Mary Leakey, whose discoveries of prehistoric bones and artifacts in East Africa have led to a better understanding of the origin of the human species, died December 9 in Nairobi, Kenya. Leakey’s discoveries proved that human evolution began on earth up to 3.6 million years ago and have added credence to Charles Darwin’s theory that the earliest human ancestors can be traced to Africa. Previous to her work, the earliest traces of humankind dated back to only 0.6 million years. Gilbert M. Grosvenor, the chairperson of the National Geographic Society commented that Leakey’s work, “played a pivotal role in rewriting the history of early humans.”
On husband Louis Leakey’s frequent trips to the U.S. to lecture, he gave the impression that he made the discoveries his wife had made. Mary Leakey wrote in her autobiography that she lost her professional respect for her husband after he retracted a statement that a skull fragment came from a direct human ancestor.