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Their discoveries contribute more to the understanding of human origins than to human behavior. Louis and Mary Leakey, and later their son Richard and his wife Maeve, spent most of their adult lives searching for the "missing link," the elusive hominid ancestor of humans and apes. Their most famous discoveries were made at the Olduvai Gorge and in Laetoli, both in Tanzania. Maeve Leakey, perhaps, made the most spectacular discovery when she uncovered a new species of hominid, which she named Kenyanthropus platyops, or "flat-faced man of Kenya," in 2002. It is thought to have existed around the same time as the hominid named Lucy, discovered by Donald Johanson in 1973, which has been called the oldest known hominid.
Besides having uncovered so many ancient hominid remains, the Leakey have made two very significant contributions to the field of anthropology and paleoarchaeology. One, they have inspired other researchers to follow in their footsteps, such as the team who discovered Lucy and Michel Brunet, a French researcher who discovered a controversial hominid fossil in Chad. Called Toumai, scientists cannot agree whether it is human or ape. Maeve Leakey calls it "one of the most important finds yet. Their second contribution to the understanding of human origins is the notion that it was not a linear progression. There are many side branches on the human family tree.
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