa, now Kenya.[2] Harry had taken a previously established post of the Church Mission Society among the Kikuyu at Kabete. The station was at that time a hut and two tents in the highlands north of Nairobi. Louis' earliest home had an earthen floor, a leaky thatched roof, rodents and insects, and no heating system except for charcoal braziers. The facilities improved but slowly. The mission, a center of activity, set up a clinic in one of the tents, and later a girl's school for African women. Harry was working on a translation of the Bible into the Kenyan language Kikuyu.

Louis had a younger brother, Douglas, and two older sisters, Gladys Leakey Beecher and Julia Leakey Barham. Louis' primary family came to contain also Miss Oakes (a governess) Miss Higgenbotham (another missionary), and Mariamu (a Kikuyu nurse). Inevitably, Louis grew up, played, and learned to hunt with Africans. He also learned to walk with the distinctive gait of the Kikuyu and speak their language fluently, as did his siblings. He was initiated into the Kikuyu ethnic group, an event of which he never spoke, as he was sworn to secrecy.

Louis requested and was given permission to build and move into a hut, Kikuyu style, at the end of the garden. It was home to his personal collection of natural objects, such as birds' eggs and skulls. All the children developed a keen interest in and appreciation of the pristine natural surroundings in which they found themselves. They raised baby animals, later turning them over to zoos. Louis read a gift book, Days Before History, by H. R. Hall (1907), a juvenile fictional work illustrating the prehistory of Britain. He began to collect tools and was further encouraged in this activity by a role model, Arthur Loveridge, first curator (1914) of the Natural History Museum in Nairobi, predecessor of the Coryndon Museum. This interest may have predisposed him toward a career in archaeology. Also, when Louis was sick, Mary Leakey went out to look for artifacts and found Lucy, or australopithecus afarensis.

Neither Harry nor May were of strong constitution. From 1904-1906 the entire family lived at May's mother's house in Reading, Berkshire, England, while Harry recovered from neurasthenia, and again in 1911-1913, while May recovered from general frailty and exhaustion. During the latter stay, Harry bought a house in Boscombe In natural philosophy he asserted Charles Darwin's theory of evolution unswervingly and set about to prove Darwin's hypothesis that man arose in Africa; he was also a devout Christian.

Death and legacy:

Death:

On October 1, 1972, Louis was stricken with a heart attack in Vanne Goodall's apartment in London. Vanne sat up all night with him in St. Stephen's Hospital and left at 9:00 a.m and then 30 minutes following he died at the age of 69.

Mary wanted to cremate Louis and fly the ashes back to Nairobi. Richard intervened. As Louis was a Kikuyu, he ought to be buried in Kikuyuland. He was flown home and interred at Limuru near the graves of his parents.

In denial, the family did not face the question of a memorial marker for a year. When Richard went to place a stone on the grave he found one already there, courtesy of Rosalie Osborn. The inscription was signed with the letters, ILYFA, "I'll love you forever always", which Rosalie used to place on her letters to him. Richard left it in place.

Prominent organizations:

   * 1958. Louis founded the Tigoni Primate research Center with Cynthia Booth on her farm north of Nairobi. Later it was the National Primate Research Center, currently the Institute of Primate Research, now in Nairobi. As the Tigoni center, it funded Leakey's Angels.
   * 1961. Louis created the Centre for Prehistory and Paleontology on the same grounds as Coryndon Museum, appointing himself director.
   * 1968. Louis assisted with the founding of The Leakey Foundation, to ensure the legacy of his life's work in the study of human origins. The Leakey Foundation exists today as the number one funder of human origins research in the United States.

Prominent family members:

Louis Leakey was married to Mary Leakey, who made the noteworthy discovery of fossil footprints at Laetoli. Found preserved in volcanic ash in Tanzania, they are the earliest record of bipedal gait.

He is also the father of paleoanthropologist Richard Leakey and the botanist Colin Leakey. Louis' cousin, Nigel Gray Leakey, was a recipient of the Victoria Cross during World War II.

Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Louis_Leakey

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Louis Seymour Bazett Leakey's Timeline

1903
August 7, 1903
Kenya
1928
1928
Age 24
1936
December 24, 1936
Age 33
1936
Age 32
1944
December 19, 1944
Age 41
1972
October 1, 1972
Age 69
London, Greater London, UK