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The Skeleton Finder Richard Leakey Assures That We All Come From Africa

The Skeleton Finder Richard Leakey Assures That We All Come From Africa
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Richard Leakey, the Kenyan paleanthropologist, visiting the Great Hall of Helsinki University on Wednesday April 6 2015. Picture: Tony Öhberg for Finland Today

From around the corner appeared a burly man leaning on his cane.

“Oh, there is already a photographer here,” he said as if not believing in his own importance, while looking about the corridor of Helsinki University on Wednesday evening.

Of course there had to be a photographer in place, if only one from Finland Today.

He was, after all, Richard Leakey, one of TIME’s 100 Greatest Minds of the 20th Century and perhaps 21st century can be added to that. He is a Kenyan paleoanthropologist, whose work in Africa ranging from various digs to his war on ivory poachers has made him one of the world’s most influential champions for life on Earth.

Leakey, now 70, has made a reputation, among others, with his findings on the footprints of Lucy, the 3.2 million-year-old skeleton and his discovery of the most intact early human skeleton: Homo erectus. His war against elephant and rhino poachers is a story of such importance and popularity that Angelina Jolie is going to direct a film of Mr. Leakey.

Leakey walked in from the door to the Great Hall, which was fully crowded in this free event. Not a seat left, and there were dozens of people still wanting to get in.

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Richard Leakey walking at the corridor of Helsinki University with an aid of a cane. In 1993, he lost his both legs in a plane crash, which many think was an assassination attempt. Picture: Tony Öhberg for Finland Today

He was here to talk about 50 years of African origins as both researcher and observer. He has never been afraid to get his hands dirty in the fight against the ivory trade and wildlife conservation problems in general and not only has he put his money where his mouth is, but where others mouths are as well.

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He approached the speakers stand to a very warm applause and from the doe eyed look on many people attending, it’s clear that this was a big deal to be at this event. He had been heavily requested to talk a bit about his conservation efforts and thus his presentation began with a very summarised explanation of his fight against the ivory trade which though heavily reduced, still has the potential to flare up again.

[alert type=blue ] It was later in life that he became heavily involved in saving the elephants and rhinos and its here that he seems most passionate.[/alert]

He then went on to tell about his upbringing which (with two parents heavily involved in paleoanthropology) is no surprise that he too joined the field. He told of conflicts of interest between him and his father (and reading elsewhere reveals that they butted heads on a number of things) and how he forged his own path into the same field. It was later in life that he became heavily involved in saving the elephants and rhinos and its here that he seems most passionate. One of the strongest points he made was that of the fact that all human life can be traced back to Africa. A fact that would go down a storm in any white supremacist cocktail party.

This after all, is a man who has been mentioned in the same sentence as Charles Darwin by those who should know.

Leakey’s presentation, though heavy in subject was inflected with a lot of humour and there were quite a few loud laughs throughout the talk. He had the people in the palm of his hand. This after all, is a man who has been mentioned in the same sentence as Charles Darwin by those who should know.

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He concluded the talk with a quick Q&A and among other things debunked the “missing link” hypothesis of how species are connected (don’t think of our lineage with the monkeys as a bike chain, think of it more like a fluid tree branch), and tackled the issue of why there is more commonly right hand usage, he couldn’t really answer but did reveal that certain animals are more “right handed” than others.

A fact that hopefully was learned by more in the audience than yours truly.

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