28. Mary Leakey: Disclosing the Past

The Nairobi National Museum houses a nearly complete skeleton of a Homo erectus male youth who
lived over 1.5 million years ago.
One point five million years ago!
Try wrapping your head around that.

If you want to go waaaay back and try to imagine when people started to be people, consider the world’s oldest cave paintings, created 37,000 years ago.

Now, think about Skeleton Boy who is all stretched out under glass in Nairobi’s museum. He was walking around on his own two leggies a great deal earlier than any of those cave wall artists.

It’s that skeleton, and the fact that we’re on our way to see it, that led me to pick up Mary Leakey’s autobiography.*

Leakey begins Disclosing the Past with an account of her childhood, writing about her love of art and her early fascination with excavated artifacts. “I remember wondering about the ages of the pieces, and the world of their makers.”

Although she didn’t imagine it at the time, it was a foreshadowing of what was to come.

This portion of her life takes up the first 40 pages.

Then she meets Luis.

Leakey writes as you might imagine a scientist would. There are no wasted words. She describes the landscape, but only to inform, not to romanticize. She chronicles the events that led to the discovery of a fossilized skull believed to be 1.8 million years old – proof that our own species had its beginnings in Africa. This was a ground changing discovery made during a time when few people would give credence to such an hypothesis. Her story covers her work with her husband, her family, her crumbling marriage and life after Luis Leakey’s passing.

*
Mary Leakey’s autobiography is printed in 10pt font.
When my eyes left the right side of the page to resume reading on the left side, I had trouble finding the correct line on which to proceed. I rarely read without a bookmark.
After 20 pages or so, I had to stop. It took me forever to finish. If you’re the type that likes to rocket your way to the finish line, buy the best pair of reading glasses you can find..