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Paleontologist and zoologist Meave Leakey is a prominent member of the famed Leakey family of paleoanthropologists who have dominated their field for over a century. Her life-long search for clues about our past has led her to every corner of the remote, windswept semi-deserts of Kenya’s Lake Turkana Basin. In 2013, the National Academy of Science elected her a Foreign Associate.
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Over the last four decades, the Koobi Fora Research Project, which she co-directs with her eldest daughter Louise, has unearthed much of the evidence behind our current understanding of our past. Dr. Leakey is focused on the origins of our own genus, Homo, and the emergence of Homo erectus, the first human ancestor to move out of Africa. Her research focuses on the sites around Lake Turkana, which are between 3 and 8 million years old.
In 1999, 2000, and again in 2007 the project made sensational new discoveries of early Homo that indicate Ausralopithecus afarensis (also known as the skeleton named “Lucy”) might not be the only species from which the human race descended. National Geographic remarked that Dr. Leakey's findings “challenge the straight-line story of human evolution.” The announcement of these discoveries was featured in Nature and The New York Times. In August 2012 Dr. Leakey and Louise announced the discovery of 3 new fossils that indicate there were more extinct human species than previously thought.
Dr. Leakey is a National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence in recognition of the 50-year relationship between “the National Geographic Society and the Leakey family dynasty of pioneering fossil hunters.” In 2016, she received National Geographic's highest honor, the Hubbard Medal, for her "outstanding contributions to scientific research, exploration and conservation."
She is also a Research Professor at Stony Brook University and was the head of the division of paleontology at the National Museums of Kenya for over 30 years. Alongside husband Richard and daughter Louise, she appeared in the National Geographic film, Bones of Turkana.
A masterful storyteller, Dr. Leakey conveys the importance of studying our origins in the context of the modern world with vivid images, real-life stories and provocative questions. “We are one species that originated in Africa,” says Dr. Leakey, “If we can understand our past, we can better understand our future."
My Life In Science: An Evening with 'Meave Leakey' at ADU
Meave Leakey at West Virginia University
Leakeys discuss "Turkana Boy" on NOVA
Meave Leakey on the emergence of Homo erectus
Six Million Years to Evolve the Deadliest Species on Earth
The Search & Discovery of Our Earliest Ancestors
My Life in Science: An Evening with Meave Leakey
Emerging Humans: Are We Really Different?
Human Development & the Brain: Why Are We Born Dependent?
African Origins: One Species, One Planet
Becoming Human: The Role of the Dexterous Hand
“Her passion and humility toward her life's work truly shined through. She was articulate and funny at times, which helped to hold the audience's attention throughout.”
Abbott Vascular, Inc.
“...Dr. Leakey was fantastic! We sold out the event and the talk was amazing. I was especially touched by the number of young women who approached you after your lecture. You certainly are an inspiration for all young people considering future careers in science.”
Ontario Science Center
“We just wanted to let you know how absolutely fantastic Meave Leakey's visit to WVU was! She was such a joy to work with and just a pleasure to have as a guest on campus There were over 1200 at her speech (standing room only) and was the best attended event in this year's Festival of Ideas.”
West Virginia University
“Dr. Leakey's eagerly anticipated lecture fired the intellect of our entire community and distinguished another level of academic excellence for the Barrett Honors College and Arizona State University. Her lecture was extraordinarily rich and powerful.”
Arizona State University
“Dr. Meave Leakey's visit to Culver Academies was a resounding success. Dr. Leakey engaged us all with both the story of her most recent discovery and the tale of her own journey into paleonthropology. She engaged even more dynamically with a group of students in a dialogue ranging from 'Jurassic Park' visions to the ethics of cloning.”
“Dr. Leakey was outstanding! She delivered an excellent address, was charming in her interaction with people, and added so much to the total Founder's Day activities. I do not have a single critical comment. She was absolutely wonderful.”
“Dr. Leakey was a wonderful guest. She had brought along a cast of the controversial skull that's been featured in all the news story photographs--and Butler's students got to hold it and examine it during the Q&A the following morning. I still can't believe our VERY FORTUNATE position in all of this! Her visit will be noted as one of the most special science lectures held on campus.”
“...The whole day was a success...she was wonderful! In the afternoon she had a meeting with biology students and faculty (Jim found them sitting at the lounge of the Science Building looking at bones)...At the reception people milled around her, deeply interested in the chance to ask her a question. The lecture had 350 people in attendance (225 were students)-the overall assessment: Terrific!”
“A fascinating account of some of the most exciting work being done on human beings...”
American Museum of Natural History
“...As I walked around campus the day after your lecture, I received so many positive compliments about the event. Both students and faculty were really impressed by the attendance and the lecture. This proved to be one of the most successful Hawley Foundation lectures yet.”
“...I cannot tell you how pleased we were to have you in the Museum. The evening lecture was terrific and I was delighted with the turn out.”
Field Museum of Natural History
“...It was so wonderful to have you here...I have had so many highly enthusiastic comments on your presentation and the great pleasure it was for people to meet you.”
St. Lawrence University
“Your presentation was visually dynamic as well as fascinating.”
“She was very well received and presented an excellent lecture... many, many positive comments following. She fit our bill very very nicely.”
South Dakota State University
“Major hit " nice and easy person to work with; we had a packed house.”
Miami University of Ohio
“We were so pleased with Dr. Leakey's visit to our campus. She is certainly a lovely lady as well as an informed educator and scientist. The EN Thompson Forum on World Issues lecture presented by Dr. Leakey was attended by almost 2000 people consisting of students, faculty and community members. It was one of our largest attended forums in recent history.”
University of Nebraska, Lincoln
“...I want to personally thank you for coming to Houston and being the keynote speaker at the Science In Excellence Luncheon on April 23 and also for participating in our distinguished lecture series. We continue to receive most favorable comments on the lecture and your unique perspective on East African paleoanthropology.”
Houston Museum of Natural Science