Meave Leakey

Dr. Meave Leakey was born Meave Epps in 1942 in London. As a child, she attended convent and boarding schools. She later attended the University of North Wales, where she earned a joint honours in Zoology and Marine Zoology. Her ambition at that time had been to become a Marine Zoologist. In 1965, however, she changed her focus and began to pursue a Ph.D. in Zoology. That same year, she had her first contact with the Leakey family; she took a staff position at the Tigoni Primate Research Centre, which was administered by Dr. Louis Leakey. She completed her Ph.D. in 1968.

In 1969 she returned to Kenya and was invited by Richard Leakey to join his field expedition investigating the newly discovered palaeontological site at Koobi Fora on the eastern shore of Lake Turkana. This was the beginning of a long-term involvement with the highly successful Turkana Basin research project. Meave married Richard Leakey in 1970. Their two children are Louise, born in 1972 and Samira, born in 1974.

In 1989, when Richard Leakey left his Directorship of the National Museums to take over the management of Kenya’s wildlife, Meave became the co-ordinator of the National Museum’s palaeontological field research in the Turkana basin. Since 1989, in an attempt to find evidence of the very earliest human ancestors, this fieldwork, under Meave’s direction, has concentrated on sites between 8 and 3 million years old. In 1994, remains of some of the earliest hominids known were discovered at Kanapoi, a 4.1 Ma site to the south west of the present lake. These finds not only represent a new species, Australopithecus anamensis which is likely to be ancestral to Australopithecus afarensis (the earliest species of australopithecine currently recognised) but also provide secure evidence of bipedality at 4.2 mya. In March 2001, Meave and her colleagues announced the discovery of a new genus and species of human ancestor, Kenyanthropus platyops, which shows that Australopithecus afarensis (best known from the skeleton dubbed “Lucy”), is not the only contender for human ancestry.

Meave is currently a Research Professor at the University of Stony Brook in New York and is in charge of Plio-Pleistocene research for the Turkana Basin Institute. Meave worked at the National Museums of Kenya from 1969 until 2001 where she was head of the division of palaeontology for many years. She now continues her research at Lake Turkana as a Research Affiliate of the National Museums.

Since 1998, Dr. Meave has been co-leading paleontological expeditions ro northern Kenya with her daughter Dr. Louise Leakey.