Thursday, November 29, 2012

Anthropology 101

Louis Leakey
I remember well the first day of my Anthropology 101 course at the University of Illinois. I believe it was 1965. Of course, I had no idea who the lecturer for the course was going to be. All I knew at the time was that I was required to take a certain number of courses in the social sciences to get my B.S. in Mathematics. I picked this course because I thought it might be interesting. I had no idea what I had gotten myself into.
At the beginning of the first lecture there were these two professorial types at the front of the jam-packed lecture hall. It was one of those rooms where each row is at a higher elevation than the row in front of it. The first fellow to speak, I think, was the head of the Anthropology department. He introduced the other fellow, who, it turns out would be the instructor for the course: Louis Leakey. Mr. Leakey had just arrived on the campus from Kenya where he had been, for the previous 40 years, conducting digs looking for our prehistoric human ancestors. He was, of course, responsible for finding "Lucy", the earliest know bipedal primate known to exist, the Australopithecus.
Of course, when we got to the subject of human archeology he spoke with some authority.  It was his work at Olduvai Gorge in Tanzania, often called the "cradle of mankind" that had created the most astounding specimens to date in the field.
I really wanted to become an archeologist after being inspired by him.  My major concern was the isolation of being in such remote locations for such long periods of time that ultimately made me look toward more down to earth scientific disciplines.  I think his enthusiasm for his life's work was the real key to understanding him.  He loved, so much the work he did.

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