Soon after descending the indescribably beautiful scenery along the Ngorongoro Highlands' northwestern edge, along the road to the Serengeti, there is a narrow side road leading north to a very warm and dry place. At the edge of a ravine, which runs in west-east direction, is a small museum with an outdoor auditorium. At the bottom of the gorge is what looks like tall and thick pillars.
The name of the ravine is Oldupai Gorge, by westerns usually called Olduvai Gorge (it should be Oldupai since this is the Masai word for a wild sisal plant growing in the gorge). It constitutes a relatively small crack in the earth, a small rift arm from the actual rift running in a north-south direction a few kilometers away on the other side of the Highlands.
For some decades from the 1930s the site was excavated by a hardworking couple who both dedicated their lives to archeology. The white Kenyans Mary and Louise Leakey's findings at the gorge in northern Tanzania altered the view of science on early human history.
Louise Leakey became the most famous of them, not so much for the purely scientific achievements, but rather for his foresight and ability to pick up research money, and the fact that he was a man and she was not.
It was at Louis Leakey's initiative that a young Jane Godall was sent to study chimpanzees, Diane Fossey to study gorillas, while Birute Galdikas Brindamour took on orangutans.
Their work in the second half of the 1900s revolutionized observational research and its results. Women simply has better eye for details, which was not recognized 50 years ago, and definitely not within academic circles. But Louise Leakey was adamant. He died in 1972.
Mary stayed in the warm Oldupai and uncovered layer after layer of our history. Her findings and interpretations made her a giant within human origins research. On her track record of findings stands Proconsul Africanus in 1948, Australopithecus boisei 1959, and Homo habilis in 1960.
In 1974 and a little further south, at Laetoli, she found perfectly preserved 3.6 million years old footprints of fully bipedal creatures. Three individuals had once walked over the ashes which had not yet solidified. Imprint copies are kept in the Museum of Oldupai. Mary died in 1996
The Leakey family has become a legend in East Africa and especially Kenya. Mary's and Louise' son Richard decided as a young man never to become an archaeologist. 30 years later, he was a prominent archaeologist/ paleontologist. His findings, together with his wife Meave in Koobi Fora in the Lake Turkana Basin has shed further light on the human story. Among other things, they have proven that bipedal walking among hominids is at least a 4.2 million years old phenomenon.
Richard Leakey has at the side of his research had time to be politically active, museum director of the Nairobi museum as well as director of the Kenya Wildlife Service. In the latter post he fought a veritable war against heavily armed Somali gangs that almost eradicated the elephants in Tsavo in the 1980s.
His tireless and not always polished struggle for animal survival gained him many enemies with great power. After a mysterious plane crash, where sabotage could neither be excluded nor proven, he lost both legs. From his wheelchair in front of the television cameras, he turned in Swahili directly to the people with a speech that deeply touched even the black Kenyans. He was not intending to give up the struggle for Kenya's wildlife.
He worked more than ten years as an advisor to the Kenyan government mainly in the area of conservation.
Richard E. Leakey has published a number of interesting books, see here.