Johanson, Leakey Meet in New York

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May 09, 2011

Two renowned fossil hunters, once rivals, met before an appreciative audience in New York last week and discussed the significance of their finds and the importance of increased public understanding of evolution.

Donald C. Johanson, who discovered Lucy in 1974, and Richard Leakey, who organized extensive excavations in northern Kenya, met at the American Museum of Natural History on May 5, their first public meeting in almost 30 years.

Lucy, or as she is formally known Australopithecus afarensis, has been dated to 3.2 million years ago and features prominently in the Documentary on this website. Leakey, the son of Louis and Mary Leakey, together with Dr Alan Walker conducted extensive excavations on the shores of Lake Turkana. Perhaps their most famous discovery came in 1982 and was nicknamed “Turkana boy”. This nearly complete skeleton was of a 10 year old boy who, if he had survived to maturity, would have been almost 6 feet tall and represents the most complete example of Homo erectus, more than 1 million years younger than Lucy. Homo erectus populations were the first hominins to migrate out of Africa.

Johanson and Leakey, elder statesmen in the field of paleoanthropology, charmed and informed their audience with their reminiscences and views on the study of human origins.  Johanson is the founding director of the Institute of Human Origins and teaches at Arizona State University. Leakey heads the Turkana Basin Institute and teaches at the University of Stony Brook, one of the campuses of the State University of New York.

On stage at the Museum, Richard Leakey, left, and Don Johanson

Here is a complete account of the evening as it appeared in the New York Times.

Further information on Australopithecus afarensis and Homo erectus can be found by visiting the timeline, the Human Lineage Through Time, on this website and clicking on their names.