Discovering the Secrets of Humankind's Past
Louis Leakey was born to be an archaeologist, for his childhood in Africa truly prepared him for the field life he would later lead. The son of missionaries Harry and Mary Leakey, Louis grew up in Kenya near Nairobi, among the Kikuyu African tribe who the elder Leakeys were trying to convert. Despite intervening periods in which the Leakeys moved back to England, Louis grew up practically as a Kikuyu tribe member, and at the age of eleven he not only built his own traditional hut in which to live but was also initiated as a member of the Kikuyu tribe. It was within this hut that the beginnings of Leakey’s archaelogical aspirations took place. In one section he started a personal museum, collected all things naturalistic, from bird eggs to animal skulls. It was in 1916, at the age of fourteen, when Leakey first truly realized that he was meant for archaeology; after reading the account of stone-age men entitled "Days Before History" he was hooked. After reading about the arrowheads and axeheads created by these people, Louis began collecting and classifying as many pieces of obsidian flakes and tools as he could find. After confirmation by a prehistory expert that these were truly stone tools of ancient Africans, truly links to the past, Leakey knew that the rest of his life would be devoted towards discovering the secrets of the prehistoric ancestors of humankind.
Despite not being accustomed to the school structure back in England and the accompanying problems he had in public school, Leakey was accepted into Cambridge in 1922. However, blows to the head sustained during rugby games resulted in epilepsy and headaches for Leakey, and he had to leave school in 1923. This, however, was a blessing in disguise, for Leakey landed a job as an African expert on an archaeological mission to Tendaguru in what is now Tanzania. He was to accompany the archaeologist and dinosaur bone expert William E. Cutler. With his fluency in Swahili, Leakey soon orgainized an entire safari to the site. Working with and observing Cutler, Leakey learned "more about the technical side of the search for and preservation of fossil bones than [he] could have gleaned from a far longer period of theoretical study"." Many dinosaur bones were dug up although a complete skeleton was never found. After several months Leakey was forced to leave, leaving Cutler to continue. Back in England, Leakey wrote many articles and letters about the dig. Cutler, however, died in Africa a few months later, a victim of Blackwater fever.
Leakey returned to Cambridge and studied anthropology. From these studies and independent ones, Leakey developed the view that early man had originated in Africa, not in Asia as most scholars believed at the time. He became fascinated with the Olduvai Gorge site and the Homo sapiens skeleton discovered by German paleontologist Hans Reck. Great controversy surrounded Reck’s find because the age of the skeleton could not be proven. Further, Reck could not return to the site because, as he was German and Britain had won that region of Africa in World War I, he was not able to go there. Leakey was fascinated with the site and told Reck that they would one day go back. For the time being, this had to be put on hold. Finishing finals, Leakey graduated with excellent marks and recieved many grants for research in Africa. He was twenty-three, and he was about to lead his own expeditions.
Over the next few years Leakey dug at many sites, finding many stone tools, animal bones, and other artifacts. His search, however, was for proof of the use of a specific Chellean hand-axe style found in other parts of the world. This he found in 1929, and its discovery pushed back the age of the Great Rift Valley in Africa a great deal. Further, it provided critical evidence for a level of sophistication in East Africa equal to that of European cultures at the time. By this time Leakey’s work at caught the attention of the archaeological community and he began to receive much acclaim. In November 1929 he returned to