Kenyan Politician, Paleoanthropologist and Conservationalist
Richard Leakey, fully Richard Erskine Frere Leakey
Kenyan Politician, Paleoanthropologist and Conservationalist
Culture represents a novelty in the world of nature, and it could have added an effective, unifying edge to the forces of natural selection.
When out fossil hunting, it is very easy to forget that rather than telling you how the creatures lived, the remains you find indicate only where they became fossilized.
We are concerned that, in a few years’ time, this place of discovery, with its wealth of human fossils, the like of which can be found nowhere else in the world, could be completely destroyed.
We hope to find more pieces of the puzzle which will shed light on the connection between this upright, walking ape, our early ancestor, and modern man.
There should be concern expressed at every possible venue to bring pressure on both the African governments and on the international bodies to do something about this. Unless this is stopped, these species could become extinct, and it would be a terrible loss to humanity.
To investigate the history of man's development, the most important finds are, of course, hominid fossils.
The slaughter of chimpanzees and gorillas, our closest relatives, is absolutely diabolical. I can't imagine that this can go on much longer before these animals are extinct.
The problem is that during the 1980s, a decade of heavy poaching, the elephants retreated to safer areas. And now people have moved into the corridors once used by the elephants.
The problem of the apes is not a shortage of money, it is a shortage of strategy. Let us devote our minds -- the one thing we have more of than other apes -- and let's secure their future.
The elephants were being slaughtered in masses. Some were even killed in the vicinity of big tourist hotels.
The land is not in the least bit fertile and yet the cattle herds grow larger and larger. A cow represents capital investment here.
Paleoanthropology is not a science that ends with the discovery of a bone. One has to have the original to work with. It is a life-long task.
Sadly, I am not able to take part in the fieldwork myself so much anymore, as both of my legs were amputated following an airplane crash twelve years ago.
Our self-awareness impresses itself on us so cogently, as individuals and as a species, that we cannot imagine ourselves out of existence, even though for hundreds of millions of years humans played no part in the flow of life on the planet. When Teilhard de Chardin wrote, The phenomenon of Man was essentially foreordained from the beginning, he was speaking from the depth of individual experience, which we all share, as much as from religious philosophy. Our inability to imagine a world without Homo sapiens has a profound impact on our view of ourselves; it becomes seductively easy to imagine that our evolution was inevitable. And inevitability gives meaning to life, because there is a deep security in believing that the way things are is the way they were meant to be.
One should not forget that there are very few surviving items from this period, often just single, small bones, a tooth, a sliver of the skull. Categorizing these pieces can be very difficult.
I, too, am convinced that our ancestors came from Africa.
Let us devote our minds - the one thing we have more of than other apes - and let's secure their future.
For three million years we were hunter-gatherers, and it was through the evolutionary pressures of that way of life that a brain so adaptable and so creative eventually emerged. Today we stand with the brains of hunter-gatherers in our heads, looking out on a modern world made comfortable for some by the fruits of human inventiveness, and made miserable for others by the scandal of deprivation in the midst of plenty.
I would hazard a guess that we have found fossilized human remains of at least a thousand different specimens in South and East Africa, more or less complete at that. I think this is where the prelude to human history was primarily played out.
For fossils to thrive, certain favorable circumstances are required. First of all, of course, remnants of life have to be there. These then need to be washed over with water as soon as possible, so that the bones are covered with a layer of sediment.
As we sit today, it is important to remember we are talking about the future of a member of our family, not a strange creature that lives in the jungle.
Eighty-five percent of recorded species live in the terrestrial realm, and the majority of these, some 850,000, are arthropods (that is, insects, spiders, and crustaceans). Most of the arthropod species are insects, and almost half of these are beetles, a fact that is said to have inspired a famous epigram from the British biologist J.B.S. Haldane. On being asked, one day, by some clerical gentlemen what his study of the natural world had revealed to him about God. Haldane is said to have replied that it indicated that He had an inordinate fondness of beetles.
An evolutionary perspective of our place in the history of the earth reminds us that Homo sapiens has occupied the planet for the tiniest fraction of that planet's four and a half thousand million years of existence. In many ways we are a biological accident, the product of countless propitious circumstances. As we peer back through the fossil record, through layer upon layer of long-extinct species, many of which thrived far longer than the human species is ever likely to do, we are reminded of our mortality as a species. There is no law that declares the human animal to be different, as seen in this broad biological perspective, from any other animal. There is no law that declares the human species to be immortal.
A fossil hunter needs sharp eyes and a keen search image, a mental template that subconsciously evaluates everything he sees in his search for telltale clues. A kind of mental radar works even if he isn't concentrating hard. A fossil mollusk expert has a mollusk search image. A fossil antelope expert has an antelope search image. ... Yet even when one has a good internal radar, the search is incredibly more difficult than it sounds. Not only are fossils often the same color as the rocks among which they are found, so they blend in with the background; they are also usually broken into odd-shaped fragments. ... In our business, we don't expect to find a whole skull lying on the surface staring up at us. The typical find is a small piece of petrified bone. The fossil hunter's search therefore has to have an infinite number of dimensions, matching every conceivable angle of every shape of fragment of every bone on the human body.