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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.
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."