Richard Leakey, Kenyan Fossil Hunter and Conservationist, Dies at 77

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“I was angry to this day that they took the bone away from me because it was too important for a 4-year-old to be digging up,” he said.

After he decided to pursue fossil hunting, he first sought a degree in anthropology in London but ran out of money before starting and returned to Kenya to learn the subject firsthand. He had, of course, already had more experience in the field than most graduate anthropologists.

Mr. Leakey eventually found his way back into the classroom when he found fame as a fossil hunter and became a sought-after lecturer. His talks drew huge paying crowds of both eager students and established scholars.

He had never been to a university, he liked to say, except to lecture.

His survivors include his wife Meave, herself a renowned paleoanthropologist, and his daughters Louise and Samira, according to WildlifeDirect. He also has three grandchildren, Professor Martin said.

Mr. Leakey believed strongly in a message his father had written long ago, that the past was the “key to our future.” For him, paleoanthropology and conservation were “deeply entwined,” said Paige Madison, a paleoanthropology historian based in Copenhagen.

Toward the end of his life, Mr. Leakey dreamed of building a museum of humankind, to be called Ngaren. It would be situated in the Rift Valley of Kenya, the site of one of his most famous discoveries, the Turkana Boy.

“Ngaren is not just another museum, but a call to action,” Mr. Leakey said in a 2019 statement announcing its opening, scheduled for 2024. “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.”