Public Release: 

Leakey Foundation celebrates 100 years of human origins discovery

Top scientists gather at Chicago's Field Museum to pay tribute to Louis Leakey

The Leakey Foundation

San Francisco - Who are we and where did we come from? In the quest to answer these fundamental questions about human origins, no one has had a greater or more lasting impact than Louis Leakey (1903-1972).

Today many of Louis Leakey's theories are accepted as scientific fact, but this was not always the case. Along with his wife Mary, Leakey pioneered the survey and excavation of hominid and archeological sites in Eastern Africa, believing Africa to be the continent where humans first emerged. He conceived the first long-term behavior studies of wild apes that have shed light on human social relations. And he established the Pan African Congress as the first international body of scholars dedicated to human prehistory.

The centennial of Louis Leakey's birth coincides with an unusually productive period in human origins research. Important new fossil discoveries reported in Chad, Ethiopia, Kenya and South Africa are changing the way we understand the course of human evolution. New insights provided by long-term behavioral field studies and innovative technologies, including DNA analysis, have revolutionized our understanding of the relationship between humans and apes.

"This convergence of approaches has accelerated the pace of discovery," said Bob Lasher, Executive Director of The Leakey Foundation, the leading private funder of human origins research worldwide. "Since we owe the emerging picture of the human story largely to Louis Leakey, we felt that the Centennial provided an important moment of assessment--to consider the early influence of Louis Leakey as an architect of this science, as well as to refocus our efforts upon the lingering questions of the human past."

Dozens of the world's leading anthropologists, geologists, biologists and evolutionary scientists - including Louis and Mary Leakey's granddaughter Louise Leakey - will mark the 100th anniversary of Louis Leakey's birth at a two-day Centennial Tribute presented by The Leakey Foundation and held at The Field Museum Oct. 10-11.

"This two-day meeting will bring together so many leading authorities in the field of human origins that it is definitely the most impressive line-up that I have seen in my entire career," says Robert D. Martin, PhD, Provost and Vice President of Academic Affairs at The Field Museum. "I am delighted that Meave and Louise will be participating to underscore the major contributions made by the entire Leakey family."

As well as tracing the Leakey legacy, this remarkable weekend will also review the latest discoveries and current thinking in the dynamic field of human origins. True to Louis Leakey's wide-ranging approach to studying human origins, the Centennial Tribute will gather experts in a variety of fields, including paleoanthropology, archaeology, primatology and evolutionary ecology. In addition to presentations and discussions, the weekend will feature live flint-knapping demonstrations and fossil casts from the collections of several museums in Europe and Africa.

Named for Louis Leakey, the San Francisco-based Leakey Foundation has supported many seminal studies that inform our knowledge of the human past by scientists such as Richard Leakey, Jane Goodall, and Dian Fossey. The Centennial Tribute brings together in Chicago a new generation of expedition leaders whose discoveries resulted from Foundation grants--David Lordkipanidze, Sileshi Semaw and Louise Leakey.

Chicago's Field Museum is one of the world's great museums of science, environment, and culture, a focus of public learning and scholarly research. The Field Museum has long been an international leader in evolutionary biology, paleontology, archaeology and ethnography.

The program is presented with generous support from the Ann and Gordon Getty Foundation, Sofitel Chicago Water Tower, Fluid Inc., Chicago Public Radio, and Robert Mondavi Winery.

All programs take place at The Field Museum, located at 1400 S. Lake Shore Drive. For ticket information visit www.leakeyfoundation.org or call 312-665-7400.

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