Richard Leakey and Donald Johanson: The Quest for Humankind


Hi it's alice. what is the human is. it cannot talk. Think see film touch buttons and things or is it human sunday much more basic. That's richard leakey one of the most important contributors to the field of paleo anthropology. The study of human origins the academy of achievement has quite a collection in its audio archive of interviews with brie noun fossil hunters as they are colloquially called before we dig in deeper with two of them pardon the pun will listen for a few minutes to a montage of some of these folks people who have spent their careers looking for answers to who we are and how we got here clearly. It's much more to being human than simply. Having a large brain that is capable of emotion and thinking and sympathy empathy has been introduced as part of the ridges face that this is. What makes us special. We have that capacity to judge right and wrong good and bad evil and virtually all of these complicated concepts that live develop. But come on really say that Elephants don't have basically the same criteria in the makeup of emotion. And i'm very impressed by a lot of animals which show not only sympathy with members of their own species but show empathy in being able to interact with other species in a helpful. Way when it's appropriate and i think the most fundamental question about humanity is that we walk on two lakes and walking on two legs is enormously important because if we were using our hands with support. We couldn't manipulate things with tools and the development of by fatalism. Is i think the start of the human story and it probably goes back. To between six and seven melania's. We depend totally culture for our survival. This is donald johannesen. We would make it. I mean picture yourself totally stripped of your clothes out on the grasslands of east africa how would you even survive a week right without a something as simple as a as a swiss army knife but what was it that that generated that stimulated that provoked that change from a non toolmaking small brain form to a larger brain stone tool making four. And that's a mystery that still one of the most exciting periods in the human career. That is is is yet unsolved. I think there is a common misperception of what it is that we feel paleontologists do this. Is tim white. Many people think that we just go out. Wander around and stumble on things and you actually see this. In almost every media report of a new fossil discovery. The team stumbled upon these new remains. And believe me. This is why we don't stumble around you. You are looking at maybe that few seconds of actual discovery being luck luck over whether you look in that direction or that direction. And then down and see the cranium. But that's the last couple percent the ninety eight percent before that is the hard work of identifying where to walk in the first place setting up the logistics to get these large teams of scientists into the field. Finding out how old those fossils are by using all the geological dating techniques that we have studying things in the laboratory for years and years and years the last little bit his luck but most of it is just plain hard work and determination on these fossil discoveries. It's the same for any science. An old scientists are driven by this enormous curiosity. Maeve leaky they want to know. Why something does this or why something looks like. That will how something works and every scientist driven by this enormous curiosity to to find the answer to some question and it's the same with asa wandering around in the desert in the wind and the sun and the heat and we know if we look hard enough we can find a fossil. It will tell us something we didn't know before the most specimens you have more questions answered so many many questions related to. Why did homer actors move out of africa when no other species had done that. Why did the brain sought to expand. Why did our answer stop making stone tools. What we know what was what was. The environmental stimulus always seems to happen. So we're looking at those sort of questions and it's just. It's an incredibly obsessive. Rarely just know if you keep us it. You know you're going to get the answer and finally desmond clark. Why is it that we study these kinds of things. Well we clearly need to know where it is we have come from. We need to know about. Genetic composition is so that we can plan for the future. Alway the hard age aggressive Killer apes that some people have suggested that we are are we the more gentle food sharing hominids who developed society on the basis of the family. Some no doubt between the two on salons. I think the stage is now set for some of the questions. Some of the answers and many of the mysteries remaining that will explore further with richard leakey and donald joe hansen but coming human on this episode of what it takes a podcast about passion vision and perseverance from the academy of achievement. I'm ls winkler at this child is gifted and i heard that enough that i started to believe if you have the opportunity not a perfect opportunity. You don't take it. You may never have another child it all so clear. It was just like the pick your started to form itself. There was new wing which ally could prevail over the truth darkness over light every day. I wake up and decide today. I'm going to love my life decide if they're going to break your leg or you go in play stay out of there and then long companies experiences that you don't look for you. Don't plan for the boy. You better not miss in one thousand nine hundred seventy four. A young paleo anthropologist just out of grad school was hunting for fossils. Any fussell's that might give a new clue to how we humans evolved. Donald johanson had yet to make his mark but he'd found a site he thought at a lot of potential so he invited richard leakey to come visit. Leaky was already famous. He and his team had made some big fines and kenya. Including what was then the oldest known ancestor of man also. His parents were louis and mary. Leakey giants of paleo anthropology. So visit from richard leakey was pretty thrilling for donald johanson but not nearly as thrilling as what happened the day after leaky left. That's when you hanson made a discovery that would change his life and rewrite. The story of how our species came to be what i found. Lucy seventy four. I was walking in a very desolate. Remote part of of ethiopia notice hotter at hotter our site. We had found fossilized remains of all kinds of animals elephants. Rhinos gazelles monkeys. And so on but our main goal of course was to find as many human ancestor fossils as we could. we had found some things in nineteen seventy-three that titillated us and and alerted us to the fact that these geological deposits would in fact have a human ancestor fossils and on this november morning. It was about noon. I was heading back to my land To drive back to camp. And i happened to look over my right shoulder and as i did so i saw a fragment of bone which i recognized as coming from The elbow region of a skeleton and that it was too small to be anything but one of these hominids and the anatomy was right and almost instantaneously. I was with a student of mine at that time tom gray. We realized that there were fragments of her or of the skeleton that were distributed long slope. There was a piece of a leg that was a piece of a pelvis was a piece of jaw. There was a piece of the skull. And i realized almost instantaneously that we had part of the skeleton. The skeleton from a creature who had walked up upright. Joe could tell that as soon as he examined her knee joint she had a small brain though and a sloped chimpanzee kind of face. She turned out to be three point. Two million years old. That made her the new oldest creature with human characteristics ever found more than a million years older than the skull called fourteen. Seventy that had brought richard leakey to fame. Lucy was a hell of a find and captured the public's imagination but not everyone was convinced that donald johanson was right when he announced that lucy was our oldest human ancestor. Chief among them was richard. Leakey he didn't quibble with the age of the bones but he believed at the time that there were two lines of evolution. One line that had gone extinct and another line that had led to humans he placed lucy in the extinct line. Johannesen though was certain she was a common ancestor to both lines. It grew into a heated debate in the lofty world of paleo anthropology but then on a thousand nine hundred eighty one series hosted by walter cronkite called universe. The feud went public on national. Television presented. Our family tree. Let's see it must've been in in january of nineteen seventy nine which is two years ago and very shortly thereafter I know that the richard and and others but specifically richard have said that it does not fit the evidence of the fossils. I've been around thirty five years in a family that seen loss of control the city. I've fossils in favor out of favor back in favour out of favor. Let's stand back from it. Of course important. I wouldn't minimize it. Say whether the wrong tactic it'd be fun to Sort of a portrayal of how i look at the family tree from kenya. Empty-handed then. I've i've left to spot me to draw your rendition waitress. I don't do this leaky answered with some snark. That he hadn't brought a marker so johannesen handed him on. I can do here to hold it up jonah. hold up. I think in probability that i will do that. That's the sound of. Richard leakey drawing a big fat x. Through johannesson's proudly printed evolutionary tree showing lucy at the top. What would you draw on its place. And that's the sound of leaky drawing a simple question. Mark a battle line you could say when walter cronkite introduced the segment. He said that all the bits and pieces of bone from men like creatures that had been found up to that point would not cover a billiard table. Forty years later that's no longer true. In the literal sense there have been significant discoveries including several by lee. berger who's the featured guest on another episode of what it takes and advances in genetics and molecular biology have helped fill in more branches of our family tree. It's a more complex tree. Now though we could say. Dan joe hansen won that round does more closely resemble the tree as he envisioned it but much of what we do know today about. Our ancestors is built upon the work of both these paleoanthropologists who spent years of their lives toiling in the heat and the lab rummaging for bones that tell us our story now time for their stories i donald hansen who grew up mostly in connecticut in the nineteen forties and fifties the child of swedish immigrants. You achieved some tremendous triumphs very early relatively speaking in your career and It makes me very curious about how you came to be so turned on by anthropology in the first place. Was there someone in particular that had an influence on you or did you just discover it on your own. Well in fact that there was one single individual who became my mentor. Very early on my father died when i was two years old. So i had no strong male image or personality in my life and as a young boy At about age eight. I met an anthropologist who was out walking his dog he was teaching at a theological seminary in hartford connecticut and As i often jokingly say his dog introduced me to him and i became introduced because of that to anthropology something that probably most of us. Don't even hear about until we're in college and and take an introductory anthropology course or whatever but paul laser deceased now was Regular going to africa to pursue His area of work. He was a social cultural anthropologist. In places like tanzania and malawi and so on and i was thrilled as as a young boy to sit with him surrounded by his library of knowledge and talk to him about his adventures in africa. And i became very interested in africa. I became very intrigued by the idea of going to a place as foreign and remote as africa and at the same time i was particularly interested in biology and i was i had used butterfly collection and i went out and identified plants and insects and so on and when when the first fossils began to be found in eastern africa in the late nineteen fifties. I thought what a wonderful marriage. This was biology and anthropology. And it was really. I think when. I was around sixteen years old that that i made this particular choice. Do you ever stop to wonder if that dog hadn't introduced you to the anthropologist whether you'd be doing something else today or do you think you were in a sense predestined. You would have found this field anyway. I i suspect that. If i had not met police or if i had not had his remarkable influence i would certainly doing something else. I think that in fact my first two years of high school i was not a very good student. I was much more interested in what was going on outside of school and after my sophomore year. Paul told me you know you if you want to go to college if you want to pursue an advanced degree in whatever field it is you want what you need to to get crapping in your schoolwork and i worked very hard. The last two years of high school and Did very well but i did very poorly on examinations and i went to the high school counselor mr olsen to to Discuss like college applications. He said young man. Who said i think you should apply to a trade school. He said you're not college material. Paul laser finding his young friend almost in tears assured him that the tests warrant an accurate reflection of his intelligence his ability and encouraged him to apply to college anyway. He got in as he told gail. I can tho who conducted this interview for the academy of achievement in nineteen ninety-one. He owes paul laser. So much joe. Hansen's parents hadn't been to college. His dad had been a barber and his mom who emigrated from sweden at sixteen had no formal education at all when she found herself a single mother. She struggled hard to keep food on the table. Why mother had a very difficult time financially and She spent Her career really being a domestic cleaning lady and she earned enough money to support the two of us and to assist me in my attempts to go to college so there was a tremendous work ethic which she had and Had a tremendous influence on me in terms of. If you wanna do something you can do it there there. There really are few obstacles that are going to prevent you from doing it so She was a very important role model for me for for very different reasons. That's pretty amazing. What do you think looking back to those early years of. What was it about anthropology. Or the idea of being an author apologised the actual doing of anthropology. What what attracted you so powerfully. Do you think well there's a. There's a tremendous amount of romanticism which surrounds Going on expeditions to remote parts of the world in camping in tents and living in a desert and struggling with all of the trials and tribulations at one encounters but i think that what really intrigued me was the fact that i felt that this was an and still is really a science a form of inquiry which is still in its infancy that there were so many things yet to be discovered that the science itself would have in my lifetime. Still lots of surprises. Was there someone professionally After you became an advanced student In graduate school. That really kind of gave you. I break in this field. Yes there was. I as an undergraduate had an opportunity to go on a number of archaeological digs so i had Experience excavating working on Expeditions in north america digs as we call them here. digging up of ancient indian villages and so on in the mid west and in the southwest but i was being sort of channeled in that direction but as i said my real passion my real. What really excited me was the idea that that that humans had a tremendous prehistory on that they went back millions of years and i wanted to go to africa to find some of these Creatures and the school where i was i was at the university of illinois and There there really was no one there who was doing this kind of research. Either in the field or in the laboratory and there was one man professor clark howell Who's teaching at the university of chicago. And he is sort of the father of paleo anthropologist. It's called the study of human origins. And he he developed the whole multi interdisciplinary approach to doing this sort of work that we do in the field and He was at that time. Working in southern ethiopia at a site known as the omo and i remember talking to my fellow graduate students about the fact that you know this is really what i wanna do. I wanna pursue human evolutionary studies. And i want to work with clark held and They said how do that. And i said well. I have to meet the guy and they said how you gonna do that and i said well i'm going to call him and i called him at the university of chicago. I call the police department and was transferred to his office and he picked up the phone and i told him who i was. And then i was a student in champaign urbana and then i wanted to come to chicago to meet him and he said well that that'd be fine and we set up an appointment and here was sort of you. Know the the the the the dean of american of american paleo anthropology who you know we read about. Every student read hit his his works he was. He was more influential really than any other individual in the united states. And i had an appointment to see him and i remember walking to his office. The first very first time very cordial very approachable man. And we sat down and talked and then he said finally he said you know what. What do you really want to do. And i said well. I'd like to go to africa and find human ancestor fossils. And he said we don't want people want to do that. after this discussion he invited me to come to the university of chicago as an exchange student for a half a year and after i series of courses there. They asked me if i wanted to stay on as a permanent graduate student that there was a fellowship that was available. A national institute of dental research traineeship. So i was expected to do something in the area of teeth and since teeth are the things that preserves the best in the fossil record. It was appropriate to to do this sort of study and i did long very boring thesis. On chimpanzee t. I traveled all over europe and looked at museum collections. And that prepared me for understanding the teeth of our human ancestors. Better than anything else. I could have done. And during the course of my research for my my Clark was working in ethiopia And he was going to study some fossils of human ancestors in south africa and he was particularly interested in what he could learn from the anatomy of teeth and he said well why don't you. Why don't you come with me on this. Why don't you come up and see what it's like to be in the field finding these fossils and that was the break that that all of us dream of a students and It was that was one thousand nine hundred seventy and since then. I have worked on and off throughout the the great rift valley of east africa. Let's let's go back to that. Amazing discovery of ms lucy first of all. How and when did you realize what you had found Normally we are happy to find a fragment of jaw is located teeth. A bit of an arm Bit of a skull but to find associated body parts is extremely rare and i realized that no matter what it wants even if it was from a creature that we already knew about another kind of human ancestor that had already been studied named. It's on it was going to be important because if you're going to make Decisions about anatomy in other words. What is the what are the relationships between upper and lower limbs one of the things that we've asserted that is played a very important role in some people's interpretation of This form of australopithecus is the fact that her arms are relatively long compared to her lower limbs. our arms are at least. This arm bone. The upper arm bone is only about seventy percent the length of our thighbone when lucy's case it was about ninety percent the length of her thighbone which meant she had relatively long arms when she probably inherited from our ancestors who lived in trees. So it's very important to know if you're dealing with one individual because if it's one individual you can make that statement if it's more than one individual you might be confusing the arms and legs of different individuals in this case. There was no duplication of of body. Parts in other words weren't to right arms or two left legs or two fragments of left jaw. There were only there was only represented in the collection. One of each and also the bone Is all of the same fossilised or color. So we were able to make the decision that belong to a single specimen so i realized immediately that this was terribly important. Find terribly important discovery. But i didn't realize at the moment how important it would be until we had spent a lot of time in the laboratory. Studying her how did you feel that day. Well i it. It was a moment of just absolute exhilaration the when we first drove into camp We were driving into camp. My my student was Hawking the horn of the land rover. They knew something was up right away so everyone. Even though they weren't specialists and anthropology people who might have been doing something geology or paleontology came running out and they find what you find. And i'll never forget the students. We found the whole damn thing and this. What are you reading. So we found skeleton and that was Just like some sort of the lick ser that Infected everyone so that the whole camp was immediately brought up and excited and we all drove out to the site and stood around and looked at the bones that were on the slope and developed a strategy for what to do but that night when we were in camp. That's all we could talk about. Was the discovery of this specimen and What do you think it is done and you think it's a male or female. I thought it was a female because of the small sized we were listening to beatles. Tapes I have been still emma a great beatles fan and one of the songs that was playing was Lucy in the sky with diamonds. Thought that instead of calling her. The partial australopithecus skeleton from locality to eighty eight. That she needed a you know some some name something that would be easier to refer to her. And i jokingly said why. Don't we call her lucy and little. I know that that would catch on. I mean once that name was uttered once it was associated with the skeleton. There was no way to erase it. the next morning at breakfast my students would say to me. Well we're going back to the lucy site you think we'll find more lucy skull you think we'll be able to get the rest of lucy's leg so that she developed right from the outset You could see inklings of a of of a personality that she was becoming more than just a bunch of old dry bones that were collected in this remote part of the world that she herself was being identified as as a as a very important element in our understanding of human origins so that the the excitement was quite extraordinary and involve really everyone not just the person who found her. But everyone who worked on the expedition. After don joe and his team uncovered lucy's bones. It still took about three years of lab work in analysis before he felt confident enough to announce his conclusions. And that's when sparks again to fly. When i realized in Nine hundred seventy seven. Seventy eight that this was that lucy did represent a new species of human ancestor. And then i had an opportunity to name this new species. I realized that this was a revolutionary step in terms of of of understanding human origins. And it brought with it a tremendous amount of responsibility. Because i had to be correct. I had to be right if i made a mistake. At this point and announced a new species and someone came along and proved me to be wrong. I would lose a tremendous respect for my colleagues. So i worked very hard with a number of Scientific colleagues particularly tim white and the two of us made this decision. That these fossils lucy and other fossils which we found in ethiopia represented a very distinct and different species of australopithecus a species which was more primitive more generalized than any other species of australopithecus ever been found in africa and not only did that. Did that have important implications for the naming of species the number of species of the fossil record but the next step was even scarier. Was if that's true. Then it's going to strongly influence the way we view the family tree because the way the family tree was constructed at that point we felt on the basis of this new discovery the naming of the new species which was named after the afar region of ethiopia. So was called australopithecus. Afarensis that this would have important implications in how we viewed this sort of tempo the speed and the mode of evolutionary change for example. Here's a creature. That we felt was fully upright bipedal walking on two legs yet had a brain that was the size of a chimpanzee. this was really close to abe. That stood up as anything that anyone had ever found and there have been many people who have suggested that our ancestors stood up so that we could use our hands to make and use tools yet. We hadn't found a single stone tool endeavor have in those deposits that when our ancestors stood up their brains increased in size so that they would have a complex to make stone tools but she had a small brain so i knew that it was going to generate and potatoes. A whole series of new controversies about our ancestry so that it was an electric time in my life. I mean you can imagine. I mean at that point. I was invited to go to sweden to participate in the nobel symposium and i decided this was the venue this was the place where i wanted to announce the new species and i thought how substantial impact this is going to have and i went to the nobel symposium and there were very few people at the symposium who knew it was going to be announced and when i made the announcement you could hear a pin drop in the room. I mean here was assembled fifteen of the world's specialists in human evolutionary studies. richard leakey. Was there mary leakey. He was there a whole host of people from prestigious universities who published widely in here. I was nineteen seventy eight. I was at that time a young scholar thirty five years old making this announcement it had. Furthermore i've presented a new view of how the family tree looked. And i thought that this is going to generate enormous discussion. I finished my paper and there was a question and answer period and nobody asked a question. They broke for t people left the room. Only one scientists came up to me afterwards and said it's unbelievable and they were so taken aback by this that they didn't even want to discuss it and During the week's discussion whenever people would start debating a family tree. I would say you know what about my family tree. What about what i'm suggesting. And some people deliberately tried to ignore it and not consider it because it really upset their views of human evolution and i must admit that it was one of the times when i really had to dig deep. Take a deep breath and say. I believe i'm right and i believe that. I will be vindicated and that lucy will be accepted as australopithecus afarensis and that she will alter the view. Everyone's views of how we got here. Tell us about The significance to the way we think about the evolution of the family tree How lucy has changed our perceptions will. The the major impact which lucius had is on a previous scenario of human origins where people felt that there were a number of events number of evolutionary changes which all went together that our ancestors stood up to free their hands so that they could make use stone tools and in order to make use stone tools they had to have large brands and this has been pretty much view that dominated human origins studies ever since it was suggested by darwin in the mid eighteen. Hundreds and here comes lucy about three and a half billion years old. She has a very small brain. Not much bigger than that of a chimpanzee and we've never found any stone tool stone artifacts associated with her species. She's walking upright so it appears that upright by people posture and gait walking onto legs precedes by perhaps as much as a million and a half years the manufacture of stone tools and the expansion of the brain so it that means that there has to be a major new way of looking at what it was that sparked humans to separate from our closest relatives chimpanzees we know from genetic studies that humans and modern african apes closely related to one another that they share ninety nine percent identity in their dna and that means that the separation between apes and humans probably happened as recently as five or six million years ago. Not like people had believed that that separation was twenty million years ago that we were comfortably separated from these beasts. Right now we find out that they are very closely related to us that they are cousins in the true sense of the word of cousins. I mean they are remarkably close to us. richard leakey. The other paleo anthropologist were featuring today was born and raised in kenya. His famous parents louis and mary leakey helped prove that humankind had its roots in africa. Reportedly he carried on their work but he also spent portions of his career in conservation in government and politics and in environmental advocacy. His childhood growing up in this sort of royal family wasn't terribly happy. He told irv drazn them in this academy of achievement interview from two thousand seven that his parents were distant and that he didn't enjoy school at all. The good parts about my growing up in kenya. Was that my parents Times a year would go off somewhere into the wild places to look for artifacts logical tracy's fossils and these were generally in areas with his wildlife or natural beauty alone adventure and we should normally look forward to these outings for two three weeks at a time where we live pretty simply in very simple tenants but it was just a tremendous adventure in more than anything else bought mean in close touch with nature the environment and gave me a feel for the land. What else. I never really understood why. If people had the knowledge we will being tortured. It seems to me that we should be told things. That didn't i mean just made no sense to me for instance if people could add to make full why should i have to do it. I mean you. It was obvious the what people better at me. And why should i be learning these things. I remember i. I love to hear about stories from periodically listened to my parents and they visited visited because they were quite successful. People hearing about how people done extraordinary things gone to short replaces is particularly excited about the idea of science discovering new things. My parents used to talk. As i've done to my children about the the excitement of being fest to know something that you know lezo will become known to millions of people through through publication. The fastest see something to understand something. Those sort of concepts sexually excited me. I think watching nate shown puzzling about conflict. Which which still puzzles me today. And that is the the idea that we were so different from everything else around us that we created separately. I had relatives. Were very much in the judge and an uncle who's an archbishop in the church in east africa and the sort of awareness that that he believed humans were created in a special way created in god's image and had souls consciences felt pain and joy whereas the others didn't whether it was adult a cat elephant that these were somehow just jealous of flesh wondering around there. I was found that very hard to understand. I suppose one one of the moments. I remember most was as a young boy. When the president british queen's father died and she was to become the queen of england and chat services religious oriented school into the masses of jet services. We boys were forced to ten was catholic school and not being catholic. In fact being christened will baptize. I was excluded from mass into that kind. And i remember sitting outside and found a couple of praying mantis who amusement me because praying mantis often sit up with their hands together. Like this and i. I wondered if they too had been caught up in this conundrum. I'm happy a happy to us when everyone was seeing my heart. Sound communing with a two praying mantis about. They thought the whole thing when he was just six years old. Richard leakey found his first fossil. It's true that i used to from beijing. Probably about three or four go with my brothers Exhibitions and this was an expedition on the shores of lake victoria. It's particularly hot and humid air. What usually fossils found in areas. Where there's very little shade open air as erosion has caused a lot of rough badland country. So this is an opportunity to get out of the sun and the fossils full out on the surface found on the surface. Then you excavate when my parents were excavating some particularly interesting bone. And i think it was about but late morning and i had been with them since early morning very old not flies and it seemed to me well pasta time that i should be taken back for swim in the lake and lunch and i'm like a little boys before. Saying what time is it a win. Are we going Why don't you stall contact. Go back and i think it became an absolute pain in the neck. In fact i know it was investing. My father said just go off and find something to do. Find a fossil push off so pushed off wasn't usually encouraged this way and lou brush dental pick and didn't go very far unfunny now found a washing out on on the ground being told to date outside. I started picking away at it quite intrigue because the bone went on into the ground. Brush away the more debt. Pick away a few couples and tooth appeared and pushed on a little bit more now. The tooth pit and really became quite absorbing for five zero. I forgot all about lunch in the flies and liz happily poking away at might as well when shadows on a felony and they said what what are you gonna since it was bowed. Look it's got teeth and its own this more of it. They said oh. Why don't you move off find another. We'll take this one. And i said well at least we go to. Lunch will wait now. Because we're gonna see what she found said. I have gotten to western las. My volume lost lunch. Lost to swim in the lake filled damage. That's new way to live in southern. Got very negative about paleontology from that day on there. Ever any doubt bubble you your wife think still is and i wasn't a toll chal that i wanted to do what my parents did as i got older. It was very clear that they were very successful. And it's quite difficult to to be successful in in in the shadow of successful people. That was one too. I'd done so badly at school. That the options that i'd hoped available to me obviously weren't i was unemployable. My school leaving certificate. I found many as later. Headmaster said to my father that he couldn't think of anything in which i could be usefully directed as a career and he felt maybe the british army is entering private. Might be one option. Neither no i. I was pretty Glad to leave school and pretty loud when my parents said if you leave school and don't go on with the education now you're on your own. I thought that was the best. I've had for a long time. It was delighted to have that. And so i said to have made my way from there. I did few odds and ends. I made a little money. Trapping animals did some collections will the smithsonian wanted a collection of african birds For force skeletons to compare with fossil beds so i shot and collected a lot of african birds. I am collected some fairly unusual primates that we needed for research at yale. Made some money on on on those activities and but largely was hidden The cost of living in kenya and in the early sixties was relatively modest and and i could manage but it was very unsatisfactory and It looked though. I could go into a serious commercial enterprise running tours and safaris but as you had to take people with your enrich. The people ended up clients optical unites people inside and lie that island and then. I thought i'd try getting back to an academic training. And i went to cambridge where three or four generations of my parents side had been scholars at cambridge. And i thought i'd had about the old boy network. Old school tired. Felt they would take a fifth generation just on the name but Made very clear that that was not an option to me and said cambridge rejected me quite rightly At the time. I saw dozens cherish. And eventually i offer to to help by parents. Or when i some of the ongoing projects at that time the sixties was just getting underway. My mother discovered a skull of a gentleman. The national geographic society was supporting them. They needed logistics. They needed so. I began to work with him then found that they will quite willing to let me go off and look into the possibility of the sites in other places. I knew the fussell's. I knew the background energy in australia. Cheap so i'd be sent home for the vehicle in a couple of men to explore. The possibility of aol spent him being. So i got into field and prehistory that way Fortunately my first real venture into looking for fossils. Small group resulted in a very important discovery. That was in late. Sixty three early sixty four where we discover the lower jaw of on our show that have not been found before it was perfect condition. We found it on the fest fest attempt to and so that. Got me very excited. And i began to realize that napoleon lot more of these things that if you find these things you get a position in the ladder which you can't get to an issue either got education or something else and so by finding employment things you immediately get into the game which should be excluded from otherwise richard leakey success with his wife and colleague maeve leaky no longer depended on the family name their discoveries including the skeleton known as turkana boy. Advance the field tremendously. What is the key bosses clues assistance luck finding fossils. You've got to be looking in the right pace so an understanding of geology is very important that you've got to to to be able to locate areas where the might be fossil's because of the geological evidence for conditions under which fossils of formed an conditions under which fossils might now be re exposed version. Then you got to acetate that their offices where you're looking and then you look mighty harden and you can you can look look look not find an ingredient exact same place a year later. No is something that will time. And it's it really is a question of persistence and doggedness. But you could look as doggedly as you like in the in the wrong place and find it said element of of subliminal knowledge that plays a major part that a lot of people. Obviously don't have. I had it because i was raised in it. It was second nature to me when you do find something worthwhile. Richard leakey told earth jasmine. It's not always apparent right away. Maybe one of your team members picks up a scrap of bone that is clearly not from a boon monkey. It's not a lion or an antelope include it's may be from a human ancestor but it's just a scrap. You're searching excavating more often than not you reach a dead end but still you hold out hope so you may find something today and it may be another five or six days or even a week mall before you have enough pieces if then did you find additional pieces that all comes together and then suddenly realize that is really is something. Quite new. Quite different makes the the excitement. The the the buzz usually is gradually develop. It's not like a jab with electricity route. It's sort of slow build up to to the full consummation. I guess you could say very slow sex building up to the final moment. This is an analogy for that sometimes. It's not that new. You walk around the corner and now the whole thing is before you because it was washed out complete. That moment of connection to our prehistory brings a rush. That is unique. We are an unusual species. We do the strangest. Things will very complicated. And we're all interested in how we came to be what we are. Vast majority of people are quite happy with an explanation that was offered a couple of thousand years ago that that we were somehow the product of a very wise god who decided that we should be created in his image. Now somebody who's grown up in silence being steeped in the concepts of evolution. This data worked for me but that doesn't work to say what. I don't believe god made us if i don't know what did produce said i've had a natural inclination to want to follow the biological explanation. How we came to be on. That's a very complex and perron story and the exciting thing about it is. It can't be done in isolation of the origin of life. The whole story of zebra come from. Where did the giraffe with the fruit. Fly come from an an and waded the tomatoes from these these old equally interesting parts of our story. So that's that's what drives me richard. His interests in the whole story of the natural world actually led him away from paleoanthropology apology in the late nineteen eighties. The was wife made and one of their daughters carried on the work leaky was appointed by kenya's president to head the kenyan wildlife service and he was tasked with the streamlined tough task of stopping the elephant poachers who were wreaking havoc on. Kenya's wildlife and causing an international uproar leaky destroyed stockpiles of ivory. He made sure poachers were severely punished. And it worked. The elephant population came back then. He went into opposition politics to try and reform kenya's democracy and fight corruption but he was accused of treason and he was badly beaten up. He wasn't able to achieve what he'd hoped but his service is still something. He's tremendously proud of. This is the challenge so if you want something done by me suggested it then i will engage cards. You one's own. Convictions is very important. Part of seems sounds like a cliche. But i think it actually does capture a spirit of why a number of women and men are successful because they grasp onto something if you like a belief in themselves and their ability to make an impact and once you have that as part of the the really very few things you can't attempt to tackle that and push through in one way or the other and i think for me and i'm sure many others who've reached a position where other people at least in this successful You do surveying full well that you can be successful by failing thoroughly unless you can prove that something wasn't possible and you don't have to always it doesn't always have to end well provided what you did was done with sincerity and and sarah. I guess that is in party essence of science. You you have an idea you set it up you set out to prove it and if you work hard enough at it you either do prove it. We've proved utterly as role. And that's that's not quite satisfied but it's also satisfying to to get to the truth. And the truth doesn't always have to fit with what preconceived concept and i think. That's simple above all else. Richard leakey is a survivor professionally. Yes but also in a more literal sense in nineteen fifty six. At the age of eleven. He fell off a horse broke his skull and nearly died in one thousand nine hundred sixty nine. He was diagnosed with terminal kidney disease. His doctors gave him ten years to live. Then in nineteen ninety-three a plane he was flying mysteriously malfunctioned and crashed. Some people including richard leakey himself suspect it was sabotage. He had plenty of political enemies. Richard leakey lived but lost both his legs. I lost my legs but you know they look at it as what happened if the legs lost me. i buried the legs rather than myself and said that's a good thing then walking on artificial legs. This isn't the best way to get around but the advantages People got the way to help you. you wheelchairs too long queues and lines at customs and immigration If the seats too small in aligning take you legs often and fit in very comfortably. So there are a number of positives about this. And i wouldn't have by any means thing was only told me. A great deal about bipedal ism which is the fundamental of humanity. I've always lecturing about the important steps in becoming human one which is by beating them. Six seven million years ago probably thought about the implications of being bipedal and to me by is the key to the story levels of compassion that we seem to be program to an people. Don't necessarily come to that conclusion but when you have no legs you are totally dependent now. What struck me is if we developed by six or seven million years ago on the african savannah rough phony country the contravene a single individual who live twenty thirty years. Who didn't at some stage have his or her leg or legs one or two incapacitated if one leg is incapacitated with a spray and break or an app cicero foale unless somebody looks up to you. Only african savannah brings you water. Brings you food fends off the islands and then and the lions you won't make it and given that everyone was by the has to be genetic selection for empathy compassion and that is one right till we really need to rely on to get us through the difficult years into think. Globally as opposed to thinking nationally. Racially ill on the virus. Many forms of a bombing letelier so losing. My lakes told me that too in a very real sense. And it's become a major part of of my public message. Let's go back to fundamentals. We are compassionate with compassion. We can solve a lot of the problems that threaten us today. And the biggest of those problems. Richard leakey said is without a doubt climate change. He brought his unique perspective as a paleoanthropologist to the issue during a speech to the academy of achievement in two thousand nine. We tend to forget that about nine thousand nine. If not nine thousand nine point five percent of all life lived on this planet is now extinct and extinction is the basis for the human growth population. Growth in humanity is what is interfering with the process that has been natural for close. As far as we're concerned in terms of life we recognize and understand close to five hundred million years and so extinctions into happen but we shouldn't be causing them and that's the point we need to consider. The human population has grown beyond anybody's imagination. And saturday it will continue to grow and threats to our life will continue to to accelerate. I think every effort that can be made to hold onto species to hold onto the state pun which species live is worthwhile but let us less. Never forget that we are also species that has an ancestry where extinction has been common many forms earlier forms of humans have disappeared and we to like the cheeser is facing got down to a population that was probably not twelve thousand but was less than two thousand and everybody living on this planet. Today has a relationship with population lived in africa. Just sixty five thousand years ago humanity was at the point of extinction less than sixty five thousand years ago and has come through to the point where we are seven billion going twelve. This is the paradox. This is the concern. This is the challenge of our times. And how the current generation and the generations that we are we are. We are already inside of are going to deal with this. Confrontation is to see. I don't think it's a question of giving up. But i do. Think one of the things that characterizes this stage in the human story we tend to be very narrow inau thinking very few people are prepared to think laterally and see the thing in the context of our time on auto his sixty five thousand years as the species we today our time on earth as bipedal ape is six or seven million years ago we surely can afford to think in terms of one hundred years to end this episode. I'd like to return to something. Richard leakey said his interview in answer to the question. He posed as we started out our episode. What makes us human is a question on. I'm often an old put it another way. What is human well. If the definition of a life on earth had been done by a separate entity off the planet they would have said they're five apes one as being remarkably technological development and its ability to come up with myths and mumbo jumbo explains tony things that killian not right tell us get on with life in the forest and do what they were supposed to be doing but but we are we are just another eight and so what is a human while it's an it's an eight that's technology it's called notch brain complex language It's it's got a curious way to move around to legless which leads to compassion empathy technology in the brain. That don't always work in concept and could lead to the extinction of lots of other creatures. It has but it may well each run an an. And that's the sort of stupid ape we all ramsey. What is there left to say after that. Only that we thanked. Donald johanson and richard leakey. Well as the paleoanthropologists we heard from earlier for their fascinating work and their words here among their many other credentials. Donald johanson is the founder of the institute of human origins at arizona. State university and richard leakey is the founder of the turkana basin institute in kenya. If you want to hear more on the topic of evolution and exploration are episodes about lee. Berger jane goodall and stephen jay gould are pretty captivating. Just saying i'm alice winkler. And this is what it takes from the academy of achievement. What it takes to make possible generous funding from the catherine b reynolds foundation. Thanks to them and thanks to you as always for listening.

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