Disclosing the Past Critical Context - Essay

Mary Nicol

Critical Context

Many young people first become fascinated with archaeology through their interest in dinosaurs. As their knowledge grows, however, they become interested in other questions, such as the origins of humans. Leakey’s book is a nice supplement for the teenage reader who has already learned a little of the science of archaeology and who seeks information about the scientists themselves.

For a young person who wants to know what it is like to be an archaeologist, Leakey’s book portrays the excitement and the sacrifice of the profession. Her career is not the perfect one to emulate; certainly anyone hoping to be a modern archaeologist needs at least a college education. On the other hand, she does show how a young woman can combine the roles of scientist, wife, and mother, given enough determination. Leakey’s autobiography reveals a person with flaws and dreams but, above all, with the drive to learn. One of her friends once wrote a tongue-in-cheek story that he called “The Parable of Olduvai.” The story begins: “In a faraway place there lived and worked a lady motivated in the highest by the love of and thirst for knowledge. She heeded not her lack of creature comforts, for within her burned the God-given need-to-know and all other needs faded into nothingness.” This may be the best description of Mary Leakey that could be written.