Leakey interview in Der Spiegel

2 minute read

Der Spiegel is running an interview with Richard Leakey, noted paleoanthropologist and conservationist. The interview covers the Kenya elephant population, the circumstances of early hominid evolution, and dangers to the fossil record.

On the danger of cattle trampling fossils:

Leakey: ... But you are right, the situation is very grave indeed. Koobi Fora, the region you are referring to, is not only a National Park, it was also declared a World Heritage Site back in the early 1970s by Unesco. In spite of this, more and more livestock herders have muscled their way into the Sibiloi National Park with their huge herds of beef cattle. This is where our major excavations are situated. Immeasurable treasures are thus being lost.

On transferring fossils out of Kenya (and Ethiopia) for exhibition:

SPIEGEL: There are currently plans to ship what is perhaps the most well-known and most well-preserved hominid skeleton, the "Turkana Boy" from Kenya and "Lucy," an Australopithecus skeleton from Ethiopia, to museums in the United States and Germany.
Leakey: I consider these plans totally wrong and irresponsible and will do everything in my power to prevent them from happening. I will fight against them. The risk that something could happen to the fossils is too great. They should stay in the countries where they came from. They are extremely fragile. These plans are only about money. In the end, the loser will be science.
SPIEGEL: If Lucy were to spend six years in a glass case in an American museum, thousands of Americans -- rather than just a few researchers -- would be able to see her and marvel at an original hominid...
Leakey: ... which they couldn't differentiate from a copy. Throughout all of those years, any sort of important scientific work would be impossible. Researchers travel here from across the world to work on the find. Scientific innovations continually provide us with new means of analyzing the finds. 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.

All I can say is, don't ship them to the National Geographic Explorer's Hall -- when I was there, their display of the cast versions made (the very short) Lucy and the (fairly tall) Turkana Boy look the same height. How? The boy's tibiae were sticking through a hole cut in the floor of the display case!

Anyway, a good interview that covers the basics well and updates on Leakey's current work.