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In the mid-1930s, she was introduced to Louis Leakey, an older archaeologist. Louis Leakey wanted Mary to illustrate a book of his; they fell in love and married in 1937.
In subsequent years, Leakey traveled frequently across the Serengeti, where she and Louis led a number important excavations. The find that made Mary's name came in 1959, with the discovery of the Zinjanthropus bosei fossil – later reclassified as Australopithecus boisei – in Olduvai Gorge, Tanzania. The fossil, a mostly-intact cranium, helped scientists better understand human evolution, and also the importance of East Africa to the origins of humanity.
A string of successful – and well-funded – digs followed, including a complete Proconsul africanus skull and, per the Leakey Foundation, "the remains of 25 early hominids and an array of 15 new animal species."
''She was one of the world's great originals,'' Dr. Alan Walker, an anatomist at Pennsylvania State, told the Times. ''Untrained except in art, she developed techniques of excavation and descriptive archeology and did it all on her own in the middle of Africa. It was an extraordinary life.''
Leakey died in December of 1996, in Nairobi, at the age of 83. To quote from a biography published in 1995, she had earned her reputation as the ''the grande dame of archeology."