The astonishing life of Richard Leakey — paleoanthropologist, conservationist, statesman, provocateur —will be the subject of an hour-long special from National Geographic, Bones of Turkana. The program investigates four decades of exploration and discovery around Northern Kenya's Lake Turkana, which have given rise to both breakthroughs and controversy in the contentious field of human evolution.
The film follows Leakey today — along with his wife, Meave, daughter Louise and the world-famous fossil hunters of the Turkana Basin Institute team — striving and exploring along the shores of a mercurial and prophetic lake. It is both a portrait of a remarkable family, as well as a dramatic tale of a place that, despite momentous climate change, has never ceased being the cauldron of human evolution.
From Australopithecus anamensis to Homo sapiens, Leakey and his team traverse four million years of hominid history in search of the precise characteristics that make humans unique. They find the evidence, one by one, in the fossilized bones, stone tools and sandy soils of this haunting region.
In-depth, candid interviews with Leakey reveal a man who has struggled in search of truth, faced formidable challenges from the political as well as academic realms, but ultimately prevailed in establishing a lasting legacy of paleo-exploration in one of the world's harshest and most beautiful places.
Leakey believes Turkana holds many secrets he is hoping to expose to the world: revelations about our past and prophesies about our future. Aiding him in his quest are scientists from around the world who have also chosen to focus their efforts on Turkana Basin. French archaeologist Hélène Roche, geochemist Thure Cerling and anthropologists Marta Lahr and Rob Foley come each year with their teams to hunt for bones and stones around Turkana. Their mission is to find evidence of the transformation of hominids that lived here, between four million and 75,000 years ago. These were tumultuous times for our species, when the most startling cognitive leaps forward were made.
Together, these scientists paint an indelible picture of the transformation of a species – ours – from very humble beginnings into a fast-running, quick-thinking, stone-tool-making linguist with a very special gift. That gift emerges in the film from the bones of perhaps the most significant fossil find Leakey ever made – the skeleton known as Turkana Boy.
For Leakey, the search for answers amid the bones of Turkana is more than just a quest, it's an imperative: "I think it's fascinating how life has come into existence … this world and the life on it is a process that has many extraordinary events, and it's of huge intellectual value to me to understand as much as I can."