Jan 25, 2022

Mawazo Writing Africa

Writing about the main

The fossil man: Inside Dr Leakey’s search for early man and hunt for poachers and cartels

In the corner office on the first floor of the Louis Leakey Memorial Institute was Dr. Richard Leakey one of the few no-go zones – unless you had an appointment. Above the office, on the first floor, was the archeology department and on the second floor the paleontology department, where his wife Meave worked.

Outside, at the entrance to the building, stood the statue of his father with an Acheul hand ax – one of the family’s discoveries in the Kenyan Kariandusi, Olorgesailie and the Olduvai Gorge in Tanzania.

Dr. Leakey, who died on Sunday January 2 at the age of 77, came from a family deeply involved in the search for clues to Early Man. A hobby turned into a job. His mother, Dr. Mary Leakey, and his father, Dr. Louis Leakey, were fossil hunters. In 1927, on the island of Rusinga, they discovered the fossilized remains of a proconsul who they claimed was an extinct early ape-like creature now registered as KNM-RU 2036. It was scientific nonsense.

But it was Dr. Mary Leakey’s later work in the Olduvai Gorge and her descriptions of what she called the “Oldowan Industry,” a stone tool culture that began two million years ago and would establish East Africa as the possible cradle of mankind. They had also discovered Homo habilis and Homo erectus, which advanced an understanding of human evolution. That saved the family name.

Kapenguria Trial

Dr. Louis Leakey, for his part, had written two large volumes, History of Southern Kikuyu , and Jomo Kenyatta in Europe always clashed with who would be best placed to write the history of Kikuyu. By then, Kenyatta had written his own book Facing Mount Kenya and Dr. Louis Leakey, who was born in Kabete and whose skills were remarkable in both Kikuyu and Kiswahili, always scolded.

Dr. Leakey was later appointed by the colonial government as an intelligence officer to suppress the Mau Mau movement. He was later used as a translator during the Kapenguria trial against Kenyatta and translated the documents of the KAU.

Dr. Richard Leakey grew up in this environment – and it shaped his future career as a paleoanthropologist, civil servant and politician. He saw himself as a Kenyan and felt at home with other loyalists who had inherited the post-colonial state. That partly explains his friendship with Charles Njonjo – who also died on Sunday.

With no academic papers, he initially thought of getting into the touring business, bought a Land Rover and got a pilot’s license. Then he followed the famous fossil hunter Kamoya Kimeu, whose luck in the field was unparalleled.

Mr. Kimeu and Richard Leakey had one thing in common: neither were trained paleontologists and more like antiquarians. Dr. Leakey said that as a young boy, when following his parents, he wandered into the field and discovered what turned out to be the complete jaw of an extinct pig. His parents were thrilled – and the boy was thrilled.

When Dr. Louis Leakey hired the South African archaeologist Glynn Isaac as guardian of prehistoric sites in Kenya, the young archaeologist Richard took them to the field and they did pioneering research in the Koobi forums as part of the so-called East Rudolf Expedition. Isaac was also involved in the excavation of Kenya’s famous handaxe site in Olorgesailie.

But it was Koobi Fora in Marsabit that became Leakey’s fortune. Richard discovered the potential of the Lake Turkana region by chance in 1967. As he flew out of the region of the Omo River where fossils had been discovered, he peeked through the window and saw what looked like old sea beds.

With the help of National Geographic, he had returned, and to his delight , the land was an open museum of fossils and stone tools. But the discovery that took the world by surprise was KNM-ER 406, an almost entire skull of an ape-like being. They named it Australopithecine boisei and it was believed to have lived on these shores 2.6 million years ago.

After his father’s death, Richard took over the management of the National Museum of Kenya, which was then. was synonymous with family. Dr. Richard Leakey was the face of museums for many years – he fought for funds for his Koobi Fora project and was accused of using his position as a museum to carry out separate projects.

Doing research

He later had a runway in Koobi Fora and always flew there in a private plane. Everyone thought it belonged to the National Museums, but when he left he went along.

Koobi Fora Station is a series of researcher banda Leakey approved to work in the area. Those who argued with him were locked out of Koobi Fora or any other Kenyan site. The most famous case concerned Dr. Martin Pickford, who was banned from doing research in Kenya in July 1985. He accused Dr. Leakey for having constructed the ban and later wrote a book called Richard Leakey: Master of Deceit with Eustace Gitonga, the former exhibition director.

The book was published in 1995. He revealed not only how Leakey ran the institution, but also the fundraising strategies he employed – some, as they claimed, for his personal benefit. They cited letters, records from Leakey’s office, ledger books – and attacked all of the paleontologists and archaeologists in Leakey’s camp. He never complained and the book was slowly going out of circulation.

After Leakey left the National Museums of Kenya in 1989, Pickford, who worked in South Africa, applied for his friend Andrew Kipton. another research permit was appointed Minister for Research and Technology. In between, in 1989, President Moi appointed him director of the Kenya Wildlife Service to replace the corrupt and incompetent wildlife department – the playground of poachers and ivory kings.

Dr. Leakey not He only turned KWS into a paramilitary unit, but also created a sauce train when funds from donors and foundations flowed in. He got Moi to gain international notoriety by setting fire to a 12-ton stash of ivory while trying to clean up the parks.

But in January 1994, Dr. Leakey ousted from KWS after alleging a secret investigation uncovered abuse of power and corruption. Perhaps the book attacking Leakey was published afterward, and both Gitonga and Pickford tried to explain the coincidence.

During this time, Leakey joined lawyer Paul Muite and businessman Robert Shaw in founding Safina party ahead of the 1997 general election. President Moi claimed that Leakey was an atheist, which was true, and that he was sponsored by foreign powers and donors to take over the presidency.

The culmination of the war between Moi and Leakey occurred outside of a court in Nakuru when Dr. Leakey was attacked and flogged by a youth in canoeing. While his party was only registered a few weeks before the elections, it won six seats in parliament and nominated Leakey as MP. His brother Phillip had been elected MP from Lang’ata in 1979.

As a Safina MP nominee and with new clout, Dr learned a book against him that was to come under the aegis of a new institution, Community Museums of Kenya , work and investigate the rich fossil sites in the Tugen Hills.

It is alleged that Dr. Leakey canceled Dr Pickford’s permit dated October 30, 1998. In September of that year, Leakey resigned his Safina MP nomination after Moi reassigned him to his old KWS post, and in July 1999 he was promoted to director of the civil service appointed. It was a deal brokered by Njonjo and World Bank President James Wolfensohn.

As part of the deal, Leakey would come to the government with a new team from the private sector to fight inefficiency and corruption and restore foreign aid. In March 2001 he found that he was useless within the Moi government, which was ruled by corruption and cartels.

But while Leakey was on the “Dream Team”, he never forgot the little battles. In a March 14, 2000 letter that was later filed in court, Leakey apparently wrote to Dr. George Abungu, the director general of the National Museums, accused Dr. Pickford of “collecting fossils,” and asked Dr CID and that you send an officer and someone from [the National Museums] to intercept Pickford. “

” His possessions should be thoroughly searched and all fossils confiscated . (After that) his apartment in Nairobi should also be searched. ”

What we do know is that Dr. Pickford’s permit was revoked and he was arrested. The big question of who controls archaeological and paleontological research in Kenya would long persist, as Leakey was always looking for his will, even after he left the museums.

Leakey, like his father Louis, was always afraid of scientists who doubted his scientific claims. His father had had some embarrassing moments when he was once outed by Professor Percy Boswell of Imperial College after claiming that some finds from Olduvai Gorge were very old – and that it turned out to be only 15,000 years old .

“Dr. Louis Leakey was a warhorse, a young bull so full of a growing belief in himself and the validity of his lofty ideas that he shrugged off these warnings like a mosquito, ”wrote Donald Johnson in the book Lucy .

Dr. Louis Leakey had asked Prof. Boswell, a geologist, to go into the field and see the evidence. After returning to Europe and like Dr. Johnson wrote, “Boswell destroyed (Leakey) in a devastating paper published in Nature . These disasters ravaged Leakey for years. He would have got it over with faster if he’d been willing to admit mistakes. But he was stubbornness incarnate. ”

Homo sapiens

It was the same predicament that Dr. Richard Leakey was faced. Famous after the discovery of KNM-1470, one of the earliest claims about this fossil was that it belonged to the Australopithecine (Flat Face) family. But when science began to doubt his age and ancestry as the correct lineage of Homo sapiens, instead of reviewing his human reasoning, Dr defended older fossils of the 1470 types. He fought when he could against those who disparaged him. Today it is believed that it was a different species than Leakey thought, and that there were four such species that lived in the Turkana Basin 2.5 million to 1.5 million years ago.

While Leakey was passionate about fossils, he was more passionate about wildlife entertainment. He was seriously concerned about the fate of elephants and rhinos – the increased poaching and reluctance of insiders in the government to take action.

His opinion was that the hunting ban never stopped the practice, and accurate That was Kenya What was necessary was a policy of order. “Think of a policy to regulate it so we can make it sustainable … because an illegal harvest, an illegal market, whatever it is, is not sustainable in the long run,” he once said at a seminar at Strathmore Business School.

After retiring from the civil service, Dr. Leakey Professor of Anthropology at Stony Brook University. He also founded the Turkana Basin Institute, which should continue research in Kenya.

Some of his famous books are The Sixth Extinction and The Origin of Humankind . em>.

Dr. Leakey’s career, like his father’s, has included politics and anthropology. But in contrast to his great-grandfather Canon Leakey, he was an atheist.