Apparently I need to bone up on my paleontology because I had no idea why the Google Doodle of the Day would feature a woman digging in the sand, pointing her trowel at footprints. A quick peek in the Doodle Gallery told me that artist Besty Bauer really cared about this person who was tremendously important for some reason, but I was still mystified. What the heck were Laetoli footprints and why were we celebrating their discovery?
I asked my husband if he had ever heard of Mary Leakey and he asked if she was related to the famous anthropologist Louis Leakey. The answer is yes, by marriage. She was a young artist with a passion for anthropology, he was a professor at Cambridge who needed a book illustrated. They fled to Africa together and married once he obtained a divorce. The rest is literally our history as a human race…
Mary’s many fossil discoveries shed light on how we evolved as a species. The Laetoli footprints strongly resemble modern human footprints and helped to establish that the ancestors of early humans learned to walk upright before their brains evolved to the present size, a matter of great debate in scientific circles. What’s more interesting is that she made so many notable discoveries as her husband’s partner while they raised three sons — in fact, their family has now dedicated three generations to the science of paleoanthropology.
I look forward to reading Virginia Morrell‘s book, Ancestral Passions: The Leakey Family and the Quest for Humankind’s Beginnings, so I can learn more about this fascinating woman and her impact on our world.