LEAKEY, Louis Seymour Bazett (A47)

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Correspondence and papers on the human remains from Kanam and Kanjera, Kenya excavated during Leakey’s East African Expedition. 1931-2.

The RAI convened a meeting on 18-19 Mar. 1933 at St John’s College, Cambridge to ‘discuss the early human remains recently discovered by the East African Expedition of Dr L.S.B. Leakey’. Sir Arthur Smith Woodward, FRS, presided. After Leakey’s ‘exposition of his discoveries, and a general discussion’ the Conference appointed committees on the geological, palaeontological, anatomical, and archaeological evidence (see Man, Apr. 1933, No. 66, pp. 65-8, ‘Report of a Conference at Cambridge …’)giving the reports of the Committees and the names of those present. Following a visit in Jan. 1935 to the East African Archaeological Expedition, Prof. P.G.H. Boswell published a letter in Nature that was critical of its work. He wrote that there was confusion on the location of the site, ‘that the geological age of the mandible and skull fragments is uncertain’, and that the ‘evidence placed before the Conference was unintentionally misleading.’ Leakey did not reply until 1936 when his letter appeared in Nature (see Nature, Vol. 135, No. 3410, 9 Mar. 1935, p. 371; and Vol. 138, No. 3493, 10 Oct, 1936, p. 643). The RAI wishing to give Leakey an opportunity of putting his case before a committee of ‘geologists and field-archaeologists’ proposed to reconvene the Cambridge Conference. However both Leakey and Boswell agreed the matter should be dropped and the proposed conference was cancelled (see Man, Feb. 1937, No. 36, p. 34). For an account of the dispute see Leakey’s Luck by Sonia Cole, 1975, pp. 90-104.


PGHB    Prof. P.G.H. Boswell, FRS, Dept of Geology, London Imperial College,

RWF    (Prof. Sir) Raymond W. Firth, FBA (1901-2002), later Prof. of Anthropology, University of London, RAI Hon. Secretary, 1936-9, President, 1953-5

HSH    H.S. Harrison (1872-1958), Curator, Horniman Museum; RAI President, 1935-7

LSBL    L.S.B. Leakey (1903-72), leader of the East African Expedition; later Curator, Coryndon Museum, Nairobi


1    Sir F. Gowland Hopkins, President, Royal Society to HSH, 24 Oct. – understands Royal Society is considering position of LSBL; Council will decide; will let him know result (tp.)

2    HSH replies to President, Royal Society, 26 Oct. – glad to learn LSBL’s position will be investigated further; RAI has taken preliminary steps to set up a Committee (autogr.)

3    Ibid to PGHB, 26 Oct. – RAI Council is considering giving LSBL ‘an opportunity of stating his case before a special Committee of geologists and field-archaeologists’; understands Royal Society has delegated the matter to him (HSH); hopes he would serve on any RAI committee (draft tp.; annotated)

4    PGHB to HSH, 29 Oct. – willing to cooperate with RAI but declines invitation to serve on a committee; cannot be an interested party and act in a judicial capacity; suggests a meeting or discussion before a learned society (tp.)

5    HSH to LSBL, 6 Nov. – RAI Council wishes to give him opportunity to reply to PGHB’s criticism in Nature; asks if he will prepare a concise statement of the facts and his views for countering the criticism (copy of tp.); see Nature, Vol. 135, No. 3410, 9 March 1935, p. 371, ‘Human remains from Kanam and Kanjera, Kenya Colony’

6    Ibid, 28 Nov. – Council suggests that he should publish, as a basis for discussion, a statement in Nature; RAI would convene a meeting inviting those who attended the Cambridge Conference in 1933; purpose would be the discussion of LSBL’s statement and PGHB’s letter in Nature (autogr. copy)

7 LSBL to HSH, 2 Dec. – Nature refused to publish his reply to PGHB’s letter; unlikely to publish a statement; will prepare a statement for RAI dealing with main issues (autogr.)


8    Ibid, [c. 20 Jan.] – encloses copy of draft letter to Nature [not present]; has sent draft to PGHB for comment (autogr.)

9    Ibid, 24 Apr. – expresses concern over Daily Mirror’s piece [not present] and its reflection on his integrity; has still not heard from PGHB; hopes to send the statement soon (autogr.)

10    Ibid, 19 June – encloses statement (see /11 below); will amplify points at any RAI meeting between PGHB and himself (autogr.)

11    Statement submitted by LSBL for the information of the Royal Society Council (mimeo.)

12    LSBL to HSH, 23 June – unable to contact PGHB; will consider publication in Man (telegram)

13    Ibid, 3 July – in reply to letter of 25 June [not present] notes Council requires a statement prior to a meeting; prefers that it should appear in Nature and not Man (autogr.)

14    Ibid, 22 July – Editor of Nature will allow his reply to be not more than 800 words, his statement is c 1650; asks for advice; comments on Daily Mirror piece (autogr.); see LSBL’s letter to Nature, Vol. 138, No. 3493, 10 Oct. 1936, p. 643

15    RWF to LSBL, 27 Oct. – informs him Council has decided to reconstitute the Cambridge Conference; gives alternative dates (tpc.)

16    PGHB to RWF, 28 Oct. – agrees Dec. date for meeting (tp.)

17    LSBL to RWF, 29 Oct. – ibid; asks who will attend meeting and procedures (autogr.)

18    Ibid, 9 Nov. – replies to letter of 31 Oct. [not present]; lists names of his invitees (autogr.)

19    RAI notice reconstituting the Cambridge Conference on 16 Dec., 9 Nov. (mimeo.)

20    Prof. H.A. Harris, Anatomy School, Cambridge to RWF, 11 Nov. – requests information (tp.)

21    PGBH to RWF, 12 Nov. – suggests a prior statement from LSBL would be helpful (tp.)

22    LSBL to RWF, 17 Nov. – protests at wording of notice; gives reasons (autogr.)

23    PGHB to HSH, 19 Nov. – informs him of the number of people expressing regret at the proposed meeting; accords with his own view; considers HSH should be aware of this (tp.)

24    Sir Arthur Smith Woodward to RWF, 21 Nov. – considers proposed meeting ‘would not serve any useful purpose’; suggests that PGHB should read a paper to the Geological Society and invite LSBL to be present (autogr.)

25    RWF to PGHB [also copy to LSRL], 23 Nov. – invites him to provide a statement additional to that in Nature for circulation to all members of the Conference (tpc.); PGHB published no further letters on the matter in Nature

26    PGHB to RWF, 26 Nov. – refuses to write a statement; too much to be said; prefers to reply to points raised by LSBL (tp.)

27    PGHB to HSH, 27 Nov. – replies to letter of 22 Nov. [not present]; understands HSH cannot cancel the meeting on his own authority; two leading geologists have expressed concern; LSBL has phoned him to say he does not want the meeting; has agreed with LSBL that neither will be present (tp.)

28    LSBL to HSH, 27 Nov. – on receipt of RWF’s letter (/25 above) got in touch with PGHB; neither willing to provide further written statements; agrees with PGHB that neither will be present at meeting; considers fresh evidence will eventually either support or refute his claim (autogr.)

29    Notice cancelling the meeting of the reconstituted Cambridge Conference on 16 Dec., 2 Dec.; statement to be published in Man (mimeo); see Man, Feb. 1937, No. 36, p. 34